What do you get when you mix God of War and the adventures of a particular barbarian warrior, thief and king made famous by Robert.E.Howard? The answer: Conan from THQ.
I'm not going to waffle on here. I'm going to get to the rather blood and brain/body-part soaked point of the review. I've been playing this quite extensively, it's taken me about 12 hours or so to finish and I've actually enjoyed it. It's not quite up to the standard of God of War in terms of story and presentation but it's got the same kind of feel and doesn't push the 360's graphics engine very far at all.
You play as Conan and after some in-game engine exposition you're thrust into the violent world in a kind of set-up/prelude and mini-tutorial.
Conan wants a shiny gem; Conan rips through a tomb full of undead and living statues to get it. When Conan finally finds the object of his quest, well, he's bitten off more than he can chew and everything goes black for the poor guy. Conan loses his power and his armour.
He wakes up a short time later and then the game proper begins. You're catapulted into the whole thing right from the start when you face off against some pirates who decide they'd rather cut Conan a new one than talk to him reasonably about the weather or bunnies.
This is the kind of game that's going to have the moral-majority crowd screaming and wailing at the gates of THQ. There's gore-a-plenty and breasts too, typical for the genre that Robert.E.Howard wrote in and Arnie made more famous with those two movies. The developers even modelled guts in 3d, just so you can do a spectacular move or two and let them hang out freely from your disembowelled opponents.
Conan can pick up rocks, barrels and other objects. These can be thrown with a minimum of fuss and there's even an achievement based on killing a certain number of enemies with a hurled boulder or one hundred. Conan can also pick up virtually all the weapons in the game, torches, one handed weapons, two handed weapons, shields, dual weapons and even a one handed weapon/shield combination.
He always has a backup sword on his back so you're never left without a default weapon.
Weapons/shields/torches can also be thrown since Conan doesn't do the ranged combat thing with bows.
"Only cowards hide behind bows and arrows," as the character would say, voiced by the growly Mr. Hellboy himself: Ron Pearlman.
The strength of the game isn't in the graphics, they're good but they're not quite as polished as they could have been. Conan has a deep and quite satisfying combat system that requires knowledge of the game's enemies and a certain grasp of tactics to get the best out of it. Sure you can wade in and bash buttons, that'll get you so far against a lot of the earlier enemies.
Later on however, when you encounter the spike-shields you will want to memorise the combos that allow you to deal with them, as well as the timing required to pull them off. It's not just a case of pressing buttons randomly in the game, there's a massive move list and every weapon and weapon combination has its own set of moves to boot.
There's a fairly intuitive parry-riposte system in place as well, time a block well enough and the game will pop up a little prompt to tell you what button to press. Hit it in time and you're rewarded with a slow motion uber-death-kill that puts pay to your enemy in true bloody-gore Conan style.
There are parry-kills associated with the weapon types in the game, such as the bloodthirsty 'Steps of Hell' where Conan leaps up the bewildered opponent before slicing them neatly in twain with a gallon or so of blood and dangly intestines.
There are also finish moves that can deal with one or more foes, depending on their strength and resilience. Skills can be learned by finding treasure chests (these deliver red orbs - Devil May Cry, God of War comparisons ahoy) that give you points to buy new abilities. Or you can rescue the naked chicks and that'll also reward you with red orbs.
There's one other way to get red orbs: kill lots of enemies with style, there's a combo meter and a rage meter that play an important part. Do especially well in combat when you've found some of Conan's armour and you'll be rewarded with the 'Song of Death' allowing Conan's weapon(s) to dish out some extremely major damage and put pay to those pesky baddies once and for all.
As you unlock skills and continue through the story, you'll be presented with puzzles and open up magic (Conan in typical barbarian fashion doesn't trust it) to use on your enemies (ala Kratos in God of War). There are four spells and these are powered by mana (blue orbs). I'm not going to detail them, they're fairly cool and it's possible to go through the game without using them if you want to make life harder for yourself in some of the big boss battles.
There are boss battles and just like God of War (again) these aren't just button mashers, you have to think with most of them and there are even those little action-button-timed sequences that are the staple of most games like this now. You can't walk down the virtual street of a console game without having to press X,Y.B,A in some mad order to finish the bad guy off. Of course they are linked into the kinds of moves that Conan can already do using the X and Y buttons etc, so they do make sense.
All in all, God of War aside and packed with things to find, enemies to kill, skills to buy and a fairly reasonable story Howard would be pleased with. Conan is backed up by the voice talents of Claudia (Farscape/Pitch Black) Black as the Warrior Queen: Akana alongside her gruff counterpart - Ron Pearlman as Conan. The voice work is good and Pearlman's voice adds that right edge to the barbarian whilst Black's voice gives a sultry undertone to the Warrior Queen's.
The music is reminiscent of God of War, no surprises there though since it's the same composer. The sound work is good and the clash of steel against flesh is well rendered by the game's audio engine.
The AI is decent enough for what it does, it tries to overwhelm you and the game puts out quite a few enemies on screen for Conan to limb. I had to battle eight determined guards at one point whilst holding off a pack of big cats as well as dodging some flying creatures.
Enemy types are fairly varied but the game falls into repetition, there are jumping puzzles and the typical God of War block-moving style puzzles we've come to know and love.
Conan's a good game, not a brilliant one. There are a few frame issues with a spell or two and at times it seems like you're just hacking from one wave to the next to get to another room. The graphics could have done with some more polish and there should have been an option to play the game with a previous Conan so you could finish his skill set.
The combat system is robust and the levels are decently sized and follow a specific theme.
I recommend it to fans of hack/slash games as well as those who enjoyed God of War and God of War II.