Kratos unchained for portable action

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poor Kratos. He just can't catch a break.

Fueled by rage at his forced servitude to petty bickering gods, the "Ghost of Sparta" finds himself in yet another violent adventure, on yet another bloody quest to set right what the quarreling pantheon of Olympus has messed up.

This time, Kratos has to set the fallen temple of Helios back in motion, so that daylight can get back on track and the sun can devour the creeping darkness. It's a literal battle of dark vs. light in this new game - or so it seems at first. But the gods have fooled Kratos before.

When we last saw him, he was scaling the rock walls of Mount Olympus at the end of the second game in the as yet unfinished PlayStation 2 trilogy. Kratos had an army of Titans with him, all of them hell-bent on revenge for years of abusive manipulation.

We'll have to wait until the final game in the PS2 trilogy to see the resolution of that series. For this first PSP game, we're spun into a side story that takes place before the events of the first "God of War" game for the PS2. Kratos is still a mean and tortured anti-hero, and we get a few flashes of the woes he suffers (and inflicts) in the PS2 games.

"God of War: Chains of Olympus" is a third-person hack-and-slash puzzler just like its PS2 counterparts. The only real difference is that you're playing it on a small screen. The gore, sex and violence are still there, and graphically, the game looks better due to the PSP's high-resolution screen.

Kratos' main weapons are the fiery jagged blades attached to chains fused to his forearms. By collecting red power orbs (the game's only real currency), he can upgrade these blades and learn to perform devastating attacks that can quickly clear entire rooms of enemies. Of course, you can find and upgrade other weapons throughout the game, too.

"God of War" games usually follow a pattern that mixes fight scenes, puzzle scenes and story scenes. So you'll have to pound some enemies for a while, spend a few minutes solving a gigantic puzzle and then watch and listen as game characters fill Kratos in on what's happening in Olympus. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It's a fun cycle, though, since the enemies get progressively tougher, and some of the puzzles involve reconfiguring entire rooms to open the path forward. Kratos will spend much of the early game activating the three fiery steeds who drag the sun temple across the sky. After that, he takes yet another trip to Hades. Well, chronologically this would be his first trip to the nether world, but we have seen him here in both previous PS2 games.

One thing to remember about these games is that they're never short on blood, gore or sex. If Kratos isn't ripping the wings off of harpies or pulling the eyes out of cylopsian monsters, he's probably in a tavern or somewhere trying to hook up with a serving maid. All of this, when a nice round of therapy is probably all our tormented anti-hero really needs.

Regardless, the gritty and brutal fighting game mixes with the awe-inspiring puzzles, topnotch voice acting and compelling story to make the first "GoW" offering on the PlayStation Portable an instant classic worth of its lineage.



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