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Developer: Nihilistic
Publisher: THQ
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Release date: 10.23.2007
When writer Robert E. Howard created a series of fantasy stories based on Conan the Barbarian in 1932, he had no idea that his character would still be seeking adventure three quarters of a century later. Conan has battled in novels, comic books, movies, TV shows, cartoons, and now he sets out to conquer the mighty serpent known as the video game. Games based on Conan have been developed in the past, mainly on the PC, but now THQ and Nihilistic have brought the heroic barbarian to fight on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 in the only game worthy enough to brand his name.

Long before a warrior named Kratos held a sword, Conan had already conquered many lands and defeated countless monsters of the unknown. The only problem is that because God of War is such a massive influence in the current video game circle, Conan comes off as a knock-off, even if much of Kratos? persona comes from him. Conan is a third person hack-n-slash that sends the barbarian on a quest to find a mystical sorcerer named Graven who has stolen his precious armor and left him for dead. Seeking revenge, Conan joins forces with female warrior who is also searching for this madman, sending them on an adventure across forbidden lands to battle enemies both human and un-worldly.

Conan is a man of few words, with his favorite being ?Crom!? who is the only god he bows to; so the only way he knows how to fully express himself is through steel, which he?s constantly using to decapitate, dismember, and disembowel his foes. The controls set-up for both consoles are pretty similar with the left thumbstick controlling movement and the right thumbstick performing dodges and rolls, while the face buttons perform jumps and action combos, and the left trigger used to block and shield you. Conan?s movements feel stiff at times, but they are effective enough for the actions he takes on. Being that the game sticks with the hack-n-slash molding, nothing is complex and most of the time you?ll just be fighting countless swordsman who will be reduced to blood and body parts at your feet.

As he travels across the land, Conan uses various weapons to fight his enemies, ranging from swords that he can either grip in one hand or dual weld with twin blades, spears, staffs and hatchets, that he can also target and throw to impale the baddies. Conan can also pick up a battle shield and use it in battle to block sword strikes or arrows shot at him by archers, which is a nice feature. And if all else fails, he can always pick up a massive barrel or a boulder to slam it down on some unfortunate henchman. The combat is brutal with slow motion shots triggered to see heads flipping through the air or an enemy reacting as his torso is split into two. It seems as if the developers wanted to out do God of War with the level of violence that can be unleashed, and in some ways they pulled off because after Conan defeats a group of goons the ground around him looks like a slaughterhouse. But this is perfect, because this is the violent setting that we come to expect from the world of Conan.

Combos are the key to surviving the bigger battles as you progress through the game, and by collecting red runes you can buy special moves on the combo screen. Once mastered, you can deliver some insane and bloody kills. Red runes are earned by either killing a group of enemies in rapid succession or can be found hidden in the barrels and chests that are spread around locations. There are plenty of combos to purchase, but realistically you only need to learn a couple of solid bad-ass moves and you?ll do just fine. As you advance, a second power bar will be displayed on your HUD that fills up as you defeat foes, and once its reached its max, the Song of Death is triggered turning your swords flaming red, and for a short period will allow Conan to go ballistic slicing through all enemies around him like they?re made of butter. The enemy AI is not very intelligent at all, because all the enemies come after you in the same manner, and few will even attempt to block themselves from your attacks.

As expected Conan must also fight a boss at the end of each level that will range from steroid pumped brutes to massive beasts like a sand dragon or a demonic elephant. Like God of War these boss battles are divided into sections, where you cause damage to the beast in one area, and then must move higher or plateau to continue hurting it until a final ending cut scene is triggered showing Conan doing some insane kill like hanging onto a massive bolder as it falls to crush the beast?s head like a grape. There are also some puzzles that Conan must solve, but they are the simple "pull the lever" and "stand on the platform" tasks that even a barbarian can figure out with ease.

This game earns its M rating in more ways than one; with over the top violence, indications of sex, and a lot of maidens that are either walking around scantily clad or as topless as a Girls Gone Wild video. But anyone who has ever read any Conan literature or at least seen the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies will know that without these elements Conan wouldn?t be Conan. Both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 versions offer the same experience, which is mainly because of the last-gen graphics that don?t even challenge the hardware. The only benefit of the Xbox 360 version is that it offers a lot of easy achievement points for those of you looking to build up your Xbox Live score. Either way you?re going to get a couple of mindless thrills from Conan, and if you?ve never played God of War, it?s actually a plus.
This is standard definition material that could have easily been reproduced on the PS2 or the original Xbox. Both consoles had similar framerate issues with instances of characters been stuck in place; and the load times are insanely slow on both systems with nothing visually amazing to show once the level begins. It would have been great if the developers went all out to deliver a visual tour de force for the greatest barbarian ever known, but instead it looks only average, even with all the boob shots.

Actor Ron Pearlman known for his role as Hellboy provides the voice for Conan, and though he?s done great work in the past, he was the wrong choice here, saying such horrible dialogue as ?Now there will be one less dog in the streets,? after he slices an enemy down. Being that the Governator would laugh in your face if he were asked to do this type of thing now, there must be at least a thousand other guys who could have done a better job at portraying Conan. The sound effects are basic, but effective enough to get the job done. The music is the best element, coming off exactly how you?d expect sword and sorcery themed entrainment to sound like, with a lot of drums and trombones.
replay value
Some of the boss battles may require a lot of retries to beat, but overall you should have this game beat in about six or seven hours at the most. There is no multiplayer featured, so unless you want to look at the artwork you?ve unlocked by beating the game, there?s really no reason to revisit anything. Once it?s done, it?s done.
bottom line
Unfortunately, the God of War has upstaged Conan, and there?s very little that can be done to separate both games. If only the developers tried to raise the bar and do add a couple of features you couldn?t do in the Kratos game it would have been a more rewarding experience, but instead they just chose to mirror it. If you?re a fan of Conan, you will get something out of this game because there are some cool moments, but otherwise it?s nothing more than a button masher that you can bang out in a weekend. It makes a good rental, but PS3 and Xbox 360 owners should spend that $60 on another game. Pray to Crom that Conan?s next adventure will be more rewarding.
Review by: Johnny McNair
Posted: 11/30/1999
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