God of War III is going to rock, just as every God of War game prior has rocked. I would dare say that I haven't been this excited for a video game since Ocarina of Time when I was a wee lad of ten (that story later). Now, with such a major game coming up, many often like to do a bit of pre-release prep. I myself played through all the Metal Gear games prior to the release of Guns of the Patriots. That said, what are you to do once Kratos' previous adventures have expired? The answer is simple, take on the clones.
It's become a bit of a cliché to call a game a "God of War clone," but nonetheless there are more than a few games that deserve the moniker. On the one hand, they're often cheap imitations, nowhere near as good as the real deal. On the other, even if they're not half as good as God of War, that's still better than most games. Having some experience with a couple such clones, I'd like to offer a bit of insight into their finer points. Imitation is after all, the best form of flattery.
Honestly, I flinch a bit when people call Heavenly Sword a clone. It's as much of a clone of God of War as God of War is of Devil May Cry. Essentially, it has similar action and some similar weapons and therefore is branded by some as a rip-off. Truth be told, Heavenly Sword is radically different from God of War in a lot of ways. That said, as it's generally reputed to be a clone, I'll include it; it gives me a bit more material to write about.
Heavenly Sword does a lot right and even better than God of War. The combat is fast-paced, simple yet challenging, and fun. The story is one of the best I've ever played in a game, being both compact and complex. The voice acting perfomances alone are worth the price of admission, with Golem himself (Andy Serkis) producing one of the best villains I've encountered in King Bohan. In short, it's a well produced game.
If only it lasted longer. Heavenly Sword is at best, six hours long, with no small bit of that being taken up by cut scenes. There are no extra modes, no online play, just the short story mode. Now I love Heavenly Sword. It is a great, underrated game, but I will be the first to admit that it was no worth the sixty bucks I paid when I first bought it. While the combat is great, you never really get much of a chance to use it, leaving the you with a constant feeling of what could have been if developers Ninja Theory had only extended the action just a bit longer.
I love Conan the Barbarian. Next to Terminator 2, it's my favorite Ahnold flick, and I wrote my bachelor's thesis on the existential nature of Robert E. Howard's creation. Conan the game does little justice to the film or the literature, but it is a fun action game. Now Conan absolutely deserves its clone rep. The first time I played it there was no learning curve involved. I already knew the controls by heart from playing God of War. Button for button, the control scheme is almost identical. Light attack, square. Heavy attack, triangle. Grab with circle and jump with X. Conan even has the obligatory nudity.
On the merits of how well it copies God of War alone, Conan is fun. That said, it also does a few things of its own that I feel actually improve on the Kratos experience. The parry system is quite good. By blocking an opponent's attack at the right moment, it is possible to execute a short quick-time attack that will instantly kill your opponent. Furthermore, Conan's combo system was an improvement on God of War's. Where combos were largely optional in God of War, they are a necessity in Conan. Some enemies can't be taken down with standard attacks. Moreover, the skill tree branches off depending on what fighting style you like. Conan allows you to pick up the weapons of dead opponents making it possible to dual wield, use two handed weapons, or a sword and shield should you desire.
What Conan lacks, like Heavenly Sword is length. The game took me about seven to eight hours to topple the first time I played it. Aesthetically, the game is also lacking. At best, the graphics are adequate for the year it was released. At worst, it looked like a late PS2 game. Story wise too, there isn't much, which is annoying considering the breadth of material available. I'm still waiting for the Conan game that tackles each of Robert E. Howard's short stories episodically. This game simply doesn't have much going on plot wise, and even goes so far as to alter one of Conan's key characteristics, his hate of magic.
Clones to Avoid:
Viking: Battle for Asgard
I had high hopes for Viking. I had read some not so kind reviews of other GoW clones and still enjoyed them. Viking on the other hand plays exactly like what it is, an incomplete mess. Initially, it seems pretty cool. The combat is relatively solid -copying GoW of course- and the open world atmosphere seems promising. That said, the game is just dull. You go on boring missions to free equally boring vikings -how do you screw up vikings?- and then fight in huge battles that you literally cannot lose.
If you see it resting on the Used game shelf, ignore it. It may be cheap, but sometimes there is a reason for that.