|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 3 Dec 2009|
The PSP version of God of War (which you may remember from a certain Game Hunt earlier in November) is, without a doubt, a faithful rendition of the series. For those of you who played either of the original 2 games for PS2 (or the recent collection for PS3) and enjoyed it, picking this up should be a no-brainer. At its core, it is exactly what it advertises. It is a portable God of War that plays and looks nearly identical to its console brethren. It’s certainly not perfect, but it is one of the premier action games on the system.
I suppose the elephant in the room is why I didn’t even bother picking this game up until last month when I’ve been reviewing and buying obviously inferior games to it on the system for the past year or so. Well, while I certainly appreciate the production values and tightness of the original God of War game, I’m not sure I ever fully embraced it. Perhaps there was too much hype, and I was expecting more than just a solid action game with an amazing first hour. Regardless, the portable prequel didn’t exactly get me jumping up and down for it, despite knowing it was good. But, seeing good games cheap usually sways me to purchase them, and I was reasonably pleased with what I ended up with.
The good stuff here is that this is one of the best looking games on PSP. Outside of maybe the recent Final Fantasies on the system (Dissidia, Crisis Core) I’m hard pressed to think of a nicer looking game. The look isn’t quite PS2, but most of the time, you could easily mistake it as such. Kratos looks great, most of the environments are large and epic, and the large enemies and bosses are nicely detailed. Some of the grunts you slog through are rather flimsy and undistinguished, but the game as a whole is simply awesome, graphically. Even better, load times are very minimal, which is a huge thing for PSP games. Credit to developer Ready At Dawn for optimizing their engine to fit the game and the system.
But while the graphics are eye-catching, the gameplay needs to be there. Well, this certainly delivers. If you liked the original God of War, this control scheme and its responsiveness is near identical. You get a bit less weapons and items to play with overall, but there’s still a nice upgrade system in place that slowly gives you new moves and incentives to keep playing. The music is fitting, but a traditional “epic” score that really didn’t do much for me either way. It works.
So the game is pretty rock solid technically, and delivers a fine God of War experience. However….
Like I said, it has its problems. First and foremost, the game is tremendously short. Even for a portable game, clocking in under 6 hours while exploring everywhere and being in no hurry is way, way too short, especially when the console versions triple that playtime. To its credit, there are challenges to beat afterwards and new costumes and difficulty levels, but that’s really not my thing. I bought it for a single player adventure, and that is too short. What’s odd is that in some ways, it even feels padded out too. I think this is attributed to the fact that there’s almost no story here. You get some story to begin, a nifty twist near the end to tie into the other games, but in between, you are stuck with going from point A to point B, fighting random enemies, maybe doing a puzzle or two, then getting some vague on screen text regarding some Greek mythological mumbo jumbo, or a small cutscene telling Kratos to “Stop so-and-so! The Gods need you!” and then you are back to slogging through areas. By the time I got to the end, I was both okay with it being concluded, and simultaneously couldn’t believe it was that short. The fact that the story starts to get good in the last 20 minutes only makes the ending more of a bittersweet note.
Additionally, the game has some amazing environments and another outstanding epic introduction, but as you delve further into the game, there are actually quite a few bland, lifeless environments in many areas. They are offset by the aforementioned beautiful setpieces in some areas, but there’s still a bit of blah in areas where you feel like you are just traveling through a dungeon. Also, especially in the town areas, there is a distinct feeling of been-there-done-that from the other games in the series. They are all original environments but the vibe is very similar, and while it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is an amazing original iteration of the series in portable form, I would have liked if it could have emerged as more of its own game. As it is, it feels like a story arc cut from one of the first 2 games and padded out to make a shorter, new game.
Finally, while this is an issue with the series as a whole, I nonetheless will address it now, since it was irritating the shit out of me for a good part of the game. I’m not a fan of the whole “quick timed button press minigame” fad in action games that was started by the original God of War, where you have to press certain random buttons in the middle of a fight in order to finish off bosses or special enemies. If you fail to hit the buttons in the right sequence, you have to try all over again, and many times it requires you to press them extremely quickly or tap the buttons very rapidly, which I’m either too slow to do or it sucks to do on a portable system. They pop up constantly and make you do work I don’t feel a game should make you do, like tap O rapidly to open a door. Ugh, no thanks! If I wanted to work to open a door, I’d go open one in real life. While an occasional quicktime event with some specific buttons presses is fine with me, the fact that it is so embedded in the gameplay is a total pain in the ass for me and a knock against it.
However, I’m just sorta bitching about that last point. What this game represents is one of, if not the best, action game on the system. It kept me engaged for its short playtime, and it managed to do its PS2 brothers proud. It has almost everything you would expect in a console version, and it looks fantastic, with great production values. It’s now a rather inexpensive pickup too, so I recommend it if you want a quick, fun, and challenging title for PSP.