With the end of God of War III, it seems almost like Kratos' adventures are over. The story wrapped up in a manner that left little room for future games, but much of Kratos' history was left unexplored in the main three God of War titles. If you've only ever had a PlayStation 2 or 3, you haven't seen a fair chunk of Kratos' history. That is because two of the God of War titles were, prior to now, exclusive to the PSP handheld. God of War: Origins Collection brings these two games to the PS3 for the first time, complete with updated visuals and some minor control changes. It's not quite God of War IV, but if you've never owned a PSP, it's a glimpse into another part of Kratos' adventures.
The first game in the collection, God of War: Chains of Olympus, is set shortly before the events of the first God of War. Kratos is working as a personal envoy of the gods of Olympus and is sent on missions that will eventually earn him freedom from his tormented nightmares. When the god of the sun, Helios, is kidnapped, Kratos is forced to go on a mission to free him or else Morpheus, the god of dreams, will send the entire world into an eternal sleep.
The second game, Ghost of Sparta, is set not long after Kratos slays Ares in God of War and becomes the new God of War. He is drawn by visions to the lost city of Atlantis, where he discovers some shocking facts about his own history. His long-lost brother is alive and being held in the realm of Thanatos, where even gods fear to tread. Kratos must find a way into that forbidden realm and rescue his brother.
Both of the games in God of War: Origins Collection focus on Kratos and his history. While both put forth the threat of world destruction, neither really seems to be dedicated to that story. Chains of Olympus tells of a threat to all existence, but it mostly serves as a backdrop for Kratos to confront the loss of his daughter; the actual villain appears and is vanquished in a span of 10 minutes.
Ghost of Sparta is slightly more focused but is nothing but a side story that sheds more light on Kratos' history and the reasons for his seemingly endless fountain of rage. The result is that neither manages to be particularly engrossing, and the story lines kind of meander along. Whereas the three "main" God of War titles have Kratos with a very specific goal that shakes the world, God of War: Origins Collection could cut out all but the last 30 minutes of the game and miss none of the plot. That doesn't mean that they're not enjoyable, but their stories don't feel as focused or refined as those in the main games.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is pure God of War. Both titles in the collection use the same familiar God of War gameplay that you've seen in every title. They're more akin to God of War II than God of War III, but there's little enough variation in the gameplay between God of War titles that everything will instantly feel familiar. All the basic God of War gameplay is here, from slaying beasts with Quick Time Events (QTEs) to collecting red orbs to power up your weapons, to gaining new and more brutal combos and abilities. The PS3 version even returns dodging to the right analog stick instead of the awkward PSP dodge, which required you to hold the shoulder buttons to move.
There's also a wide host of new weapons and equipment to find. Kratos gets new weapons like the Arms of Sparta and the Gauntlet of Zeus, along with a ton of new magical spells. There's nothing that is particularly exciting or special, but it also doesn't feel like a direct rehash of what you've seen before. God of War: Origins Collection contains two unmistakable God of War-styled games, and there's nothing really missing from the experience.
In the end, this is a good and bad thing. It's good that the developers managed to capture the essence of the God of War gameplay. Unfortunately, it's clear that these particular God of War titles are inferior to the "main" games. Chains of Olympus certainly stands out as the weaker of the two games, which is unsurprising, as it came first. The level design is less impressive, the visuals are weaker, and it just feels like a cohesive whole. There are a lot of game elements that don't feel as well implemented as the other God of War titles or even Ghost of Sparta. In many ways, it's clear that it was designed less as its own game and more as a portable version of God of War. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is probably the least impressive of the God of War titles on the PS3.
Ghost of Sparta, on the other hand, feels more like a true God of War title. The plot is easily the weakest, but the set design and gameplay feel more like a console offering. The set pieces are a lot more impressive, and it is clear that the developers had a better grasp of the PSP hardware's capabilities. Some set pieces are honestly impressive and really feel like the epic sequences you'd see in the console titles. However, between those set pieces, the game meanders along without any real focus. Kratos walks around and kills things, and for a good portion of the game, it feels like you're without a real goal. Compare this to God of War III, where Zeus is always on the horizon and Kratos' unstoppable rampage is so directly focused, it feels less exciting when Kratos pops by Sparta to hang out for a while.
The biggest problem that both games have is that they're clearly handheld titles. No amount of prettying up can change that basic fact. They're shorter, simpler and less impressive than their console counterparts. This is something that doesn't really stand out when you're playing it on a handheld, but it stands out more when you can toss in any of the other God of War titles and see the differences in design.
Chains of Olympus seems to have a lot of strange design flaws. For example, there's one "tightrope" sequence early in the game, and I got the Trophy for doing all tightrope sequences right after finishing the tutorial! It feels like it was included for no reason other than the other God of War titles had tightrope sequences, even if it didn't fit in the game. Weirdly, the inclusion of Trophies serves to only highlight some of these design flaws. For example, Chains of Olympus has a very long, unskippable cut scene right before the final battle. If you die there, you have to rewatch the cut scene every time. There's actually a Trophy for watching the cut scene at least three times! Even if you ignore glaring problems like that, the games still feel … inferior. That doesn't mean they aren't fun, but the primary selling point was God of War on the go. When you remove the "on the go" aspect, they seem a lot weaker.
Visually, both games are an obvious upgrade from their PSP versions. However, they're still clearly from a PSP port, with some rather unattractive textures and simple models in many spots. There are some sequences that just look bad because of an HD view of some muddy and ugly PSP-quality textures. The games also focus more on very obvious cut scenes for dramatic sequences, and that feels very out of place when it switches back to the lower-quality, PSP-ported models. For a PSP game, both titles look absolutely great, and it's only in comparison to PS3 titles that they come across as uglier. You'll be disappointed if you're expecting something remotely in the ballpark of God of War III, but if you go in knowing the game's roots, they look pretty good. The voice acting is the same quality as elsewhere in the series, although there really isn't a lot of it. The music is the same bombastic epic score you'd find in the other God of War titles, and it sounds quite good here.
God of War: Origins Collection isn't a bad deal for die-hard God of War fans. While neither game is the best that God of War has to offer, they're still more of the same exciting, action-packed gameplay. If you don't mind retreading ground and not seeing anything particularly exciting or new, you'll find a lot to like in this collection. There are new monsters to slay, locations to explore and weapons to use. The games don't live up to their console counterparts, but that only means that the graphics aren't as impressive when viewed on an HDTV. For God of War fans, this is a must-buy. Everyone else would want to pick up God of War Collection and God of War III first, but if you've already burned through those games, God of War: Origins Collection might scratch your itch for more of Kratos' brutal violence.
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