The "God of War" series is coming to Sony's PlayStation Portable.
Word trickled out several weeks ago when the "God of War" font came to PSP developer Ready at Dawn's Web site. Word became official with statements from Sony developers and then, on Wednesday (April 25), the debut of a trailer for the PSP's "God of War: Chains of Olympus."
"God of War" is ready for PSP. I'm just not sure I'm ready for it. The game puts me and Sony's handheld at an interesting crossroads.
Depending on whom you ask, you'll hear that the PSP is either a Sony success — a triumph of engineering that can run games that resemble midrange PS2 titles; it's also a stable seller in the U.S. — or as a Sony stumble (it sold only 180,000 units in the U.S. last month compared to the less-powerful Nintendo DS' 508,000, according to research firm NPD).
None of that affects my playing habits. My job and my insatiable appetite for games keep me playing the PSP no matter what. Over the past couple of years, I've developed a few essential questions that affect my appreciation of any game I might play on the system:
How does the PSP game compare to its PS2 version?
Be it "Grand Theft Auto," "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops," "Killzone: Liberation" or "Daxter," major PSP games tend to be derived from hit series on the PlayStation 2. This is a blessing and a curse. The benefit is that games arrive in players' hands exhibiting familiar gameplay, structures and themes, the same comforting way each new "Mario Kart" or "Mario Tennis" immediately makes sense to experienced gamers when the sequels pop up on a new Nintendo machine. The downside is that dissimilarities stand out, particularly any that make the PSP versions of the franchises feel compromised. The "GTA" games on the consoles, for example, benefit from the PS2 or Xbox controllers' second analog stick. The second stick controls the game's camera. The PSP doesn't have a second stick, so the "GTA" games on that system can't offer camera control that is nearly as smooth. As a result, merely seeing the PSP "GTA" cities at the proper angles is a challenge that it isn't in the console editions.
The good news here about "God of War" coming to PSP is that the PS2 versions of the game didn't use that right analog stick for camera control, just for dodging. The game's signature actions were mapped to the same type of PS2 controller buttons that are on the PSP. Because of this, I'm not expecting any radical control dissimilarities. That might be a first for PS2 to PSP franchise transitions.
Will this one be the game that defines the PSP?
"Tetris" and, later, "Pokémon" defined the Game Boy. "Nintendogs" and "Brain Age" made the Nintendo DS make sense to the masses. There have been very good games on the PSP in the last two years, but there has yet to be a system-defining game, one that people discuss and that sells significantly month after month. Attempts have been made to change this. The ambitious "GTA" games and the unconventional, experimental "Portable Ops" were both strongly promoted efforts that just didn't get the rep as the PSP game. That crown is still available, and I'm eager to play the game that takes it. Is "God of War" the one?
"Chains of Olympus" is developed by "Daxter" studio Ready at Dawn. Last year, that studio won platformer-of-the-year honors from Gamespot over Nintendo's "New Super Mario Brothers." The developers there are quite good. So I'm ready for "God of War" to be The One. I just can't tell if it can be. "Tetris" aside, the other platform-definers mentioned above did things that people weren't expecting and hadn't experienced before (playing a virtual-pet game via a microphone and a touch screen, for example, was a winning novelty). I don't know what a "God of War" PSP game would have to have for it to define the PSP, especially if, as the trailer indicates, it presents an experience similar to that of the PS2 games.
Do I want to play this game in public?
I've noted before that I have issues with playing certain handheld games in public. There are things I don't like being asked of the portable games I'm playing while sandwiched in the New York City subway (see "Multiplayer: Not A Breath Of Fresh Air"). And there are public displays of portable gaming I quite relish (see "Multiplayer: Gaming While Jogging").
So here's the thing: If the PSP's "God of War" is anything like its M-rated counterparts, it will surely be the most bloody, brutal game I'll have ever played wedged between the elbows of businesswomen, little kids, panhandlers and the rest of the colorful commuters on the Number 2 train. In the privacy of my own home, I've had "God of War" antihero Kratos rip the limbs and heads off characters from Greek mythology. I've had him tear soldiers' sword-bearing arms off and then stab themselves with them. And I've felt uneasy enough about those actions when I triggered them on the living-room TV in front of loved ones — what will the strangers on the subway think? How will I help redefine the public image of the gamer? Should I play in public with a smile? Or flash a look of disgust? Can I handle the responsibility? Or maybe they'll make the game tame and I won't have to worry. We'll see.
No release date has been given for "God of War: Chains of Olympus." A Sony Web site includes details for receiving a demo of the game once such a demo is ready here.