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God of War: Chains of Olympus - updated hands-on

This is the real plot of chains of Olympus, and it's also where things start to get really impressive. Unlike Attica, which visually was kind of pedestrian for the series, the second level features massively ornate temples and statuary - you know, the kinds of things that occasionally made the PS2 choke while it tried to render them. On the PSP, however, everything runs smoothly - without so much as a drop in framerate - no matter how detailed the surroundings get.

It's also a benighted wasteland populated by ghostly zombie-soldiers and snake-bodied women, who've taken to lumbering around and murdering anyone they find. Complicating things is a killer fog that's taken over large chunks of the landscape; the only way through it is to light a hay-filled cart on fire and push it to your destination, using its light to create a radius of safety in the middle of the evil.

Eventually, Kratos comes upon the Temple of Helios - which turns out to be the chariot that crashed to earth. Like all such divine structures in God of War, it wasn't designed with utility in mind, instead being packed to the gills with ornate puzzles to solve, mostly of the push-heavy-objects-around and find-the-item-to-open-doors varieties. It's also filled with ridiculously tough enemies, including hulking ghost panthers, shadowy goat-creatures, zombie warriors with flaming daggers and at least one very big demon that floated around, swinging a giant sword and deflecting Kratos' attacks with a destructible shield. Expect to die a lot here.

Kratos is far from defenseless against these horrors, of course; by the time we'd made it this far, we'd been able to upgrade the Blades of Chaos, as well as the Efreet magic he'd picked up in the first level, which manifests a huge, fiery demon to rapidly pound the ground and knock over your enemies. We also found Helios' shield deep within the temple, which enhances Kratos' blocking ability and makes it possible to reflect attacks back at enemies.

While we've only been able to spend a short time with the game so far, the little bit that we've played has dispelled any notions that this is just a weak spinoff of the "real" God of War titles. Kratos won't spend the game battling puny human enemies, and the level design so far is every bit as unique, complicated and pretty as we've come to expect from the series. Check back for updated impressions over the next couple days, as we continue to plow our way through the game.

Feb 13, 2008

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