Sony’s blockbuster Playstation 2 series “God of War” has been squeezed onto the handheld PSP, where the spectacle loses a little of its epic proportion and the tried-and-true gameplay feels a little more tired-and-true. “God of War: Chains of Olympus” is a solid adventure with plenty of blood, breasts and Spartan beefcake along protagonist Kratos’ roadtrip to Hell and back. But sales might suffer a bit as fans of the series find that our hero’s efforts this time owe more to Sisyphus than Hercules.
After boffo sales for the first two “God of War” games, Sony decided to play it safe and doesn’t alter the formula a bit with “Chains of Olympus.” Kratos is still an angst-ridden, muscle-bound throwback to unabashed R-rated fantasy worlds. He hacks, slashes and punches his way through the trappings of Greek mythology, or at least what’s left of it after the first two games used big names like Medusa, Ares and Zeus. A lot of this installment feels like B-side material. Thanatos, Charon, Tartarus and the basilisk aren’t exactly headliners.
“Chains of Olympus” is a short game and there’s not a lot of variety to encourage replay. The previous games offered a nice spread of weapons and magical abilities, but this one has a pared down feel, with only two weapons and three spells. The only new weapon is actually pretty silly: Kratos dons an oversized glove that looks like something a football fan would wave from high up in the bleachers. There’s not much variety in the different enemies, many of whom are carryovers from the previous games. There are a couple of memorable set pieces, leading to a dull final level and a disappointing climactic fight.
Because the game’s camera is held in a fixed view, the developers can give the world next-gen “wow” factor in spite of the last-gen hardware. The original “God of War” and its sequel were spectacular last hurrahs for the Playstation 2, which was in its final stages before the Playstation 3 took over. “Chains of Olympus” is not nearly as impressive, but it stands out as one of the PSP’s more ambitious and better-looking games. The developers at Ready at Dawn, who gave their last game, “Daxter,” a similarly lavish visual treatment, clearly know how to get the most out of the PSP.
At least the storyline, in which Kratos is tasked with doing errands for the God like fixing the sun and re-leasing the Titans, does a bit of dramatic lifting where the actual gameplay can’t quite muster the strength. Thematically, it fits perfectly into the “God of War” mythos. Players of the previous games will appreciate the references to Titans, the Fates and Kratos’ own family. The voices of Linda Hunt and T.C. Carson once again lend the game its stately narration and Kratos’ basso profundo, respectively.
“Chains of Olympus” shrinks the “God of War” series down to the handheld PSP.