Image: God of War: Chains of Olympus
Sony
The Minotaur boss battle is one of the toughest in "God of War: Chains of Olympus." Fans who doubted a successful handheld version of their beloved franchise needn't have worried. This game is gorgeous and plays like a dream.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/30/2008 6:24:18 PM ET 2008-03-30T22:24:18

The PSP, like big brother PS3, suffers from overkill, packing plenty of graphics horsepower with precious few games to take advantage of it. As time goes on, however, more developers are getting their heads around how to harness the PSP’s potential.

“Daxter,” developer Ready at Dawn’s 2006 PSP game, featured gorgeous, console-grade graphics. Since then, they’ve apparently been busy honing their blade — uh, craft — as evidenced by their portable take on the epic action series, “God of War.”

Fear not, legions who doubted a successful handheld version of their beloved franchise. “God of War: Chains of Olympus,” out now for PSP, is the best looking handheld game I’ve ever seen. Stunning good looks together with deliciously fluid, responsive gameplay and the fan-favorite tale of mythical Spartan warrior Kratos add up to an essential game. Wielding Kratos’ dual blades on the go has put a whole new shine on my commute.

Kratos a.k.a. Errand Boy of Olympus
“Chains of Olympus” is a prequel to both PS2 “God of War” titles. If you’ve skipped the console games, whose winding yarns of Greek gods and monsters could fill a novel, don’t sweat it. In a nutshell, Kratos, a legendary Spartan warrior, has been granted godlike powers by Ares, the god of war. In return, Kratos must do Zeus & Co.’s bidding. Resentment and glorious battles ensue.

“Chains of Olympus” opens with Kratos running an errand for the gods. The Greek periphery of Attica is under attack by the Persians and some Kratos muscle is required to repel the invaders. The opening segment is a trial by fire introduction to the core gameplay mechanics of “God of War.”

The main storyline is a quest to rescue Helios, the sun god, who has been kidnapped by dream god Morpheus. Without Helios, the land has fallen under a dark and gloomy spell; even the gods of Olympus are snoozing. After being enlisted by Helios’ sister Eos to help, Kratos journeys, literally, to hell and back to rescue Helios.

Near Perfect Controls
Even on normal or “Hero” difficulty, “Chains of Olympus” is a tough game. It’s not “throw your PSP in disgust”-hard, but I died frequently until mastering evasive maneuvering. While holding both of the PSP’s shoulder buttons down and moving the analog stick to dodge is awkward at first, it soon becomes second nature. Get the rolling dodge down since going toe-to-toe with any of the hardier opponents will end badly.

The PSP control scheme closely mimics the PS2 “God of War” games with similarly excellent results. Unleash physical attacks and combos using the face buttons and trigger magic attacks by using the same buttons while holding the right shoulder pad. “God of War” vets will feel right at home and newcomers will soon be slicing and dicing with ease.

Certain finishing moves during battles are accomplished with button sequences displays on-screen. My sole complaint with the controls is that, when prompted to rotate the analog stick, the motion would only register if done precisely right. This touchy aspect caused me considerable grief during already difficult boss fights.

Blades of Chaos – ‘Nuff Said
Even a Spartan demigod is only as deadly as his weapons and “Chains of Olympus” has plenty of formidable gear. Kratos begins in Attica with his trademark Blades of Chaos, dual choppers on chains grafted onto each arm. 

Upgraded magical abilities and weapons are made available during Kratos’ travels including the Gauntlet of Zeus which transforms Kratos’ arm into a mighty club. My personal favorite is the Efreet magic ability; the towering demon summoned is handy for getting a little breathing room when things get hectic.

Behold the Glory
The main attraction in “Chains of Olympus” is its visual grandeur. I was in awe of the graphical detail and lighting effects achieved on a handheld system. Flickering flames and reflections on a marble floor look startlingly realistic. Everywhere, crumbling structures are richly textured. I was half expecting my PSP to start smoking from overexertion.

The character animations are a beautiful sight to behold. I was reminded of Nariko’s graceful, brutal moves from “Heavenly Sword” on PS3. Considering that “Chains of Olympus” is focused almost entirely on combat, dull, clumsy animations could have ruined the game. As it is, Kratos flows with entrancing speed and grace.

When the game’s camera pulls back until Kratos is just a speck on the screen, I was struck by how powerfully cinematic “Chains of Olympus” is to play. The fact that I was feeling this way looking at a tiny 2” by 4” screen was utterly incredible.

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