God of War: Chains of Olympus

After seeing how beautiful and how fun God of War II was, most of the fans of the franchise were more than a little curious about the next game to come out in the series. I think everyone was a little surprised when it was announced that the next title would be launched on Sony’s portable platform, the PSP. Surprise turned to eager anticipation when it was announced that a demo would be made available to PSN members who signed up while supplies lasted.

This past week I got my copy in the mail and after playing through it who knows how many times I have to say it passes muster. I was afraid that the game would lose some of its scope and play control by being on a portable system, but from what we’ve seen in the demo, those fears can be put to rest.

The demo starts you on the shores of Attica, a city under siege by the Persian army. You begin on the outer battlements of the city wall. The beach is in the background and the ocean is filled with Persian vessels raining fire upon the city. After clearing out the foot soldiers you need to return fire on the boats otherwise everyone back in Sparta will call you a sissy.

After taking out one of their boats you drop down a level to get to the beach and approach the city proper. After taking out a few more foot soldiers and going to leave the room you run into one of my favorite enemies from previous games, the Cyclops. You don’t actually get to see much of him though as the real bad guy, a basilisk, devours him in two bites and your first real fight begins.

After wailing on the basilisk until I’d taken it down to about half health the timing portion of the fight began. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, God of War incorporates a unique system for interacting in highly choreographed, cinematic fight scenes. By pressing the correct button at the correct time the action is allowed to continue, by missing the button or not pressing it fast enough the cinematic ends and whatever beast you’re fighting typically knocks you back so you can try the whole thing again.

While you don’t kill the basilisk, you do give it a nice wounding and it runs away. As you follow his blood trail across the beaches and into the city of Attica be sure to watch out from the fire raining from the sky. If you look around you can still see the boats on the water firing their balistas at you.

The fight through the streets of the city are typical of God of War. You move from room to room clearing out the bad guys until you get to a cinematic or boss encounter (they usually go together). The real boss of the demo is the swarthy king of the Persians. He fights with two large scimitars and the fire magic “Efreet”. While this guy is only a minor nuisance you do get his fire magic after defeating him and the sheer pleasure of beating him to death with a chest of gold.

Object interaction is the same as in previous God of War games – it all revolves around the circle button. To open chests, simply hold circle; to open heavy doors, press circle then tap repeatedly; to engage a boss in a finishing battle, press circle.

The controls were a bit awkward at first, especially because I find the shape of the PSP uncomfortable and a bit too small for my hands, but they quickly became second nature. Most of the attack combos are still there from the previous games and handle in much the same fashion. I found the roll away dodge to be the most tricky but a few rounds with the Persian king fixed that for me fast.

This demo is every bit as good as the God of War II demo and considering that it’s running on the PSP says a lot for the development studio Ready at Dawn. This could be the killer app that finally gets those PSPs off the shelves in large numbers. Too bad we’ll have to wait until March to see the full game.