Video Game Review – CONAN (Xbox 360)

     November 6, 2007

Written by Charlie Mihelich

THQ Game’s “Conan” is an action platformer for the Xbox 360 based on the character Conan the Barbarian. While it borrows heavily from games such as God of War and Prince of Persia, it stands alone as an exciting cinematic experience.

You are thrust into the action as Conan, a Cimmerian hero who must help a beautiful maiden rescue her homeland. This involves traveling to vastly different places throughout the world doing battle with demons, pirates, giants, dragons and other wildly bloodthirsty creatures.

The story is arguable the weakest part about the game. An ominous female narrator narrates in “God of War” style mythic prose, weaving an intricate legend that is supposed to sound epic and grandiose. While in “God of War” this was a superb addition to the game, here it sounds forced and reeks of rip-off. Conan is obviously modeled off “God of War”’s Kratos, an unfeeling anti-hero who will sacrifice anyone and anything to get what he wants. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on making Conan unyieldingly badass, he instead spews one-liners in his period dialect. These repeat endlessly and are unfunny and uncreative.

The gameplay, however, is diverse and evolving. You start with a sword and you hack your way through the enemies that come your way. As you defeat enemies, you’ll notice they drop weapons. Every single weapon in the game is your for the taking. See a badass spear in your enemies hands? Kill him and its yours. This is an awesome addition to the game, because you can dual wield smaller swords or pick up giant behemoths using two hands. Each combat variation has its strengths and weaknesses, and you can endlessly try different combinations.

In addition to the diverse weapons system, Conan’s fighting ability can be upgraded. Using red orbs collected from enemies (God of War again), Conan can access a menu that allows him to upgrade his various combat styles. Here is where Conan has something on Kratos each different weapon combination (single hand, dual wield, standard combat, two-handed sword) can be upgraded move by move. There are dozens of moves to earn, and it will take you a while to gain them all. The nice part about this is there are moves that you really miss early on in the game, but once you get them you’re an unstoppable killing machine.

The enemies are dispersed evil-henchmen style, with wave after wave coming forward to have their chance at you. While the enemy AI is quite poor, if enough enemies surround you, they can really ruin your day. Lucky for you, Conan has a number of different combos (purchased using the upgrade system above) that wreak havoc on your enemies/ Severing limbs, cutting off heads and removing hearts is par for the course here. Another awesome thing about the move system is as you use the moves, you begin to the master them. As you master them they become stronger and reward you with more orbs for successful execution. This makes the visceral, bloody axe chop an even nicer surprise as you destroy your enemies.

Boss fights are another “straight from ‘God of War’” addition. You wail away at the boss until a context sensitive button icon appears on screen. Press the button and Conan will enter an animated sequence that will either self-execute or require more button presses. The animation is usually some brutal kill tactic or a stun move. Some of the boss fights are none too exciting, but there is a battle with a dragon that is simply epic. You scale walls, bridges, catwalks, all while a giant dragon decimates the background. Killing the dragon was a pleasure, and I felt as though it topped many of the “God of War” boss battles.

Once you’ve finished the single player (about 6-8 hours), your only replayability option is to play the game again on a harder difficulty. There are three difficulties available from the get-go, with a fourth “Hero” difficulty available when you beat hard mode. There’s not a whole lot to keep you coming back for more.

One thing I noticed about Conan was that it lacked polish. There was lots of pop-in, there were screen tears and graphical glitches, and often times Conan or an enemy got stuck in a corner and had to jump for several seconds to get out. It’s not a game-ending problem but it’s definitely noticeable. The environments are gorgeous and vast, but there is a strange mixture of last-gen and current-gen polygons on the character models that is kind of distracting.

Overall, if you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for “God of War 3” to come out, “Conan” may be able to satiate your interests for a while. It’s gruesome, it’s grandiose, and it’s got a deep fighting system, and though it has its problems, it’s certainly no slouch.

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