| paleface [sys=PS3; cat=Beat_em_up; loc=NA] |
|This game rules. It isn't a brilliant game by any means; it's rough around the edges, of sometimes low production values, and shamelessly rips off many previous games in the beat-em-up genre, particularly God of War. On the other hand, it has Conan, and he slices up a lot of dudes in a wide variety of ways. This is good.|
Conan is a barbarian, from old books by early fantasy writer Robert E. Howard. In the books, Conan was a pretty dark dude, prone to murderous rages when riled, and not taking guff from anyone if he could help it. The game comes close to that character, but leaves him with a silly puppy-dog look at times, and gives him at least one cringeworthy misogynistic one-liner (not that Conan was a feminist by any means, but he wouldn't bother cracking stupid jokes about gender issues--he wasn't much for jokes or puns altogether). Most of this happens in the cutscenes, which are mostly forgettable, and sometimes have pretty shaky animation. Fortunately, they're short, and you can get right back to the slaying. The voice acting is pretty decent, at least--oh, except during gameplay, Conan sometimes makes stupid observations when he reaches certain points in the levels, and really you just wish he'd have some barbarian dignity and shut the hell up.
In the books, magic was a dark and evil thing, and not at all something Conan was comfortable with. In the game, you eventually get access to four magic powers associated with bits of armor you pick up. These are extremely powerful, and can be used pretty frequently. I've seen Conan "purists" object to his willingly using magic, and I suppose they've got a point, but hell, it's not like you have to use the powers, anyway. In fact they're pretty superfluous. I barely used them and look at me, ma! I beat the game anyway.
Oh, to finish off talking about the story: it isn't great. Basically you're going around collecting pieces of your old armor that somehow got spread all over the place among various monster bosses. It's all connected with this evil (duh) magician guy, a nasty plague, etc, blah blah. The explanations for why and how you journey between the various levels aren't very clear, and really they shouldn't have bothered. The only up-side to the story is the amazon queen who figures in a large part of it; she's well-acted, and kind of cute.
So once past all that cinematic story nonsense, you get into a 3D world, where you have access to a few different types of swords with which to slice various limbs off a variety of mostly humanoid bad guys. The slicing is done with chain-combos of the face buttons, mostly Square and Triangle, with Circle sometimes thrown in for variety. Beating up guys, and breaking boxes, barrels, crates, jars, chests, and so forth, will sometimes release floating balls of health, magic, and experience. Get enough XP balls and you can "buy" more attack moves. Once you get a new move, using it successfully enough times will "Master" it, providing you with an XP boost, and possibly a beneficial side-effect when using the attack, like small health or magic boosts.
There are four types of attacks: bare-handed, single-sword (or sword & shield), dual sword, and two-handed sword. Learning when to use the different sword types (provided you can find the right weapon, usually picked up from some dude you slew, or a handy weapon rack) is very important, because each has a significant advantage in certain situations. Well, actually, single-sword (or sword and a shield) is sort of the all-around mode, but for lots of small guys swarming you, you'll do much better with the wild spinning attacks available with dual swords, and for large armored guys, two-handed swords (or axes, pikes, etc) are invaluable.
This is because unlike most beat-em-ups, the bad guys block. A lot. Just mashing the attack buttons will quickly get you sliced to ribbons anywhere past the beginning of the game, because you'll be blocked and countered in the blink of an eye. You have to block the enemy attack, then counter attack at just the right time, or get in first with a heavy attack that breaks their guard, opening them up for a nice meaty combo. It's a simple, intuitive system that becomes great fun and provides a lot of variety as you gain access to more moves, and come up against different opponents who demand different strategies. There are group-hit moves, long combo moves, distance moves, stun moves, disarm moves, combo-continuing moves, instant-kill moves, and so forth, and learning which ones to use in which situations is key. Most of the special moves come complete with a cool-looking slow-motion animation that looks bad-ass, and is really satisfying to pull off.
They tried to ape famous Conan artist Frank Frazetta's oil painterly art style, and the result is hit and miss. Some of the locations really do look suitably pulp-fantasy-coverish, with blended tones producing a rich, soft image, but then again many of the textures just look blurry, the shadows can flicker in a distracting way, and the water looks absolutely horrible. Oh, and the default gamma setting is too bleached out, and makes everything look awful--fortunately, that can be adjusted. Still, while the locations aren't usually awe-inspiring, they're usually pretty solid, with nice dimmed lighting, and fit the genre fairly well. And the character models, while not particularly creative, are believably constructed, and animate well.
Sound is pretty decent, and the music in particular fits the game very well. The first Conan movie sported a great, barbaric soundtrack by Basil Poledouris, and the soundtrack here follows admirably in those footsteps--not quite as awesome as the orchestral movie soundtrack, but good, and very appropriate to the wild, medieval or pre-medieval setting.
Level design is often repetitive, locking you in a small to medium-sized area, and spawning guys to beat up before you can get free to move on to the next location. There are some block or jumping puzzles, and these are hardly inspired, but fortunately not that common, and pretty quickly disposed of. Some combat sequences are more creatively orchestrated, and most of the boss fights at least bring something new to the encounter, even if it's repeating a particular movement and attack pattern. I'm not a fan of the frequent boss-battle use of "press the displayed sequence of buttons while the characters play cool scripted animations in the background" type of finishing moves, which seem to be popular these days...but, eh, at least they're also short and relatively infrequent.
Conan, when it sticks to its strength of a big barbarian chopping up hordes of men and creatures, is pure dark delight. For some reason it tries to do other things here and there, and usually stumbles. Fortunately, it never forgets the basics, and there are always lots more guys to slice and dice in many ways, right around the corner. Going through the first time, you'll mostly be occupied with learning and mastering all the moves; unfortunately, when you start a new game, it doesn't allow you to keep this progression, but you do unlock a code that gives you all the moves, which is pretty close to being as good. Successive play-throughs, then (and it isn't a long game), exploring the higher difficulty levels, are almost pure blade-slinging joy, and it's pretty hard to put the controller down once the swords and limbs start flying.
Hm one thing I should mention: the game is gory--very gory. Limbs, heads, and blood fly liberally. However, it doesn't wallow in gore for gore's sake, and unless you're really concentrating on it, you'll be too busy fighting to notice most of detailed mess you're making. I didn't like God of War because of the distinctly sadistic streak in that game; Conan, in constrast, is violent, but only because he's fighting for his life in the only way he knows how; he doesn't stick around to beat corpses for fun or anything like that. Oh, yeah, there's also some (sort of weird-looking) topless female nudity, mostly from hidden captives you may find scattered around the levels.