Developer: Ready at Dawn
Release Date: Holiday 2007
As work wound down on last year's excellent Daxter for the PSP, the folks at Ready at Dawn Studios were nearly hit with the tempting spell of sequelitis. "The natural reaction that everyone had was, 'Hey, you know what? Let's do Daxter 2,'" explained Ru Weerasuriya, co-founder and creative director of Ready at Dawn. "We had the engine, we had the team; we were accustomed to the style of gameplay. But, you know, we love to beat ourselves over the head, so we decided to kind of look around and see what we could do."
With much of the team obsessed with the then-recently released God of War, Ready at Dawn made a proposal to SCEA Santa Monica Studios, and the two studios found that their goals were similar: to expand the revered franchise without compromising what made it so great in the first place. While that means that Daxter fans may have to wait a bit longer for their next portable platform fix, I have a feeling that the PSP-toting masses won't mind the interim project, God of War: Chains of Olympus.
Chains of Olympus may not continue the story of its PlayStation 2 predecessors, but don't write it off as an unnecessary side-story. Set nearly a decade before the original game, Chains of Olympus chronicles Kratos' years of servitude to the gods after being deceived into murdering his family. With the gods' powers compromised, Kratos must travel through the world of Greek Mythology (including the Gates of Hades and the Depths of Tartarus) to take down the massive beasts that threaten to overthrow the weakened gods. Chains of Olympus also allows the developers to fill in the gaps in the franchise's mythology, and will draw focus to events and environments that have been mentioned in previous entries.
Though a playable build was produced for Sony's Gamers Day event, members of the press were kept at bay, forced to watch one of the producers continually play through the short demo stage on a large LCD screen. So close, yet so far. My hands may have longed for more, but my eyes soaked in every bit of the demo, and what I saw was a portable experience that does an extremely admirable job of recreating the console experience.
Like Daxter before it, Chains of Olympus pushes the PSP hardware to new limits, offering PlayStation 2-level visual fidelity while maintaining the cinematic feel of its predecessors. When blown up on a big screen, it's easy to spot a slight drop-off, with simpler character models and a slight lack of detail, but that's not how players will see the final game.
On the small screen of the PSP, everything is compressed, hiding the "imperfections" and creating a visual experience quite similar to that of the previous God of War entries. A hint of jaggedness can still be seen on the character models, but such things have become commonplace on the handheld. It's also worth noting that the Daxter-esque in-game font shown in previous video footage has been replaced by the standard God of War typeface.
The initial sequence in Chains of Olympus begins atop a castle, with scads of battleships approaching in the nearby waters. Kratos must first dispatch with a series of goons before turning his attention toward the ships, and the basic combat looks just like that of the console games. As expected, the lack of a second analog stick results in a slight adjustment in regards to the control scheme, though it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the gameplay. Without that second stick, evading enemies requires players to hold down both shoulder buttons before using the analog nub.
After taking down his foes, Kratos unleashes a fiery attack from a nearby mounted crossbow onto one of the ships. Immediately thereafter, a different battleship blows a hole in the roof, allowing Kratos to drop down and dominate another set of unfortunate aggressors. Kratos then tries to open the nearby door, and is rudely assisted by a large Cyclops, which busts through from the outside and attempts to flatten the hero with a giant, spiked pillar. As Kratos resists the urge to be as flat as a pancake, a massive, reptilian head bursts through the doorway and consumes the Cyclops whole. Now this is a boss fight!
Trapped in the cramped room, Kratos must battle his way out against the reptile, which spits fire and aggressively snaps at the pale protagonist. As with many of the best battles in the God of War franchise, defeating the boss requires timed button presses that allow Kratos to use his surroundings to execute flashy attacks. When prompted, he smashes the reptile's head against the sides of the doorframe, then avoids its mighty claw and sneaks in a quick attack. As the creature swiftly pops its head back in for a bite, Kratos performs a vertical leap and slams the boss into unconsciousness.
Short and satisfying, the Gamers Day build of God of War: Chains of Olympus allayed any fears that the first handheld iteration would compromise the core concepts of the venerable franchise. Though not confirmed, a playable build of the title will likely be on display at the E3 Media & Business Summit in July. Cory Barlog, creative director on the title (and game director on God of War II) called Ready at Dawn a "natural fit" for Chains of Olympus, and I'm inclined to agree. Based on what was shown, the title looks to repeat the overwhelming success of Daxter and give 2007 a second all-new God of War experience to savor.
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