There's something about the Conan franchise that brings a smile to my face without fail. The sheer testosterone-fueled, immature male fantasy aspect of it all is certainly worth a chuckle. Conan is not a sophisticated man, but then, males generally aren't. He drinks, he fights, he shags, and that's about it. Somewhere along the line, a sorcerer or two pops up, Conan beats his head in, then it's back to wine and women.
Nothing typifies the idea of base male gratification more than THQ's Conan. There is nothing to this game other than carnage and breasts, and I'm not going to pretend that I don't find that just a little bit brilliant. Especially in our politically correct age, the idea of what is at best, a completely male-focused, almost chauvinistic videogame being released is just a tad amusing.
But is the game any good? As a fan of brainless action games that require nothing more than hitting buttons until things are dead, I was certainly hoping so, and picked this one up with glee. Our very own Nick Chester did the same, and it is the thoughts of he and I that you shall get to read after the jump. Service us? Aye, and gladly.
Conan (PS3, Xbox 360 -- reviewed on Xbox 360)
When I first played Conan, I was having the time of my life. It had been an age since I last played a pure action game, so this was filling a hole most adequately. Conan rips off limbs, sends blood splashing all over the place, and rescues damsels with their breasts hanging out who say things like "take me and crush me with your love." It was a joy to behold for all of twenty minutes as I laughed at the shameless dialog, rampant misogyny and unapologetic gore. There was only one big problem with the whole thing.
At least I can say that a number of Conan's boss battles are epic, bringing back an old tradition that's lacking in a lot of modern games. Every now and then, we gamers need some huge, ridiculous monster to test our mettle against and Conan has us covered. From elephant demons to sand dragons, there are some huge foes to decimate, all of them broken down into multiple stages which both adds variety to the fight, and provides in-battle checkpoints to save on the (all too abundant) frustration. While the final boss is one of the most rage-inducing and horrible gaming experiences I've had, the majority of boss fights are excellent indeed and you feel real satisfaction when they've finally been slain.
It's hard to disagree with Jim when it comes to most of his points. Certainly, Conan lacks the polish and ambition of the games that have clearly influenced its design (God of War, specifically). And yes, eight hours of slashing and hacking limbs off of your enemies might seem a bit on the repetitive side. But here's where I don't agree with Jim: The game never really stopped being fun, and like a bad b-movie, was hilariously entertaining from beginning to end.
Perhaps it can be attributed to some long-forgotten childhood trauma, but Conan's over-the-top methods of dispatching enemies never got old. Whether it was dual wielding swords and quite literally "disarming" an enemy, or tossing a pirate into the air before slicing him in half, I found the combat to be deliciously vicious and rewarding. The ability to pick up and wield a number of different weapons (from two-handed broadswords to smaller axes) opens up a variety in the combat that Jim seems to ignore.
Despite the whining about how the enemy AI being "cheap" and "aggravating," I had no such issues. Save for the final boss battle, I found Conan to be quite a breeze on its default difficulty setting. Knowing the right set of moves and situations allowed me to pull off most of my attacks with ease; while I'll admit that I found myself using the same moves time and time again, it was mostly a matter of preference, and not out of necessity. Once you teach Conan how to lop someone's head off with a shield, it's hard to not want to do that over and over again. For eight hours. But that's just me.
Objects in the environment can also be used as weapons, including boulders, and carts. Tossing an enemy onto a spike on a wall is also not out of the question, and throwing a flaming torch at a lion will cause the animal to catch fire. Yes, that's right -- this game features flaming lions, which immediately sets it apart from all of those others games that do not feature flaming lions.
I also found that Conan uses context sensitive action buttons in a few unique ways. Like God of War (and so many titles, it seems, that have followed it), button prompts to perform finishing actions and environmental interactions are all over Conan. The variety of these sequences is worth applause, and some I found were extremely clever. Pushing up large gates, for instance, was more than a matter of simply mashing a button -- pulling down on the left stick causes Conan to crouch down, and pulling back up makes him push the door up with force.
Visually, Conan is all over the place, and unfortunately, most of it's not good. The scope of the game attempts to be epic, and the set pieces are appropriately large and impressive. The action when viewed from afar is also acceptable, but things take a turn for the worse during cut-scenes. Conan and the rest of the cast certainly are some ugly bastards, with little to no discernible details in the face or body. It's interesting to note that the only character models that do look decent in the game are the naked wenches Conan regularly frees from bondage.
The bottom line is that really, Conan is not a great game. I'd hesitate to say that it's even a "good" game. But, just like some of the most poorly executed cult films are fun to watch, Conan is a riot to play through, especially while with a group of (possibly intoxicated) friends. Whether or not the game's developer Nihilistic meant for Conan to be taken seriously is irrelevant. What is relevant is how the player approaches the game. If you're looking to kill a few hours listening to hilarious and poorly delivered dialogue, or laughing at a brutal, misogynistic barbarian man handle both men and women alike, Conan is certainly worth a look.