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Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Nihilistic Software


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Xbox 360 Preview - 'Conan'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 21, 2007 @ 6:36 a.m. PDT

Conan is an action adventure video game featuring a story of epic brutality, sheer evil and visceral combat. Players will follow the journey of Conan the Cimmerian as he fights a vicious battle against a variety of enemies and an elusive power that threatens to consume the Hyborian world. Playing as Conan, players will take advantage of a deep and gratifying combat system that offers a variety of deadly weapons, fighting styles and interactive environments to battle hordes of enemies.

Genre: Action
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Nihilistic
Release Date: October 23, 2007

It's nearly impossible to discuss Conan without bringing up God of War. Everything is incredibly similar, from their shirtless, manly anti-heroes to the methods of improving abilities, to the very basic head's-up display. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since God of War was one of the best franchises to come out of the last generation of games, and one of the few that Xbox owners missed out on. Yet, if you get the briefest sense of déjà vu while reading this preview, don't think it's just you: Conan is indeed a God of War clone, but if you read on, you'll see that it has its own style that sets it apart from Kratos' brutal adventures.

Conan, rather unsurprisingly, places you in the boots of Conan the Barbarian, made famous by now-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. There's no real rhyme or reason to Conan's adventures; he kills whom he needs to kill, gets what he wants to get and romances whatever women get in his way. He is the very definition of action hero, and it's rather surprising it has taken this long for him to get a new game.

Conan gives us control of the barbarian while he's on one of his many adventures. Seeking a mysterious treasure in a long-forgotten city, Conan accidentally releases a cursed wizard from his tomb. The wizard, naturally, has plans to take over the world by using the Black Death, a plague that turns men into savages. To make matters worse, this wizard stole Conan's armor and infused it with his own dark magics, spreading the pieces across the land in an effort to disperse the Black Death. If there is one thing that Conan really hates, it's wizards, and if there is one thing he hates more than wizards, it's wizards who steal his stuff. Conan sets out to get his revenge and maybe save the world while he's at it. You almost have to pity the poor sorcerer.

If you've played God of War, much of Conan is going to be familiar to you. Conan travels from location to location, killing foes, evading traps and occasionally saving a beautiful woman from danger. While this mostly involves violent and bloody combat, there is a good amount of platforming adventure to be done in Conan as well. Conan will have to scale cliffs, push over gigantic statues to create paths and hop over bottomless chasms if he wants to reach his enemy intact. Luckily for him, however, the biggest obstacle in his way is the countless minions that the wizard sends against him, and if Conan is good at one thing, it's taking care of the small fry.

Combat in Conan is a mix of strategy and button-mashing, which is a style of game that's easy to learn yet difficult to master. The X and Y buttons perform weak and strong attacks, respectively, the A button jumps and the B button is used to grab foes. The shoulder buttons are used to block, perform actions and cast magic. Every enemy that Conan slaughters will drop "runes," which are small orbs that come in one of three colors: red is experience, which can be used to buy new moves; green is health; and blue refills Conan's magic bar. If this sounds like God of War, you're right on the money. Gamers who've had the chance to pick up and play with Kratos will find Conan's basic controls quite familiar. It's in the details where things start to get muddied.

One major departure Conan takes from God of War is in the introduction of multiple kinds of combat styles. Although Conan has his own trusty sword, he prefers to use whatever weapons he can get his hands on, even if he needs to rip someone's arm off to get one. There are three major kinds of fighting styles to which Conan has access. One-handed weapons are balanced but not particularly exceptional in any area, though they allow Conan to use a shield to augment his defense. Dual-wielding one-handed weapons is another option; it turns Conan into a buzz saw of death, allowing him to tear through enemies with blazing speed, although he sacrifices power to do so. Finally, two-handed weapons, such as broadswords and polearms, are the real powerhouses; they're slower than the other weapons available, but in Conan's hands, even a single blow to an enemy can be fatal.

Each fighting style has its own advantages and disadvantages, and those mostly come in the form of attack attributes. While a good number of Conan's attacks are of the normal "hit enemy, cause damage" variety, quite a few have abilities above and beyond the norm. Heavy attacks, for example, have the ability to break through a blocking enemy's defenses. Since enemies love to block, these are important attacks to have. An enemy with a shield can block heavy attacks, but attacks with the Shield Breaker attribute can sunder an enemy's shield, rendering him defenseless against further attacks. These attributes play into the various combat styles in a number of ways. The dual-wielding style's speed comes at a significant cost: It lacks heavy attacks. Thus, while it can tear through poorly defended foes with ease, all it takes is one skilled foe to slow down Conan. On the other hand, the two-handed weapons come with many heavy attacks, making them the perfect weapon for taking down defensive foes. However, a two-handed weapon's speed means it is useless against large groups. Learning to switch weapons for different situations is going to mean the difference between emerging victorious or an ignoble death.

"The best offense is a good defense" is rarely truer than in Conan. The most powerful and brutal attacks in Conan are the ones that also require the most skill from the player. Whenever Conan is being attacked by an enemy, he can attempt to parry the attack by hitting the block button at the exact moment the blade is about to make contact. If Conan successfully parries the attack, time slows and a button prompt appears onscreen. A successful button prompt will cause Conan to instantly kill that enemy, by beheading, disembowelment or many other rather unpleasant and violent fates. Of course, mistiming a parry will mean that Conan meets the business end of his enemy's sword. Equipping a shield doesn't exactly increase Conan's defense as much as one would expect, although it does render him immune to heavy attacks. Instead, a shield increases the period of time that Conan has to parry an attack, potentially turning the normally boring one-handed weapon into the deadliest weapon in skilled hands.

As Conan continues on his quest, he'll eventually regain the armor that he lost during his fateful encounter with the evil wizard. However, being near such a powerful evil being has changed his armor in wondrous ways. Each armor piece now grants Conan a new and powerful magical ability, mostly in the form of magical spells. Conan can turn his enemies to stone, send a rain of fireballs down on their heads or even rip open the very fabric of the world to send his enemies flying into a black hole. Naturally, such power isn't going to be unrestricted. Much like God of War, Conan has a magic bar that gets drained with every spell that he casts. While it is possible to refill the bar using blue runes dropped by enemies, these are far rarer than the other kinds. Due to these limitations, magic can only serve as Conan's secondary weapon, which is rather fitting, since he claims to despise wizards of all kind.

However, there is one ability granted by the armor that is far more in line with Conan's style of fighting. The first armor piece grants him the "Song of Death" ability, which is by far the most devastating weapon in his arsenal. When Conan performs long uninterrupted combos, his weapons begin to "sing the song of death," which means they begin glowing with energy and gain a massive increase in attack power and range. The longer Conan can keep obliterating enemies without suffering damage, the more powerful the blades become. Exceptional combos come with other rewards as well, in the form of huge amounts of red, green and blue runes. The Song of Death isn't easy to keep up, however, and even the smallest blow can interrupt Conan's killing spree. It's actually possible to go through entire levels without seeing the Song of Death once, since it requires exceptional combos to unleash, but players who do manage to make their swords sing will find it to be a most welcome addition to Conan's abilities.

Conan is a barbarian in every sense of the word, and Conan is eager to show that off. The visuals in Conan are simply brutal. They're actually slightly more subdued than those found in God of War, but that makes every splash of blood all the more violent. Conan beheads enemies, rips off their arms, pulls out their guts and throws them into spike walls, all in vivid detail. Every time you slash an enemy, blood splashes realistically from the wound, and by the time Conan's combat is over, the arenas in which he fights are stained crimson. It gives a solid feeling of actually fighting in these locations, although it certainly isn't for the faint of heart. The character models are solid and well-designed, and Conan himself is perfect, evoking a true "barbarian" atmosphere without resorting to looking like the actors who played him in the movies.

The audio portion was unfinished on our preview build, but the aspects that are present are quite promising. Conan's voice work is dead-on. He has a gruff and oh-so-manly voice that fits him exceptionally well — more so than the voices of any movie actors who've portrayed him. The rest of the audio work is top-notch and does an excellent job of evoking the feeling of the various movies.

Conan may be exactly what X360 owners are looking for. It's not God of War, but with the brutal action, it's shaping up to be the next best thing. With such an involved combat system, it wouldn't be surprising if gamers find a number of ways to play through Conan's adventures. A number of unlockables, including bonus artwork and extra gameplay modes, means that Conan is likely to have a solid replay value beyond the occasional urge to behead some evil villains. Even those fans of the God of War Kratos may want to check out the original barbarian when he hits Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year.

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