Greek mythology is a fascinating form of literature that is able to take us into an ancient world long since in the past; a world that was dark and violent, yet prosperous. Art, architecture, philosophy and politics were staples of a society that spawned the captivating tales of Homer and Hesiod, to name but a few. These writers have inspired a multitude of artists throughout the centuries, but the majority of video game creators have somehow shied away from the grand tales of Greek heroes, in favour of more modern ventures. Alientrap are no such team, and have constructed a beautiful piece of mythological fiction that captures the genuine essence of Hellenic life, through a game that is both gorgeous to behold, and a joy to play.
The game begins with an epic battle, and the protagonist, Nikandreos, is plunged into a conflict between a group of raiders and his townsfolk. From the get-go, Apotheon is clearly a story about a hero and his journey towards a profound destiny, much like the yarns of Heracles and Perseus. After the fodder subsides, Hera appears to Nikandreos and presents him with a lofty goal: to gain the artefacts of the gods in order to displace Zeus from his throne upon Olympus, along with some divine assassinations. God of War III has a similar idea, but instead of an angry demigod rampaging his way across the land for vengeance, we have a silent figure who can be merciful when necessary. Instead of smashing innocents’ heads against walls like Kratos, Nikandreos actually wants to be of some help. If the gods are amiable, he will not end their lives needlessly, showing a gentler and more reasonable side to a generally non-existent personality.
Apotheon takes the form of a 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania; a style that fits perfectly with its premise, as numerous environments need to be visited in order to complete Nikandreos’ quest. There are two hub worlds, the Agora and the Acropolis, which then connect to the chosen ecosystem of each god, as well as secondary zones, such as marketplaces and spacious homes. A number of RPG-like elements are also incorporated, but these add little to the gameplay, and mainly resort to simple weapon and armour upgrades. Returning to previously explored areas is thoroughly encouraged, as keys and seals can then be used to gain entry to previously inaccessible regions. The visuals here are also well suited to the gameplay structure, as they are realised as 2D Greek paintings, much like those found on ancient vases and vessels. This artistic vision is wholly original, as well as breathtaking, because of its use of colour, crispness, and all-round authenticity.
The main areas of the game are beautifully constructed using this art style, and while in the beginning, orange and black may seem overused, they are quickly discarded for the palette of greys, blue, greens, and reds. Colour then adds to the tone of each world. For example, Artemis’ forest is painted over with a great use of green; emphasising her presence amongst the natural world. Her forest is also notable because of the amount of creatures that inhabit it. There are numerous animals to hunt, nymphs prancing around haphazardly, and hunters waiting ceaselessly for their prey. These locations aren’t solely used to house enemies, but are full of interesting details that bolster the simplicity of the game’s visual flair, with a startling amount of life.
Although there are birds, fish, and friendly satyrs to be seen throughout the land of Olympus, it is also a place full of those that have less than innocent intent. Enemies are varied, and sometimes present a considerable amount of challenge when facing against them in large numbers. This is where Apotheon’s combat truly shines, as weapons are extremely responsive when carving their way through Zeus’ army of lackeys; every sword, axe, spear and club feels different. They each have their own weight, leading to unique encounters that never grow tiresome. Due to the responsiveness of the weapons, as well as the bloody carnage that they can cause, combat is ultimately satisfying. Boss battles against the gods also present some great moments of original gameplay, and can provide an interlude to the simple bashing of common foes. In one instance, Artemis transforms Nikandreos into a stag, instigating a frantic situation where he becomes an object of the hunt, requiring frantic manoeuvres, and a certain amount of skill, to reverse the moon goddess’s power of transfiguration.
As well as providing interesting encounters, each god has a distinct aura of personality. Apollo is an arrogant fool, spreading plenty of hate against the human race; Dionysus is a turn cloak jester, presenting himself jovially to escape the watchful wrath of Zeus and Poseidon certainly lives up the epithet of “earth-shaker.” These personalities go a long way towards characterising important figures within the game, and no god is left lacking in interest. This is achieved through stellar vocal performances – not only for the deities, but also for the pedestrian inhabitants of the game’s various worlds. Every character is essentially a stick figure, but with the addition of great voice acting, they retain life, and present insights into their thoughts and feelings. This then adds more to the fearful atmosphere of a world already bursting with ambience.
Sound is an equally important factor in crafting a realistic Greek setting, and is something that is well established here from the outset. Lyres and haunting melodies are combined to form the game’s musical score, and mix well with the visuals to create a feeling of mysticism that is employed successfully upon a society that was richly steeped in Paganism, and religious devotion towards a higher form of life. The gentle tunes of Dionysus’ vineyard are greatly juxtaposed with the booming tones of Poseidon’s oceanic boss fight. Music is wonderfully intertwined within the gameplay, and highlights every facet of antiquity: religion, violence and, of course, luxurious pursuits.
For those that are interested, there is also a local multiplayer option. This takes the form of one versus one arena combat in some of the campaign’s key locations. The same great gameplay transfers over from the main game, but this seems like a strange inclusion that really adds next to nothing to the fantastic single player.
Apotheon is truly a special game. It takes the standout elements of Greek mythology and expands upon them with furious attention to detail. The combat is bloody; the visuals are simplistic, yet beautifully designed; the gods are grand, arrogant and powerful; terror is everywhere. Nikandreos begins his journey from the smoking ruins of his home town, and travels through oceans, forests, caves, cities and up to the very highest heights of Olympus. Apotheon should remain comfortably upon the latter, amongst the clouds, resting firmly on the pantheon of gaming excellence.