If ever there was a game that deserves the word plagiarism on the back of the box as a bullet point it would be Conan. THQ and Nihilistic Software’s latest hack and slash borrows so much from Sony’s award-winning series that talking about the game without comparing it to said series is nigh impossible. You possess two attack buttons, light and heavy, there is a grapple button, you smash jars to obtain orbs – green for health, blue for magic, and red for power-ups – sound familiar so far? You use the right analog stick to dodge, boss battles consist of button-timed mini games, and there is a plethora of topless women strewn about the environment, albeit used as collectibles in Conan as opposed to mini-games in God of War. Needless to say Conan borrows heavily from Kratos and company, if by borrowed you mean stole.
With that aside there is still plenty of fun to be had within; I mean if you are going to copy someone who better than the current king of the castle. Conan’s short but sweet adventure follows the foundation of every other game that has come before it. Move to area, whip up on hordes of enemies, find a way to progress on and rinse and repeat. Thankfully the incredibly deep combat system, extremely visceral finishing moves, and solid pacing make this game worth a look for fans of the genre.
The biggest draw in Conan is the surprisingly deep combat system. At the beginning of the game you only possess a limited move set, but as you acquire more of the red orbs you can upgrade combos for each weapon stance. Conan can wield one handed, two handed, and even dual wield two weapons at once all of which come with their own move set. From the start you will mostly be mashing away on the light attacks as they are the most effective, but the further you get into the game the more the enemies use blocking forcing you to learn the block breaker attacks.
There are also a number of grapple moves that can be learned with everything from a pile driver to a monkey slam, all of which can be obtained by collecting the red orbs. Larger foes cannot be grappled which forces you to use a more tactical approach by dodging their attack and then coming up behind them with a block breaker. You can also parry enemy moves by tapping the block button at the precise moment an enemy attacks. If successful a button will appear on the screen and upon pressing said button Conan unleashes one of several brutal finishing moves that spill body parts and insides all over the ground. It is no secret that this game is violent, in fact if this were a movie it would not make it to theatres without being heavily edited and no we aren’t talking about the nudity.
With such a deep combat system it is a shame that it feels underused. Halfway through the game I found a few reliable combos that pretty much got me through most situations. In fact in my first run through of the game I didn’t even manage to unlock all of the possible moves let alone master them. It almost feels like too much as most of the moves, while cool to look at, are at times useless against certain enemies. It would have made the game much more enjoyable if you could carry over your stats to a fresh game and play around with all of the advanced moves early on. The only consolation is if you can manage to finish the game on King mode you will unlock cheats to give you full upgrades and armor pieces from the beginning; a task that is easier said than done.
The core game is a short romp lasting roughly seven hours depending on which difficulty you choose. The levels are nicely paced but don’t get any delusions of grandeur here this game is straight action, the storyline, while nicely told, is really just a catalyst to justify the area where your carnage will continue. As I mentioned earlier boss battles are great all the way up until you reach the climax. This is honestly the most frustrating and tedious final boss since Heavenly Sword. It is simply devoid of any fun and you will die-many, many times. Outside of these few quirks Conan will satisfy gamers looking for a mindless hack and slash for the short amount of time that it does last and if you manage to unlock the cheat codes (which do not effect Achievements for all you junkies out there) going through the game multiple times can be enjoyable.
The final two elements to the experience feel more like forced additions than anything else. First and foremost fans of the Conan lore will certainly scream blasphemy when they learn that their Barbarian wields magic willingly. As you progress through the game you will obtain pieces of your armor, and with each piece a new magic spell that wields far too much damage. The second problem is the puzzles in the game. While they feel more streamlined into the core game they never rise above the simple “push over a column with button taps” found in every game of this type. They require no thought and feel more like interactive transitions to the next area.
Being a next generation God of War clone you would anticipate the game to at least look better than Sony’s masterpiece. Sadly it does not. Character models look decent but the animation system feels broken at times. If you engage in an interactive button press your weapons mysteriously disappear. The environments also feel bland and uninspired with poor architecture and truly last-gen textures. On a positive note the camera works extremely well and the voices are performed well enough even if the dialogue is laughable at times.
Conan is not a terrible game, it certainly does not deserve the criticism it has received, but it is also a hard game to recommend to anyone with its $60 price tag. You could realistically finish it in a weekend making it more of a rental option than shelling out full price. However, if you are a fan of the lore (minus the ridiculous use of magic mind you) and you love the hack and slash genre then this game could easily be worth checking out. Just make sure you have a strong stomach as this could easily be the goriest game I have played in years.