Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: God of War Origins Collection

Platform: PlayStation 3

Developer: Ready At Dawn/Sony Santa Monica Studios

# of Players: 1

ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: A

Even if you already own both games on the PSP, God of War Origins Collection is a stellar must-purchase PS3 title that's also one of the most polished ports of a portable game to a home console ever. Ready At Dawn along with Sony Santa Monica Studios have gone above and beyond here beefing up the two games with high resolution visuals (in great optional stereoscopic 3D), refined controls, Trophy support and even a bit of additional content. Both games are brutal, brilliant chapters that flesh out lead character Kratos' story and make for a great pair of games that should please any fan of the franchise as well as anyone new to his violent world. As a longtime GOW fan, I'll absolutely say that the man certainly knows how to make an entrance, no matter what platform he's on.

The first game in the set, God of War: Chains of Olympus takes place before the first PS2 game and has Kratos on a mission to rescue the sun god, Helios after he's been abducted and imprisoned. The game combines plenty of bloody combat, some minor to moderately tricky puzzles and a well-written story that packs in a nice wallop of a climax. God of War: Ghost of Sparta is set between GOW I and II and features Kratos seeking out his long-lost brother in an even more violent set of levels with even more powerful storytelling. The gameplay here offers up some elements found in God of War III and has much larger bosses and enemies than found in Chains of Olympus. The great thing is sitting down to play through the collection in order (which I did most of this weekend) and seeing all the pieces of Kratos' mad existence fall into place.

Of the two, COL is the shorter experience (around 5-7 hours depending on your skill level). GOS clocks in around 8-10 hours the first time through, but in both cases, you won't play either game just one time and put the collection away. There are a few different difficulty levels and rewards for besting the game each time. I'm ancient enough to remember when people actually hung onto games they liked until they beat them to death and beyond, so what's here feels nice and nostalgic in that sense. Too many gamers these days seem too damned jaded about running times as if they'd blow through a game like this on every difficulty with no trouble whatsoever. Granted, if you've played these two games to death on the PSP using Sony's Component TV cable, you're getting a slightly similar experience. The addition of 3D and richer visuals makes for a much nicer treat for the eyes, though. Even on a standard definition TV, the games look amazing.

The oddball thing about Ghost of Sparta is that despite the incredible improvements in visuals and the more solid gameplay, the game actually scored lower overall than Chains of Olympus. For that, you can blame not so smart critics comparing it to God of War III when it should have been judged against other PSP games. Seeing both games together also shows how the development team was able to get much more out of the PSP in a relatively short time. COL looks like an upscaled last-generation PS2 game while GOS could be mistaken for a first-gen PS3 entry at first glance. The scale of the games increases geometrically as well. Both have some nice sights of destroyed environments and some nicely done level layouts, but GOS ups the ante and scope tenfold.

For example, the first boss in the game is a few times bigger than the biggest monster in Chains was and it's also the first boss you face off against (and multiple times across a level at that). Additionally, the level variety and enemy counts are better and larger and even better, making for some truly impressive battles when things get hectic. As noted, the controls are refined so they're closer to the console games. The right stick on the PS3 controller is used for rolling away from danger, but you can stick with the PSP-style controls if that's what you're used to. Combat is fluid in both games, but some of the quick-time events will probably be a bit annoying for those not used to them. I had a non-PSP owning friend drop by a few days after my review copy showed up and I let him play a bit while I was writing this review. He got stuck on one QTE sequence in the first game and I had to bail him out so he could press on. Of course, he's an old fart like me, so it's more reflexes than the game being hard to play.

Along with the excellent HD visuals, the sound design and music are excellent as well. GOS gets a beefier soundtrack and sound overall, but both games add up to an incredible aural experience. The minor gripes here are minimal and don't detract from the overall game experience. for one thing, the CG movies in COL weren't redone completely, so they don't look that great after a few years. Both games' CG sections are lower resolution than the games they're in, but GOS' movies look much better in terms of detail and animation. Another gripe is with the simple, no frills main menu design. It would have been sweet to have something a bit more exciting or something that didn't force you to go back to the dashboard when you wanted to hop into the other game on the disc.

Finally, I suppose at some point we'll see a definitive Blu-Ray collection that includes every entry in the series PLUS the cell phone game, God of War: Betrayal, so I'll excuse Sony for not sticking it on the disc (or at least, including some sort of digital coupon for a demo). Why Sony keeps ignoring that gem for a PS3.PSP port is beyond me, as it was (and is) a great 2D entry that feels like a classic 16-bit side scrolling action game. That said, if Sony is feeling skittish about blowing up a mobile game made for a tiny vertical screen, perhaps there's a different option. I say they should get WayForward Technologies to remake Betrayal as a HD 2D game with some new level layouts and an expanded story that connects to the other games. Faster than you can say *ding!*, folks like me who love completing collections will snap it up.

Even without the mobile entry on the disc, God Of War Origins Collection is one of those great game deals that's hard to pass up and yet another reason PS3 owners will be grinning extra wide this month. ICO & Shadow of The Colossus Collection is on the way later this month (it's a definite day one buy) and I'm hoping we eventually see other Sony first and third-party games given the HD remix treatment in the future. That definitely includes more PSP titles, as there are quite a few worth seeing beefed up to 1080p with 5.1 DTS Surround (and optional 3D). My current PS2 to PS3 wishlist includes the two PS2 Siren games, the Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank series plus one-offs such as Drakan: the Ancient's Gates and Primal (two really underrated games). Let's hope SCEA continues to dip into its huge games library and let PS3 owners reap the rewards of all that creativity. They're certainly doing a superb job so far

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