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Conan Review

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Developer: Nihilistic Publisher: THQ
Release Date: October 23, 2007 Also On: PS3 and Xbox 360

Nihilistic’s Conan is the kind of game that needs a big warning
sticker on the front of it for a few reasons; good or bad. In a
creative sense it compares in a way that would put Saints Row up there
with BioShock. It is a blatant rip-off quite like many other games but
it still retains some entertainment value, just not enough to take it
out of the flat, dry land of mediocrity.

Conan is a game about a barbarian warrior whose powers and special
armor are stripped away after stumbling upon the remains of an evil
and powerful sorcerer named Graven. From here Conan meets a girl named
A’Kanna, and together they embark on a daunting trek to catch up with
Graven and stop his terrorizing of the world with the Black Death, as
well as recover the many pieces of Conan’s armor. The story is not ever
really weighted like it was in God of War, so I did not expect to
connect to Conan or A’Kanna, or Graven, or any of the other characters
for that matter. As a result, while playing through the short six-hour
journey I focused on the gameplay, which has the same ups-and-downs
element as every other quality in the game. I will say this: I was
pleasantly surprised to find that Conan, in this game, does not come
off as a brutish oaf.

The controls are essentially a copy of God of War II’s setup. Conan
can jump if you press A, light attack with X, heavy attack with Y, and
grapple with B. A lot of games copy control setups, though, so surely
that isn’t something I’d harshly penalize a game for. However, when
every single aspect of the gameplay is a rip-off of Stephen Glass
proportions, it’s a little difficult not to raise an eyebrow. The
button-smashing door-opening sequences are exactly the same, only here
you’ll throw in a few directional movements of the analog stick to
make Conan dive through the door. Parrying is essentially the same
concept as well, where you have to block at the precise moment just
before being hit. Unfortunately you don’t have the option of which
parry kill you can perform—the game throws a random button prompt at
you when you parry, making the mastering of the many parry skills in
the game quite annoying. Since Conan can master every single combo
with repeated use and success, I spent a lot of time doing the same
combos over and over for each of the three different weapon classes
(light one-hand, heavy two-hand, dual-wield) until I was done
mastering a lot of them. It’s a pretty redundant way to play the game,
but it worked.

Rather than collecting items to increase his health (as Kratos did),
Conan activates three matching rune triumvirates each level to
increase his parameters, which makes absolutely no sense to me. The
combination of a barbarian character, runes, and magic fit together
like cowboys, changing diapers, and colorful cotton candy. Conan’s
spells aren’t even much different than Kratos’s; for instance there is
a spell that summons a deadly swarm of ravens to ravage your enemies.
This is conceptually the exact same thing as Hades’ power in the first
God of War. I feel like it is very unfortunate that at this point in
my review I have made so many comparisons to God of War, but literally
everything about the game is similar. There is a boss fight against a
giant squid, for heaven’s sake, and it takes place on a ravaged,
sinking ship—remember the Kraken? It starts to grow incredibly stale
by the end of the game.

The end of the game, I would like to add, was particularly testing of
my patience. I admittedly reached the final showdown in the game and,
for now, indefinitely forfeited. The battle was so frustrating that I
just couldn’t continue playing without wanting to break a controller
or a face, even though I gave up the chance to claim that I beat the
title and earned the Achievements for it. There were points throughout
the game where I just wanted to stop playing because I was so
irritated. The A.I. swarmed around Conan almost exclusively, and
Conan’s ability to block was nothing like Kratos’s, so oftentimes I
was raquet-balling back and forth between surrounding enemies, all
attacking at different times. Conan usually can’t block in the middle
of any enemy combo, you see, especially if it is a quick-hitting one.
Since enemies later on in the game (especially at the end) almost
always used these quick combos, as I mentioned, just getting to the
final encounter was an incredibly difficult test of endurance—my many
futile attempts at beating the damn game were too much for me to take.

Another thing I’d like to point out is the unnecessary overuse of
frontal nudity. I understand and can accept some nudity in games, but
not in a way that comes off as pubescent as Conan does. Conan has to
rescue mostly-naked maidens throughout his quest; doing so earns him
red orbs that can be used to buy more attacks and combos like…oh,
hell…by now it’s redundant to keep saying “like God of War”. Back to
the point, there is no sex mini-game or anything like that, but there
are absolutely ridiculous lines of dialogue that were written for
these maidens to show their appreciation. “Oh Conan, crush me with
your love!” is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s stuff
like this that comes off as hokey and makes it look like they’re
trying really hard to shock people; if anything the hundreds of
dismemberments and butcherings that Conan will do before the end of
the game would be shocking enough.

Conan is, again, quite bipolar in its graphic and sound elements. The
character model for Conan looks pretty good. He’s as manly as they
come, and his character is portrayed very well as a result. There are
several areas and levels in the game that shine with the visual
caliber I’d expect from better-than-average Xbox 360 games, but it is too bad that a few flaws keep it from being just that. The animations
for jumping, rolling, and being hit by attacks are stiff, sloppy, and
bad enough to the point of being hilarious at times—there are huge
gorilla monkeys that Conan will insult and taunt like any other enemy,
only for the gorilla to combo-punch Conan like he’s a speed bag.
Conan’s bodily reaction is almost nonexistent, it just looks really
funny. This is one thing I can’t compare to God of War, because Kratos
and his enemies were animated as close to perfection as one could
want. Some of the parry moves and the more gruesome combo attacks look
pretty darn cool, but it’s too bad that there are a lot of glaring
visual flaws to keep this game from looking better-than-average
overall. The music is pretty good and fits perfectly, just like it did
in God of War. I’d give Conan a lot of credit for its music, in fact.
However, the sound effects are boring and the voice acting is pretty
terrible. Why aren’t there disgusting gushing sounds coming from my
speakers when Conan dismembers his petty foes? I want to hear bones
breaking, cuts and slashes opening up, and blood spilling in my action
games if they’re going to be coined “exciting” in any way.

One’s time with Conan isn’t much shorter than with Kratos in his first
adventure. As I mentioned before, I clocked in around six hours up to
the point of the final encounter. Unfortunately I don’t make enough
money to replace a few controllers, so I quit playing. There isn’t a
lot of incentive, other than Achievements, to find all of the maidens, rune triumvirates, and treasure chests scattered throughout the
experience because it’s all over too quickly. Similarly, mastering
attacks just doesn’t offer much (if any) gratification. If you are
really into Conan, or perhaps movies like Braveheart, you’ll at least
like parts of Conan. I don’t recommend a purchase, but one wouldn’t be
losing out if one needed a game to occupy the doldrums that plague the
summer season. For now, there are many better games to play.

Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 0
Replay Value/Game Length: 3
Final: 5.5
Written by Cliff Review Guide