A man of blood, just not of Sparta.
Like most gamers who grew up looking at the artwork of Frank Frazetta, reading Marvel Comics’ “Conan the Barbarian” , and being otherwise enthralled by all things Cimmerian, I was more than a little excited when I heard THQ was releasing a Conan video game for the Xbox 360. In fact, I was more excited than when I was ten-years old and heard they were making a Conan movie, because after all, the formula for a successful Conan game seems satisfyingly simple: create a hack-'n-'slash brawler where the goal is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women. He agrees. Conan's mix of mythology and fantasy, not to mention naked women, led many a young boy down the road of imagination that leads to playing video games, so can video games do Conan the same justice?
[image1]Well, if you're looking for originality, the answer is a strong “No!” At its core, Conan is a straightforward God of War knockoff. You fight multiple enemies, get green orbs for life, and gain red orbs that help you power up and develop special moves. These special moves display ultra-violence and mindless bloodletting that you’d expect from Conan - not that that's a bad thing. The gameplay isn't shabby, so if you've played God of War, just expect the same bloodbath.
Aside from the lack of originality, the other issue with the gameplay is that its difficulty level is inconsistent. Even on the default 'standard' mode, combat gets unusually difficult when you’re surrounded by shield-wielding enemies. Sometimes you'll plow through a group with little to no trouble, but then you'll fight the same group of guys, except with some slab of wood or metal in their hands, and get killed without landing a blow. At first I thought it was a matter of my skill level, but no part in the learning curve ever changes that.
[image2]Also in carrying over the God of War style, the makers of this game made an enormous error by having Conan use magic as a special attack, which goes against the very nature of the character. I've heard of Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Thief, and even Conan the King ... but Conan the Sorcerer? If you're selling a licensed game, it behooves you to get the character right. Conan not only doesn't use magic, he hates it. It's almost as if THQ was so far out on the God of War limb, they forgot they were making Conan. I mean, really, Conan goes berserk on his enemies; he doesn’t summon fire or magical birds.
The graphics are pretty good, but disappointing when compared to the most recent high-def God of War knockoff, the PS3's Red Sonja... wait, what’cha saying? That wasn't a Red Sonja game? Oh, I was wondering why she beat Conan to the console. Anyway, the problem is that Conan lacks the clean and sharp images of Heavenly Sword, and while the game doesn’t look bad by any means, it’s not demonstratively better looking than God of War II, if at all. You just won’t be wowed.
The game also has loading times that are, like the graphics, more in line with what you'd expect from a last-gen system, which are particularly infuriating when combined with the gameplay issue mentioned earlier. If you come to a load point and face a tough group of bad guys who kill your ass, you end up having to endure thirty-second load times. This is the age of the internet, it's 2007, and I'm playing an Xbox 360... I don't want to sit around for long loading periods, thinking about how much fun it would be if I was actually playing the game.
The biggest issue with the game, however, is with the voice acting, particularly that of Ron Pearlman (of Hellboy fame) as Conan, which is lackluster to say the least. I'm no going to accuse the man of mailing this one in, but I swear you can hear his gardener mowing the lawn in the background on some of the voice samples - and I also can't speak to the rumor that Pearlman's tracks arrive at the THQ headquarters with a Hellboy stamp on it. The problem is, capturing Conan wouldn't seem to be too difficult a task, and I can do a better Conan voice (Crom! See?) than Pearlman delivers here. Otherwise, the audio is fine, but having the main character's lines delivered with the enthusiasm of an accountant is distracting and disappointing.
[image3]The game does do some things right when it comes to capturing the nature of the source material. For anyone who looked at those Frank Frazetta pictures, you know one staple of Conan is the presence of half-naked, big-breasted lasses, and this game doesn't lack them at all. In fact, you spend much of the time saving these scantily clad (read: topless) ladies from the fiends who've chained them to a rock or something as strong as a tree. These women are grateful for their liberation and offer their uh ... selves as payment for your good deeds. Depending on your relationships (or lack thereof) with real life naked women, this will either be really cool or mildly amusing ... and hopefully the latter.
For the things that Conan gets right - big breasted naked lasses, blood and guts - it gets two things wrong - the use of magic, the god-awful voice acting. Otherwise, this is just another entry in the burgeoning God of War genre, neither offering anything in the way of innovation nor testing the limits of next-gen graphics. If you're a huge fan of the license, I'd say you could bump the final grade up a notch, because there is something to be said for playing a familiar game with a character you have a special affinity for - and let’s be honest, God of War is not a bad game to knock off. At the very least, you can run around as Conan for a few hours, like you dreamed of as a kid.