In a time before hack ‘n slash
was considered a genre, or even before dark fantasy was considered viable in the
written form, there was a character created by Robert E. Howard that set the
course for fantasy fiction. Conan was a thief, a barbarian and one who would
slaughter without much hesitation.
With a massively multiplayer
online title on the horizon, THQ and Nihilistic have combined to bring the
Cimmerian to life in a single-player action-adventure title for the PlayStation
3. The game looks great and plays well, but if you have played God of War
before, then this is familiar gameplay … maybe too familiar.
Still, the game has its merits
and the violence it serves up adds to the flavor and befits a title bearing the
name of this character.
The story begins with Conan
entering an ancient crypt in search of a jewel. What he finds is a monster and
without so much as a “hi there,” he finds himself floating on the ocean, without
armor or weapons, and waking up near an island that is home to those who track a
less honorable course through life. Of course, that is a playground for the
It turns out that the monster
in question was Graven, the main baddie in this story. On the next island Conan
finds himself, there is a warrior queen with a vested interested in finding
Graven and thus the true journey of the game begins.
Now, please be warned, that
when it was stated that the violence served the game well, it can be a bit
graphic. As part of his abilities, Conan can pick up and use all manner of
weaponry, including dual-wielding. When he does a heavy attack he can remove the
arms of human opponents.
The story of Conan is told in
retrospect, and the game, both in graphical style (which includes the overly
muscled barbarian, women who seem to have a problem remembering where the top of
their clothing has been left, and gore – which can be turned off) and in the way
the game is phrased. Unfortunately, though, when you combine a story that
harkens back to the original style of the barbarian (the first story was penned
in 1932) with vocal performances that are less that sterling, you have a
problem. Those two combine to serve as a vehicle for the violence, but little
Ron Perlman, normally a solid
performer, almost sounds like he phoned this one in. “Face Crom now,” has about
as much of a growl in it as a mewing of a newborn kitten.
If you have played God of War
or Heavenly Sword, you will recognize the combat scheme. Conan can learn/master
different weapons, and he has the quick attacks and the slower, more powerful
attacks as well. The right thumbstick is for rolling out of range of attacks.
You will need to know how to do that. Even early on, you need to time the
attacks of the bigger foe, roll to avoid them and attack from behind. You do
more damage that way and do it quicker. The game’s AI precludes reflexive combat
(you know, button mashing) and instead tries to make it more logical and
methodical, as well as strategic.
Green runes recover health
points but red runes, garnered when you hack enemies into little pieces, enable
you to level up skills. The skill tree is nicely varied and producing the moves
comes down to some button mashing, but it’s all good.
The game itself will have 14
levels and take between 10-12 hours to play through; the length may be a
detractor, but with many adventure epics falling into that time frame, this
seems right in line with the next-gen trend.
One of the nice features is the
way the cut scenes juxtapose against the gameplay. There is almost a graphic
novel feel to the cut scenes, and then the ante is upped for the game itself.
You will feel like the cut scenes are merely the appetizer for the main course
(the game) and that is a very good thing.
On the downside of the
graphics, the camera is fixed and you cannot see what may be just out of the
fixed range. This is not good, especially when you have been told to move to
another location and you really don’t have an idea where it is because you
cannot rotate the camera to find out. On the plus side, though, the environments
and character models are all nicely handled.
Conan is a game that has
several good points as well as bad. At its core, this is a hack ‘n slash fest
that may appeal to mature gamers. The level of violence, though, it best not put
in the hands of the young.
The gameplay is very
familiar and the only major hold up is the lack of camera control. It makes the
journey a bit more frustrating at times.
The character models
are very good and the environments are well done. The animations are also very
The musical score is
very good, but that is overshadowed by a lack of believability from the voice
The combat is
definitely a “been there, done that” element. The story is nothing too new and
the plot just serves as a vehicle to hinge the violence on.
The game may do a
bit of justice to the barbarian’s written history but more depth is needed to
make this a viable game designed 70-odd years after the original story came out.
The game has good and bad elements and after weighing them both, Conan comes out
as a game that is entertaining, but could have been done much better.