For thousands of years, Greek myths have served as the raw material of our dreams, inspiring not only the worlds of literature, drama and visual art, but also the language of psychoanalysis. From Homer to Harryhausen, the Greeks have provided artists with many of our most important and enduring cultural references. It’s at least part of what the poet Percy Shelley meant when he remarked, “We are all Greeks.” It’s no surprise, then, that Greek mythology has also figured prominently in games like God of War, Rise of the Argonauts, and, most recently, Clash of the Titans.
I used to argue with folks about the bastardization of Greek myths, not only in the videogame industry, but also in the wider world of books and movies. Then a couple of my fellow editors pointed out that the invention of new contexts for myths in movies like Clash of the Titans or Disney’s Hercules just continue the redaction that the Greeks themselves practiced as their own myths took shape. So while I still think Brad Pitt makes a crappy Achilles, I’m comforted that the myths are vital enough to support new meanings and backgrounds for us in the 21st century. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that it serves as the subject matter for a game as terrible as Clash of the Titans.
Based on the recent remake of the old Harry Hamlin movie, Clash of the Titans crams a lot of mythology into a single narrative, which serves as the background material for a mindless, repetitive, hack-and-slash game. The fighting isn’t actually all bad; the range of combos you can get using light and heavy moves is impressive and the weapon upgrades give you a sense that you’re progressing with each encounter. If you have the right attitude, smashing your way through waves of skeleton warriors or the oh-so-imaginatively-named “frog monsters” is actually a bit of a thrill.
The story sets up a truly epic journey for the player, who begins as a nobody on a crappy little island and rises to challenge the very gods themselves. It’s an amazing arc with plenty of memorable highlights. Unfortunately, the story is derailed by predictable missions that spoil the momentum of your hero’s journey. The moment you step up to save Princess Andromeda from the Kraken, the king gratefully accepts your offer but then sends you out on a bunch of menial errands. It’s like, “Thanks for agreeing to save my daughter from being eaten by the Kraken, but before you do that we have some local problems we were hoping you could help with…” This pointless redirection is made even more ludicrous by the lengths to which the story goes to remind you that 1) Princess Andromeda is going to be eaten pretty soon and 2) defeating the Kraken is impossible.
Why I’m wasting time patrolling the streets of the town is beyond me. To be fair, the king’s claims that he’s as powerful as the gods seems a little thin when you consider the multitude of demons and skeletons that happen to be wandering around town, but that hardly seems more important than the big showdown. In any case, it sets a precedent for the rest of the game, which alternates between the heart-stopping thrill of catching Pegasus, and the brain-numbing tedium of catching fish from a river. Even worse, you don’t actually catch the fish-you just kill everything between you and a dead fish lying on the ground. It soon becomes too apparent which missions are meant to advance the story and which are merely meant to pad out the game’s length. In case you’re still not entirely clear about this, the fish is a pad mission.
The pace of the game is also broken up by the structure of the missions themselves. Rather than exploring an open world, Clash of the Titans has players bouncing from mission hubs to a series of small fighting arenas. You can’t take on more than one mission at a time, so you’ll be forced to travel back and forth through the same areas again and again (and again). By the time you’ve exhausted a given hub, you’ve explored the same handful of fighting zones at least a dozen times, fighting essentially the same roster of enemies each mundane time. The only variety is whichever boss monster happens to be occupying the last zone in the chain. During one particularly memorable mission, you’ll finish off one boss only to discover that the real boss is-cue fanfare-just a bigger version of the one you just killed.
There are a few issues with the fighting system, as well. The lock-on system that helps you target and track enemies isn’t intuitive and, even after you figure out how to use it, is still unreliable. There’s also no real variety to the finishing moves for each monster; the way you kill a centaur is definitely cool, but when you see the Quick Time Events play out the same way again and again, it loses some of its charm. The weapon upgrades seem to add depth and progression to the game, but after a few hours, you start to realize that the upgrades are there only to justify the game’s tedious collection mechanic.
The bigger problem is that the enemies and locations are so repetitive that any fun in the fighting system is drowned in a sea of monotony. The thousandth skeleton warrior you dispatch is no more interesting than the first and the endless backtracking through levels of respawning enemies makes it seem like there’s no end to your trials. You might as well just run past the enemies you don’t need to kill but the game uses arbitrary glowing barriers, which seem to say, “We know you’d rather get on with the story, but we think killing another 10 sandworms is more important.”
The game has a few other minor issues. The dialogue isn’t great, the monsters aren’t inventive or particularly intelligent, and the inexplicable prevalence of Latin terms like “legion,” “coliseum” and “gladiator” is sure to irritate anyone who actually cares about the game’s subject matter. With other mythic action options on the market, Clash of the Titans just doesn’t do enough to make it worth your time.
Recommendation: Clash of the Titans’s combat and weapon system might have been acceptable if the other elements of the game were better developed. As it is, the repetitive missions and poor pacing are ultimately too distracting for the game’s few virtues to shine through.
Bottom Line: Fans of action games and Greek mythology will find some small things to like here but it will be buried under layers of frustration.[rating=2]
Game: Clash of the Titans
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Release Date: July 27th, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon
Steve Butts thinks most gamers would rather ride a winged horse than catch a fish.