Best of the Best

I want to describe for you a sequence in “God of War: Chains of Olympus,” one of the best games yet made. The imagery is so vibrant, screen shots could be displayed in an art gallery. But here they are in a video game.

You play as Kratos the Spartan, a warrior sent into battles by Zeus and the ancient gods of mythical forever-ago. You’re bald. Your shirtless torso flexes Herculean. You slay nasty creatures with blades of fire which extend by chains from your bloody hands.

And here’s the sequence at hand. In a richly ornate temple-castle, you race up a gigantic, circular marble staircase. The camera angle at this point is overhead, so you can witness Kratos making his way up the “Vertigo”-like swirl of stairs.

You reach the top, and the camera angle gently lowers to a cinematic movie cut. You see yourself standing on an official seal bearing a face; it has been cut with delicate care into the seal’s rock.

A narrator informs you of your progress on this journey to save humanity from an evil godlet. All around, water fountains gush into streams. Broken idols lie dead near cracked tiles. And ugly, evil monsters lurch as treachery.

A hellish ghoul attacks you with chunks of fire, but you grab him, lay him on the ground, stab him in the mouth with your fiery blade, then split him in half down the middle, from jaw to groin.

A panther-thing the size of an elephant claws at you. You scurry out of its way, jump 10 feet in the air, twirl your blade-chains down onto his head, wrap your chains around his skull, and yank the panther-thing’s noggin until it explodes.

This sequence lasts but a few moments. But it is representative. Almost every aspect of the game is just as exhilarating. “God of War: Chains of Olympus” is the PSP’s finest hour. Or, it’s the PSP’s finest 20 hours or so. It’s a huge, long, sprawling masterpiece.

Mind you, this is a sequel, or officially a prequel, yet it is the most creative new piece of art I’ve seen in a year or two. For “Chains” not to end up as the game of the year will take a powerful groundbreaker to surpass it.

Fans of the “God of War” series will recognize the thoroughly addictive game play. You explore sweeping vistas of castles and bridges, climb rock walls, swim underwater among mythical ruins, and most of all kill, kill, kill.

It is flawless. Perfect. As an orchestral score booms, cinematic cuts look finer than whole movies, taking place on amazingly detailed sets, employing camera pans and scans reminiscent of early Spielberg and middle Hitchcock.

It is a full fantasy experience. There is sex off screen, but barely. There are shirtless goddesses and enormous statues who talk to you, and puzzles that sometimes stump you for a half-hour. Even if you skip the easy and hard settings to play on the medium-hard setting, you will be challenged to stay alive.

Taking it all in, you wonder: Where have all the artists gone? Have they all abandoned canvases to work on “God of War” games? It seems so when you adore the splendor of this, the defining PSP game we’ve all been waiting for.

(“God of War: Chains of Olympus” by Sony retails for $40 for PSP — Plays addictively fun. Looks phenomenal. Moderately challenging to extremely challenging, depending on which settings you choose. Rated “M” for nudity, sexual content, blood, gore and intense violence. Four stars out of four.)

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