Do not mess with a pocket-sized Kratos.
PSP owners who have been (or should be) anticipating this week’s launch of God of War: Chains of Olympus are in for some bittersweet news. In the same week Ready At Dawn’s stellar new action game reaches shelves, the Orange County-based developer announces that they have no further plans to support the system. It’s always some new drama with these Orange County kids, damn it.
[image1]Ready at Dawn debuted in 2006 with Daxter, a solid PSP platformer spun off the Playstation 2 franchise. The slick little title is one of the only serious action games in the system’s catalog, and after a year the feisty rodent charmed his way into silver PSP bundles.
As Daxter marked the high point in PSP action, God of War: Chains of Olympus is now the new standard. This pint-sized adventure proves that the PSP can rock the action epic every bit as well as the home theater. It is a lean, mean reproduction of the console experience that invites strangers to gasp “Oh, shit!” wherever you take it. Ready at Dawn has maintained the high-fidelity visuals and the silky flow of the home versions with a brand new story and only a few minor flaws.
Chains of Olympus fits in somewhere before God of War II, when most of the Olympian gods are literally catching a nap between games. All of the key franchise features are here: long, easy combos, and of course, a ten-second sex mini-game (okay, it's more like five seconds) within the first fifteen minutes. The structure is almost too similar to the PS2 games, though in truth the formula has merely been refined to fit on the small format (and well, can you really complain about having more of a good thing?).
Kratos’s bloody escapades handle great on the tiny PSP buttons. Even when Kratos shrinks to the size of a lower-case "t", he moves smoothly and steers cleanly. The one juryrigged feature - moving your dodge from the PS2’s second analog stick to both PSP shoulder buttons - is no problem at all. Much like Heavenly Sword, you mainly press one shoulder button to block and trigger special moves. Quick-time reaction events actually push you to rotate the thumbstick and jam the buttons beyond what you’re used to. The level design also features the same usual goodness, with wide sweeping vistas, circular dungeon layouts, and treasure chests hidden behind walls and corners.
[image2]The overall gameplay is carved into tight, travel-friendly chunks, promoting on-the-go play. You might solve one puzzle room, get a phone call, set the game on Sleep Mode, then wake the PSP later, play an arena, finish it in minutes, and set it back to Sleep Mode. Save points can be found at the end of every major level segment, and regular checkpoints save you from replaying bitter arenas and puzzles. It is a noticeable respite after those few 40-minute gauntlets in the PS2 editions which had no save points.
It all looks as good as ever, too, bringing cinematic flair to the small screen. Chains of Olympus features clean shapes and special effects, moving smoothly and clearly. The camera comes in close for every fatal grapple and mini-game you initiate, and you occasionally get a crisp pre-rendered movie or a voiceover bit that advances the plot. Now if somebody can just fix poor Kratos’s jawbone before it rises up through his cranium, we’ll be all set.
None of it is totally perfect, of course. The controls could make more use of the d-pad, lessening the need for two-button special moves, and two or three of the puzzles suffer due to cheap camera tricks. You can’t easily bail out of some attacks, so the defensive side of the game is that much tougher to manage. One classic God of War issue you'll find is that the unbelievably thrilling first level followed by four hours bumbling across every lock and key hanging around a big lonely temple. Some big boss spectacle is sorely missing in the puzzle-heavy middle section of the game.
[image3]These grievances, however, are mostly moot requests for more, More, MORE! For a new development team, the gameplay and levels in Chains of Olympus are incredibly solid. It's just so damn playable, even when you’re cursing at the extremely difficult bonus levels. (Not that I do that sort of thing... all the time.)
Ready at Dawn has brought this titan down to UMD-size and triumphed. Chains of Olympus is as faithful a version and as clean an action game as you might want on the PSP. The structure is there, the polish is there, and the simple pleasure of slinging chain-swords around is an absolute joy. PSP owners can only hope that future titles match the level of quality set here. The possibility that Ready at Dawn has come this far only to leave the PSP is practically sacrilege against the gods.