PAX 2007: An orgy of violence: Conan hands on

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Like the Kentucky Derby, THQ’s Conan is decadent and depraved. And like Hunter S. Thompson’s essay, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” Conan is totally over the top, hilarious, and vulgar.

Some might write Conan off as a poor man’s God of War. Other’s may criticize it’s humdrum environments and enemies, or even bemoan it’s graphics. Some might even complain that Nihilistic, the game’s developer, has a less than awesome track record.

However, technically inferior it may be, Conan remains one of my favorite games from PAX — not because it brings something new and exciting to the hack-and-slash/adventure genre, but because, for whatever reason, it had Miguel, Phist, and I giggling like small children. 

If you’ve seen the images and watched the videos, then you know that every single review of Conan will include this line: “It’s like God of War, but …” And that’s fine. It’s good to make comparisons to which people can relate, and God of War and its sequel have certainly set the bar for heroes with huge weapons and huger enemies. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when Miguel informed me that “it doesn’t feel anything like God of War.”

Where Kratos spins and flips and loop-de-loops his way through Greece with his chain swords, Conan is much more straightforward. He doesn’t hack-n-slash as much as he crushes-n-pulverizes. Kratos applied a certain finesse to mutilation that, for better or worse, is absent from Conan. This isn’t inherently bad though, as Conan’s over the top masculinity and gore make for delightful male bonding, mostly in the form of giggling and omg-ing. 

That isn’t to say that the combat lacks depth, though. Button-mashing sufficed for about 1/4 of the playable demo. I’m not sure what the difficulty settings will be like, but the enemies quickly learned to block and evade my standard attacks. The AI is surprisingly competent and agressive. The most effective way to kill off the more difficult enemies is to counter their attacks. If you block at a precise moment  and then enter a certain series of commands (indicated on-screen), then Conan performs a devastating combo. These counterattacks tend to be the most gruesome (read: awesome) of the bunch as well as a good way to dispatch those smarter, tougher enemies. I’m pretty certain that I saw Miguel punch someone in half.

While the ultra-violence and combat are surprisingly well done, the game isn’t without major faults. For one, the real-time gameplay looks exponentially better than the prerendered cut-scenes. Conan kind of looks like he’s made of blocks or an Erector set. You know, as a matter of fact, I’ll just let you check it out:

Even worse is the lack of camera control. While it’s entirely possible to construct a game in which the player doesn’t need to have control the camera, the guys at Nihilistic haven’t quite gotten it. At one point, I needed to find a platform to continue through the ship, but I couldn’t find it. The platform was tucked into some corner of the ship that would’ve been easy enough to find, had I been able to swivel the camera few degrees. As it stands, there was nothing in the level design to indicate where I needed to go, or even where I could go. If Miguel hadn’t pointed the ledge out to me, I would’ve never found it. I don’t know if tweaking the level design would be harder than implementing some kind of camera control, but Nihilistic definitely needs to address this. However, with a 2007 release date, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any major redesigns.

As much as Conan tries to differentiate itself from God of War (and as much as I’ve attempted to highlight some of these differences), there’s no denying that a large part of this game is highly derivative. Players break open barrels and crates to absorb little green ectoplasms, and slaughter hordes of enemies for similar red blobs. These Christmas themed orbs translate into — wait for it — health and ability points, respectively! Shocker!

I started my little tirade with an allusion to the Kentucky Derby, and even went as far as to compare Conan to an orgy; however, there’s a reason that the Derby is only held once a year. All that hedonism and debauchery can get really old, really fast. Not to mention the whole vomitorium thing.

The point is this: for all it’s faults, Conan is a really fun game among friends, and the sheer amount of gore and viscera is enough to put hair on anyone’s chest. On the other hand, I don’t know if I could shell out full price for the gaming equivalent of a bad B-movie. When it comes out, give Conan a rent, snag the achievements, and then find something with replay value.


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