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Developer:
Nihilistic
Publisher: THQ
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: 10/23/07

by Jason Ferguson




Conan, from THQ and developer Nihilistic, is a brutal action game where players take the role of the mightiest warrior ever, Conan the Barbarian! Similar to the acclaimed God of War, Conan features epic boss battles, a variety of deadly skills to master, and hordes of enemies to fight your way through. With these similarities youíre probably wondering if Conan can stand up to God of War? Unfortunately itís not quite as good, but it does manage to differentiate itself from God of War and ends up providing a solid action experience.


The game starts out as a story being told by an old woman next to a campfire. Her story tells the legend of Conan, the greatest warrior ever to walk the lands. From there you will take the role of Conan as his lust for adventure and riches leads him to the island of Balmoria into an ancient temple. Just as Conan reached the heart of the Temple at a statue where a priceless treasure supposedly lay, all went black. The next thing Conan knew, he was floating at sea with his armor missing and his memory erased. As Conan swims to shore, he grabs a blade from a nearby carcass and begins a journey to unravel the mystery of Balmoria!


The story is far from groundbreaking, but itís surprisingly interesting. In many action titles the story seems to be somewhat of an afterthought, but in Conan the story proves to be solid and even provides a few twists. To be sure, the emphasis is on the combat and not on plot, but thereís still enough here to keep you playing. The story starts up fairly quickly and will immediately have you asking questions and wondering what will happen next.


Also like God of War, Conan is not really appropriate or the kiddies. Conan features heavy violence and nudity, as well as plenty of good olí blood and gore. So be wary of letting young ones play this one. Itís a blast to play, but only if youíre old enough. Itís also probably not suitable to anyone offended by violence or naked women tied to trees. Regardless, the similarities to God of War are enough that if you enjoy God of War, itís worth your time to check out Conan.


Conan features four difficulty settings to try your hand at, but unfortunately the combos youíve learned donít carry over to the next playthrough. Bummer. The game will start you off with a bit of a tutorial explaining the controls and your various options. It sort of interferes with the flow of the game, but it wonít last long and will help you figure out what youíre doing before you get in over your head. The game can be pretty tough, especially on the harder settings. Fortunately there are plenty of save points, and the game allows you to start back from check points an unlimited amount of times if you die.


The game features fairly solid voice acting. Often in a game when there is voice acting during gameplay, it consists of little more than cheesy one-liners that become annoying very quickly. Fortunately, the voice acting in Conan by actor Ron Perlman is pretty well done, both in and out of gameplay. Sure, youíll probably grow tired of listening to Conan ramble after a while, but his ramblings occasionally prove to be useful clues during gameplay!


I also really enjoyed the musical score in Conan. It consists of some very epic tracks that help get gamers into the mood for some killing! This is the kind of music that youíll want to blast as you shred through your enemies.


Characters are highly detailed, and Conan moves fluidly in combat, even when performing some of his more complicated moves. The environments are impressive and allow for a good deal of interactivity. Gamers will interact with the environment by picking up weapons, destroying objects, hurling crates or boulders at enemies, lighting enemies on fire, and prying doors open.


Unfortunately, the game slows down often during combat. Sometimes this is for dramatic effect while Conan does something cool. This is pretty stylish at first, but youíll probably grow tired of it after a few stages. Even more annoying, there are other times the game seems to slow down due to frame rate issues when many enemies are on screen.


The camera can be a bit of a pain, since itís not freely rotatable. This can make it difficult to see enemies that are ahead of or behind you and makes some of the jumping puzzles a huge hassle. It can also make exploration for maidens and treasure a bit of a chore.


During my experience playing Conan, I encountered a few kinks. First of all, my game froze while loading my save file many times. I ended up having to start the game all over to get around it. My game also had some hiccups during cut scenes that sort of interfered with the relaying of the story. Lastly, there sometimes seems to be bit of a delay in button responsiveness that will probably lead to a few deaths.


Conan is a very brutally stylish game. Conan can leap into the air and stab down into an enemy, pluck enemy arrows out of his flesh like itís nothing, carry a giant sword and carve through multiple foes at once, throw an axe across the screen and kill an enemy, or cleave the arms off an enemy to finish him off in battle. Conan is one tough cookie... a real ďmanís man,Ē so playing the game will probably make all of us gamer geeks feel like pansies. But if youíve ever dreamed of living the life of a Barbarian warrior, hereís your chance! You have to admire the level of detail in the game. Everything from the character design to epic score helps to bring the world of Conan to life and immerses the player within it.


On screen, you will see your HP meter as well as your currently selected armor power (once youíve acquired some). When attacking, your combo counter will also be displayed, informing you of what combo you are performing and how many hits youíve got in succession. Under your HP is your Song of Death. Basically, whenever you damage an enemy, your Song of Death Meter fills. Whenever you become damaged, the meter depletes. If your Song of Death meter is full, Conan does extra powerful attacks and will cut through bad guys like a hot knife through butter.


Red runes give you experience and are dropped by dead foes. Rescuing maidens and discovering treasure will also reward Conan with experience. Green runes will replenish Conanís health and can be found by destroying objects in the environment.


Thereís a variety of fantastical creatures that youíll do battle with, including living statues, demons, apes, dragons, and more! Still, the majority of your foes will be humans with various weaponry and armor. A bit more diversity would have been appreciated. Each different enemy has a unique fighting style and weapon, but the majority of them can be conquered by simple hack 'n' slash.


The basic gameplay is pretty simple hack 'n' slash at its core: Y is a heavy attack, X is a light attack. You can also grapple, block, dodge roll, and pick up and throw objects. By pressing different combinations of X and Y, you will perform special combo movies to unleash a lot of hurt on those who dare stand against you. Gamers should have no trouble learning the ins and outs of the game and jumping right in to do battle!


One area where Conan manages to differentiate itself from other action games is with the weapons. Conan can wield a myriad of weapons, including axes, swords, and shields. There is also a variety within each weapon type, such as swords that range from a small blade to a very large broad sword. Coolest of all is that you can dual wield and carry more than one weapon (other than the large two-handed ones). You can wield a sword and a shield, two swords, two axes, or a sword and an axe. Controlling Conan as he rips into a colossal monster while wielding a sword in each hand is obviously a lot of fun and looks pretty cool!


Aside from simply looking cool, the different weapon types also impact your abilities. The game features a hefty quantity of abilities divided among the 3 different wielding types (single, 1 hand, dual). Each weapon type has its own abilities, and different button combinations will perform different moves depending on what weapon(s) youíre carrying. You can learn skills that grapple with enemies, decapitate them with your shield, fling them into the air and break their backs, as well as many other painful combos. Some skills have prerequisites, meaning youíll have to learn other skills before you can learn them.


Skills also have a variety of effects on enemies, such as temporarily stunning them, breaking through their shield, or disarming them and stealing their weapon, so knowing which skill to use and spending your experience wisely can turn out to be pretty important. Many of the skills wonít really be necessary to learn, and some of the button combinations are frustratingly long. However, theyíll give you something extra to work towards and allow you to spice up combat a bit if you do get around to using them.


Another cool thing about your weapons is that each type has its own fighting style, complete with unique advantages and disadvantages. A large single-handed weapon might attack slowly, but it may also be superior at breaking a foeís defense. On the other hand, if you dual-wield two swords, youíll attack much more quickly but have a more difficult time defeating well-armored baddies. On the other hand, arming yourself with a shield may decrease your offensive capabilities, but will increase your ability to block enemy attacks.


Despite all of the cool weapons, you unfortunately have to start new levels from scratch. Any cool weapons you collected in a previous level are gone to you and youíre left with just your starting blade. Youíll also notice that weapons dropped by slain enemies will disappear after a while, which is frustrating when youíre on the lookout for a new weapon. The weapon Conan wields in cinemas also doesnít change based on what youíre carrying. Obviously thatís not a big deal, but it sure wouldíve been cool!


As Conan gathers up the pieces of his missing armor, heíll gain various new Armor Powers. These are easily scrolled through using the directional pad and activated using the left button. These abilities are pretty creative and add a little bit of extra depth to combat. You have a magic gauge which determines how often you can use these powers, which is refilled by Blue runes.


Conan can be a simple button masher if you want it to be. Youíll be able to button mash your way into completing many combos and slaughtering the majority of the enemies youíll encounter. However, there is a decent amount of depth available for gamers that choose to take advantage of it, battling with such as mastering combos and taking advantage of the unique attributes of some of your abilities.


Everyone knows that hack and slash CAN get dull after a while in any game, and considering many of the combos will probably go un-used, it doesnít really add enough to the gameplay here to keep gamers interested. Still, the impressive battle animations and the joy of hacking an enemy's arms off will keep things fun for a while.


Conan actually features a bit of RPG-like depth. As Iíve already mentioned, youíll use experience to learn new combos. On top of that, moves have mastery levels that increase as you use them. Once youíve mastered a move, you can gain bonuses each time you use it, such as increased experience and green runes. You can also increase your max HP and max Song of Death Meter by activating Rune Triumvirates scattered throughout the game.


There are a variety of puzzles in the game, which mostly consist of little tricks so you can ďfind the switch to open the door.Ē The majority of them will be solved fairly easily, but from time to time youíll actually have to look around for a solution and put a bit of thought into it. This helps break up the monotony of combat a bit.


While itís not exactly an original formula, Conanís gory action and light character-building elements should be just enough to keep most gamers entertained. Despite the gameís flaws, I have to admit I had quite a bit of fun while playing it, especially while dismembering my enemies with my dual-wielded swords. If you liked God of War or youíre just a big Conan fanboy, then make sure to give this title a look. At the very least, download the demo and give it a whirl.


Final Grade: 78%




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