Like a heavenly cool drink of water, Kratos finally comes down to PSP to slake our thirst for portable action in God of War: Chains of Olympus. More than just a refreshing extension of the lauded series, this is the game we've been waiting for – the definitive PSP experience that surpasses all others with its presentation, execution of game mechanics, intensity of play, and enjoyment level.
To be clear, much as we'll forever adore the tactical RPG brilliance of Disgaea, it's not difficult to welcome God of War: Chains of Olympus as the best game yet on Sony's portable and, indeed, one of the best handheld games ever.
As the tortured Spartan warrior Kratos, the game takes you on a journey to restore the sun god Helios to his rightful place in the sky. Having slain his family in a fit of unbridled rage, Kratos now submits as a servant to the gods of Olympus and is tasked with returning rightful order to the cycle of night and day. Only by finding Helios can the god of sleep, Morpheus, be held back from overrunning the universe with the black fog of slumber. Even more, it's the only path Kratos has to gain redemption for his crime. It's a surprisingly considered and pleasingly engaging narrative for what effectively boils down to a bloody action game.
Irony has Kratos shedding the blood of countless enemies to cleanse his own past, then. Chains of Olympus is as pure an action affair as you'll ever find, and sees your traverse long-lost temples and mythical locales slicing foes at every step. Grand set-pieces such as the game's opening defense of Attica or arduous assent from the crimson depths of Hades provide ideal backdrops for the intense developments.
Simple puzzles pepper gameplay, although the game smartly limits their role and places the emphasis squarely on action. This works much better for portable play since you're able to jump into the game for a few minutes, carve up enemies, and save your progress at the many save points littering the campaign.
The fact it's all so gorgeously presented makes it all the more impressive. Without question, this is the best-looking game on PSP thus far – Venus would be proud. Walking through the polished marbled floors of the Temple of Helios and watching the blood of slain enemies splash against the walls is sickeningly pretty.
Kratos starts his quest equipped with the Chains of Chaos, a pair of sharp blades chained to his forearms. Presses of the Square, Triangle, and Circle buttons enable you to perform light, heavy, and grab attacks, respectively. Mixing up the buttons yields special combos that increase the damage doled out. Later on, other weapons join your arsenal, offering unique attack styles and combos of their own. Even more satisfying, you eventually gain magical attacks such as the ability to summon the fiery djinn Efreet.
You can upgrade weapons and magic to improve their potency in battle, as well as unlock new moves. Red orbs collected from fallen enemies and treasure chests enable you to purchase enhancements. This lends just the right amount of depth to the game, giving you an incentive to rack up combos to earn extra orbs. It's also a delicately balanced system – you definitely get a sense of accomplishment upon unlocking a new ability because earning the necessary number of orbs can be challenging work.
For all that Chains of Olympus does right with its battles against slithering gorgons and lumbering cyclops, it isn't entirely perfect. The campaign, much like Sisyphus, ends up a little short of expectation. We completed the game in under five hours. Add an hour or two if you're unfamiliar with the series from its PlayStation 2 beginnings but either way this is short even by action game standards.
Another issue occasional pops up regarding the controls. Limitations on the number of buttons on PSP mean multiple functions are mapped to the shoulder keys. As such, it isn't uncommon to accidental trigger an attack that's different than the one you intended.
With regards to the second criticism, its occurrence is arguably lessened the more familiar you become with the game. As for the first, bonus content does plenty to address the game's short campaign. Complete the game on any difficulty and you unlock the first of five Challenges of Hades, as well as a new 'God' difficulty mode.
The challenges play out as objective-based mini-missions that involve slaying a certain number of enemies using a specific type of attack and the like. Tackling these, combined with a second play through the campaign on God mode, ensure plenty of rewards in the form of bonus videos and artwork galleries.
We'll be the first to admit multiple levels of difficulty aren't normally enough to grant a game genuine replay value. However, the PSP God of War experience proves so utterly fantastic that playing through a second time on God mode (or any other difficulty, for that matter) isn't out of the realm of possibility.
And ultimately it's a testament to the game that the campaign's short length can't keep us from exalting Chains of Olympus's exceptional virtues. It's just too unbelievably polished, engaging, and entertaining a title to miss. Kratos may have wet our palate, but like every magnificent gaming experience ever made, we're already thirsty for more.