If you remember our E3 coverage you might remember that John and I were both pretty excited about Conan from THQ. Sure the game was a God of War clone but the graphics were great and right now there's not a a game of it's type available on the 360. The game also played well and had some very violent and gory ways to dispatch enemies. Who doesn't like cutting the arms off people or cutting them in half with a giant sword? It was with those thoughts in mind that I purchased a copy of the game.
Unfortunately the rest of the game didn't live up to my expectations. Sure the combat and graphics where there but the game really lacks the heart and soul of the God of War series. I wonder why THQ didn't call the game or God of Hyboria as the game cribs so much from Sony's game. It's like the developers took their notes directly from the game and used them as their design specs. They didn't even change the colors of the orbs you pickup during the game (green for health, blue for magic, red for experience) which would at least have differentiated their game a little bit more.
There are a few differences thought. Instead of spending the experience you gain during the game on new magical abilities you can spend them on new weapon combos. There are five main combat areas for Conan: unarmed, single sword, sword and shield, dual weapons, and double handed weapons. Each of these areas has different combos that you can spend your experience points on. Once you buy a combo and use it you will gain experience with that combat level until you master it and get a bonus every time you pull it off. Each of the styles is best suited to a certain type of enemy and as you progress through the game you learn which weapons work best against which enemies. Facing a bunch of small enemies without shields? Mow through them with both swords ablazing. Facing dudes with shields? Then grab a two handed weapon and break through the shield. It's a decent system but honestly I played through most of the game with the dual weapon combo because I liked cutting guys arms off and you can pick up a really cool move later on in the game that allows you to decapitate enemies with ease.. Sure it wasn't always the best decision but that's how I got through the majority of the game.
The plot of the game has Conan working to rectify a problem he creates in the first level of the game. Like a blundering idiot Conan accidentally releases the mage Graven from his magical jail and onto the world. Graven strips Conan of his magical armor and now Conan must get it back and stop Graven from re-shaping the world. The armor is magical and each piece you get back grants Conan magic...errr..."Armor powers". Seem familiar at all? Yah, I know...let's keep going. The armor powers are decent but you only get four of them. The first allows you to turn enemies to stone, the second allows you to unleash a meteor storm on your opponents, the third creates a plague of birds that take out enemies around you and the fourth allows Conan to rip a whole in the time and space to send enemies to Mt. Olympus...err...into the void. I seem to remember the classic Conan character having a bit of an aversion to magic of any shape and sort but I guess this isn't really magic as it's part of the armor he wears. I really only used the armor power through the game and that was to take out some of the bigger enemies that I was too lazy to take out with my swords.
Graphically the game is excellent. The art directors eschewed the photo-realism look for a more comic brushed look and it really works for the game. The levels are lush and rich and have a style all their own. There's a nice touch in that enemies bleed like you would expect them to so after a large battle with lots of enemies you'll notice that the nice clean forest area now looks like it's been re-painted in red. Character design is also solid and the enemies are well animated for the most part. I really did like the spectral enemies you fight at the beginning and end of the game as when you dispatch them their spirits fly out the edges of the screen. I do wonder why the game felt it necessary to bring over the annoying freeze in the action when you pull off a major combo as it slows down game play but if you liked it in God of War, you'll like it in Conan.
The audio is solid. THQ brought in Ron Perlman to voice Conan and he does a fantastic job with the material he's given. Some of the catch phrases do get old after a while. The rest of the audio is solid and the clang of swords on armor is well done as is the screaming of people as you tear them limb from limb. It's not memorable but it gets the job done. The musical score is also solid but not overly memorable. It's big and brassy where it needs to be but doesn't really get in the way.
The enemies in the game aren't going to be invited to any MENSA meetings any time soon but it's about what you would expect. The base AI for the majority of the bad guys seems to be "Hey, let's all rush the big guy with the glowing swords and see what happens". There is some variety as some enemies will occasionally wait a bit and then charge you or wait until you have your back turned on them. Later on in the game the AI starts to wander in to the cheap "That's totally lame" area where enemies start pulling off long, unblockable combos. There isn't a lot of this but there are a few levels where you realize you are screwed as soon as they land one attack.
These game isn't helped by some inconsistencies in the level design. There are some wide open levels where the game designers place invisible walls so you can't jump off into space no matter how hard you try. Then there are other levels where one misstep sends you back to the last checkpoint in the game. The problem is that it's not consistent which is frustrating in the later levels because Conan will some times either get knocked off a ledge by an enemy or finishes a combo that takes him off the edge of a cliff. Some of these problems would be mitigated with a decent camera system but the designers went with a fixed camera. The camera will usually rotate to give you a better view of the action but it tends to lag a bit which can be frustrating. This is especially true when you are trying to navigate to the save point that's just across a chasm. What's sad is that I think the developers knew that this was a problem because some of the check points in the game have you re-spawning immediately at the start of one of these lame jumping puzzles.
Speaking of save points the game also managed to adopt the Save point/check point system from God of War as well. It kills me that game designers don't let me save my progress anywhere in a game even on modern consoles with large hard drives. This system is made worse by the fact that some of the save points are off the beaten path. That's right, the game forces you to explore the game to find some of the save points in the game which is a terrible, terrible design decision. It's bad enough that we still have to deal with a game construct that's nearly 15 years old but to make players have to hunt for them is inexcusable. One of my first notes on the game was that it seemed like there was a large gap between save points but I now believe that I just missed a few on the way.
Thankfully the game isn't very long and clocks in at around 6 hours or so. That wouldn't be a bad thing except that the game sells for $60. That same $60 could have been spent on four Oregano Italialiano pizzas from Minute Man Pizza, two months of an online dating service, or on a better game like Ratchet and Clank. The good news is that I’ll get an extra 30% trade credit for the game when I trade it in on Rock Band next week.
Playing the game did remind me a bit of the 80's animated movie Heavy Metal in that it's feels aimed squarely at teenage boys and those who are teenage boys at heart. The gore and blood is part of this but the better example are the half-naked maidens that Conan can rescue during his run through the game. For no reason at all there are topless women tied to walls with no explanation of why they are there or who left them there. I can almost see chaining topless maidens to trees in a forest or in a castle but outside in the snow? What's really weird is that all of these women only know how to get up by performing a move reminicent of a Two Live Crew song. I'm not going to tell you which one but use google if you're still in the dark. It's like the developers at the game wanted to put a God of War sex game into the game but chickened out at the last moment and decided to go with quantity of boobs rather than quality of boobs. It was kind of funny the first time but it got old after a while.
After all this kvetching and moaning (I'm assuming you're still reading) Conan isn't a bad game. It's just a very derivative game that could have been so much more. They could have added a few new features to the game, added a few levels to the game, or even spiced it up with some real sexuality rather than the tee-hee stuff they put in the game. There are a lot of cool features in the game but it's really hard to recommend this game for ownership.
If ever there was the definition of a rental it would be Conan. Sure there are some nice visuals and some decent game play but the game is too short for the money.