“Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” – From The Phoenix In The Sword
(For the purposes of this review, I played the PS3 version of the game)
Conan is the kind of game that wants to be a fair number of things, but doesn’t necessarily do very well at a lot of them. The game places you in the furry boots of the titular barbarian, and not the one of the films, but of the original novels. The story begins with Conan raiding some distant tomb seeking treasure, and ultimately releasing a great evil that steals his armor. Being as Conan is not one to shrink from perils that he thinks he can handle, goes forth to defeat this evil.
The game is sort of a mix of old-school story and new-school hack & slash and role-playing elements. The game is pretty much a standard brawler. You fight your way through the levels, carving your way through various enemies. As you kill them, you gain experience, and gain new powers ala Ninja Gaiden and most console slash-em-ups since The Lord Of The Rings movie games. Occasionally in a fight (particularly in boss fights) you’ll get a real-time action event that lets you either insta-kill an enemy or do a lot of damage, ala God of War and Shenmue. However, it’s a little old school in terms of the story is pretty much there to justify why you’re going the length and breadth of Conan’s Earth killing enemies, and in terms of organization – The game is divided into a series of (basically) about 5 Acts, each broken up into 2 stages, with the first letting you get acquainted with the stages generic baddies (who are like the last stages generic baddies except they have different color uniforms, block more and may have a shield) and letting you figure out strategies to kill them before beating a Mid-boss who is basically a tougher generic elite baddie. The second stage has you using everything you learned the last stage to make your way to the boss, who (usually) is pretty big, and you beat by figuring the pattern and/or weakness to their attacks (and sometimes they’re incredibly cheap).
The problem is that it isn’t particularly interesting. The weak story does nothing in particular to draw you in, and it highlights the main problem of Conan – with a bad writer he’s boring. As he’s the viewpoint character (and thus the Player Character), the only tension in the game whether or not you as the player will fail. Ron Perlman, who voices Conan in cutscenes, does an admirable job of trying to keep the player’s interest, but the only lines that don’t suck in the game are from the end of Stage 1-1 and are taken almost directly from “Queen of the Black Coast”. Further, there’s only one other named protagonist with lines, Conan’s love interest, A’Kanna, who is voiced by Claudia Black (Farscape, Stargate SG-1, Pitch Black), and anyone who knows Conan (or has even seen the movies) knows that Conan’s love interests generally don’t stick around after the end of the story/film either because Conan moves on or, more likely, they die.
The combat itself tries to keep your interest for most of the game, and kind of does, as you level up abilities, learn new attacks, and get new parries to kill your enemies in more and more spectacularly gruesome ways. The problems is the enemies start blocking more often, become harder to hit, and start outnumbering you, so what was once cutting a gloriously brutal and bloody swath through your enemies becomes more of a slog as you start having to play more and more defensively – and one thing a slash-em-up should never become is a slog.
All in all, I progressively lost interest in the game, as I ran out of things to keep me playing. Yeah, I could unlock harder difficulties, but as I got to the end of the game, it wasn’t that the game was to easy, but because as the enemies got harder I had to spend more time turtling – and that didn’t appeal to me. There are unlockable cheats, but they’re only useful if (god forbid) you decide to play the game again. There are various unlockable in-game achivements, enough that you probably won’t get them all in one play through. However, they’re only in-game, and there’s no sign of trophy support getting patched in, so the only people who will particularly care are you. All the concept art is unlocked before you’ve beaten the game, and there are online leaderboards, but, though I may have over-looked it, I missed the option of the Friend’s leaderboard on the PS3 version. Overall, I cannot find any reason to recommend this game for anything more than a rental, even if you’re a Conan fan.
Score: 5 out of 10.
*Though I can’t for the life of me imagine why.