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David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-05-24 22:27:58

Conan - Rank C

Developer: Nihilistic
Publisher: THQ
Date: 10/23/07

Also available for PlayStation 3

Conan is a shameless God of War impersonator. You want button mashing brutality, timed button presses to finish off gigantic bosses, and red orbs that earn new combos? They're all here. Well, why not? If you're going to copy a game, you might as well copy a good one. The problem is that Nihilistic lifted the mechanics without managing to replicate the polished execution.

To its credit, this game captured the proper attitude. He's Conan the fucking barbarian. This interpretation of the Cimmerian is confidently savage, with a proper "crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women" posture. He doesn't serve women, he services them (I was surprised to see tits in a videogame). If he gets shot with an arrow, a tap of the shoulder button causes him to unflinchingly wrench it out. He doesn't open treasure chests, he smashes them in with the heel of his boot.

And he kills. A lot. In seriously bloody ways. He decapitates and dismembers enemies. He snaps their backs like Popsicle sticks. He throws them off cliffs and impales them on spikes. One of my favorite moves is a counter which follows up a parry by punching into an enemy's abdomen and yanking out the length of his intestines. He finishes off the first boss fight by repeatedly smashing the chump's face into his own spiky mace. Conan is full of terrifically ridiculous testosterone-laden bloodiness.

There are a ton of such moves and combos for you to unlock, with three distinct fighting styles. The sword and shield style is defensive and technical, dual wielding is a frenetic offensive showcase, and two-handed weapons are slow but unrelenting powerhouses. When I saw how awesome these moves were, they instantly hooked me. I couldn't wait to accumulate enough XP to see the next one. Watching Conan dispatch foes - by literally cleaving them in half - brought an adolescent grin to my face.

Unfortunately, the mechanics are decidedly muddy. Nihilistic made lazy decisions with attack priorities, and many of the shots you take feel cheap and undeserved. If you've played a razor-sharp example of this genre, like say Ninja Gaiden, Conan will feel sluggish and unresponsive. Opponent A.I. is dull and uninspired across all the enemy types. The floaty, imprecise jumping makes the platforming sequences exercises in frustration. These fundamental flaws spoil a game that otherwise would have been likable.

To round off the complaints, the voice acting is oddly subpar. Ron Perlman is a decent actor, but his rendition of Conan sounds off to me. Also, in a heretical design choice, Nihilistic has Conan casting magic spells in this game. That's like making James Bond gay.

I really wanted to give Conan a higher grade. The macho kickassness of it is an absolute guilty pleasure. If I was thirteen, that might've been enough, but I need substance to anchor my style now. Conan tries to clone the strengths of God of War, but instead of getting Superman, the result is a defectively backward Bizarro.

I thought my readers might like to explore enjoyable Conan material, so here are a few links. The first is a collection of the first third of Robert E. Howard's (Conan's creator) stories. The second is the first volume of Kurt Busiek's terrific run of Conan comics (illustrated by Cary Nord). The third is the exceptional film Conan the Barbarian starring some weightlifter who went on to become the governor of California.

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