God of War Review
I'll be honest here: as much as I read about games and constantly play them, I had no clue that God of War even existed until other sites' reviews showed up heaping massive amounts of praise on it. Even though this shows how clueless I can be about upcoming games, going into a great new title with no knowledge of it is one of the ways I really enjoy it the most. There's no hype, no preconceptions, no months of poring over screenshots, interviews, previews, and trailers. It's just all about the game. While a little homework done a tad too late shows that Sony has tried to hype up people for God of War, it seems that it mostly drowned out by news of other major titles. It's not too often that Sony makes a game for their own console, and I hope that lots of people get a chance to play this one despite its low-key launch, because God of War is an incredible experience.
I've moaned and groaned before about how the PS2 platform is such an outdated technology and how it needs to be put to rest, but I'm not sure I believe that anymore after seeing this game. Either there's still some horsepower that was still hidden away in Sony's black box, or their own developers are miracle workers, because these graphics are some of the best I've seen on any platform - even the PC.
Sony has brought their vision of a mythological Greece together so beautifully, and with so many great ideas, it makes me wonder if I concern myself with game engines, frame rates, and pixel shaders a bit too much. Regardless of whether the PS2 is outdated or not, the end result here is that God of War runs at a smooth speed and delivers such a spectacular world full of brilliantly-drawn and animated monsters that I was left literally speechless by some of the visuals. And unlike many PS2 titles, this one does support 480p mode as well as widescreen televisions.
Once you get into God of War, though, you won't spend too long idly staring at huge temples or the burning city of Athens. You will play as Kratos, a Spartan warrior who has been cursed by his own gods yet has a new opportunity to work in their service. Before long, your task is laid out before you in no uncertain terms: brave the burning city of Athens, travel to a forbidden desert, recover Pandora's Box and use it to kill Ares, the God of War. It sounds like a pretty difficult task for a mere mortal to do, but this guy has history with the gods already and they will be giving him their powers. You see, the daddy of all gods, Zeus, has decided that they won't be killing eachother today, but he decides the right idea will be to empower a mortal to do their bidding. So Zeus himself, Poseidon, Artemis, Athena, and even Hades will be helping you out with weapons and abilities.
This is on top of your main weapons, called the Blades of Chaos. A weapon passed down from Ares himself back when Kratos was still serving the malevolent god, these sickle-style blades are attached directly to Kratos' arms by way of chains seared into his flesh; he couldn't remove them even if he wanted to. But then again, why would he? These things are pure destruction, and the whirling fury you can generate gives one a feeling of power most games can't even touch. Use the X and Triangle buttons to unleash quick and strong attacks respectively, and there are dozens of unique moves and combos you'll be able to do that match almost any situation.
And you're going to need all these combos and special moves to even remotely start to achieve victory. To defeat the army of Ares as well as the many popular mythical creatures that have been reborn and expertly created at the developers' hands, you'll need to be able to block at the right time, punch through enemies' defenses, take on half a dozen monsters of mixed types simultaneously, and maximize the amount of health, mana, and weapon powerups that can be had from killing your enemies. As you go through the game, you'll fight minotaurs, cerberi, cyclopes, harpies, centaurs, and legions of undead, and many of their attack styles are very different and will require different styles in return.
Another aspect of this game that Sony has put in is a sort of context-sensitive attack system. When enemies are low on health, you can use the circle button (usually designated for a throw during fights) to start a finishing move. Some of these require a button mash in rapid succession, while others will pop up the buttons on the screen that you'll need to hit quickly in order. This is an important part in getting the maximum amount of orbs from some enemies, and it helps you finish off some of the larger foes a bit faster. It's essential for the game's bosses as well; if you don't complete these little button combos correctly, you'll be thrown away and will have to try again. Overall, this feature may seem stupid or gimmicky when described, but it's really works in game. Kratos has many ways to kill enemies, and if you perform these little button dances and you'll see him rip stuff literally to shreds like you've never seen in a game before. It's so incredibly satisfying, you'll wonder why no one else has made animations anywhere near as cool as this.
It's not all combat, though, as God of War also includes many puzzles you'll have to work through. While the game rarely requires you to backtrack, you might sometimes wonder if that's actually what needs to be done in certain situations, as some of the puzzles are downright devious. I got stuck for twenty minutes at a time on at least a few occasions, but once I would stop and use a bit of logic to figure out what was needed, I managed to get through without too much further of a delay. What I like is that both the combat and puzzles are very satisfying to get through despite the difficulty, and both aspects of this game have had a ton of effort put into them.
The enemies you'll fight are very powerful alongside your own weaponry, so you'll need the right tactics and fighting styles to make it through some of your fights. For example, minotaurs block often, but their attacks are easily blocked themselves; defend yourself and counter attack, and pick the right attacks so you can keep up a combo without giving them a chance to start blocking again. Other enemies simply require a relentless attack, while others will hit so hard and with unblockable attacks that dodging is necessary. And dodging is so important in this game, Sony dedicated the right analog stick to it completely; just flick it in any direction, and you'll do a dodge precisely where you want.
The special abilities you have are limited by a pretty standard mana bar. You can fire off Zeus' bolts at far away enemies, electrocute them in an area around with Poseidon's Rage, turn enemies to stone with Medusa's Gaze, slice and dice them with Artemis' blade, and unleash Hades' army of undead souls to do your work for you. All of these abilites can be powered up alongside your Blades of Chaos if you've picked up enough red orbs to do so, and the dizzying array of combo opportunities when combined with these abilities is wonderful. Switching between these is easy, as a quick touch of the D-pad is all you need. Artemis' Blade is an alternative to the Blades of Chaos, and even though there are some great moves with this sword, I found the latter weapons, the ones you start the game with, to have longer range and more damage potential.
Throw in the possibility of aerial combat into this, and it just gets better. If you are in the middle of a combo, you can use a heavy attack and hold the Triangle button to send an enemy up into the air. Keep holding it, and you'll hop up in the air as well. From there, you can continue pummeling the poor creature, or even do a mid-air throw which can hurt other nearby enemies.
You might be wondering where the camera controls are on the PS2 controller if the right stick is for dodging, and here's where I tell you that there are none at all. And if this was your average game, this would be a major concern, as the camera in most games has to be constantly moved to make up for shortcomings in the automatic camera. But surprisingly, the camera in God of War is spot-on 99.9% of the time.
Players won't have to worry about missing the game's scenic views with the game's automatically adjusting camera, because it makes sure to catch them all just perfectly. It moves around with masterful cinematography, sweeping and switching at just the right time to show off the game's wondrous visuals and huge, open areas. The camera will also shift to help the player better understand some of the game's puzzles by focusing on a specific wall or other item. Another plus of all this is that the game can conceal hidden areas much more easily with a fully automated camera, so you'll need to explore more proactively to find the secret areas.
Over the course of the game, you'll fight through a fleet of warships in the Aegean Sea, the burning city of Athens (including a truly breathtaking view of Ares, thousands of feet tall, taking on Athena's army in front of the city), the nearly-blinding Desert of Lost Souls, and onto the back of the titan Kronos himself, who has been cursed to crawl blindly through the nearly endless desert. Chained to Kronos' massive back is a temple that has been designed to protect Pandora's Box, and you'll need to find a way to get onto Kronos, into the temple, and through its puzzles and traps to find the Box.
I won't spoil the game's setting any further, but suffice it to say that the game's got tons of very unique and beautiful settings, each one more fantastic than the last. And the game's overall visual quality is exceeded only by the brilliant art that accompanies just about every setting in the game. I was amazed when I noticed that at least on my television, the texture quality was almost impeccable. Those who have played their fair share of PS2 titles know that this is very tough for even the biggest of PS2 game developers.
I'd like to point out that Kratos himself is a very violent, and even somewhat misogynistic guy. He's got a real grudge, and he won't let any innocent bystanders stand in his way; he lives truly without any remorse whatsoever. I could start to poke at his design and how it contrasts against the standard heroes in Japanese action and RPG titles, but I'll just say that I find Kratos to be a breath of fresh air after seeing dozens of effeminate, brooding, yet sensitive heroes.
The story is very immersive and rather emotional without bogging down the whole experience with too much drama. God of War reveals the fate of Kratos through flashback cinematics at points throughout the game. While you've no idea who the guy is at the beginning of the game, as you progress you'll find out what happened to his family, why his skin is ghostly pale, why Ares attached the Blades of Chaos to his wrists, and why he hates the God of War so much. On top of this, you'll learn how Kratos came to be so much of an unflinching badass, and just what it's like to be one of the toughest yet most emotionally tortured guys in any game anywhere. The flashbacks are done in a unique style that is very different from the game itself, yet the style fits in perfectly. And the pre-rendered cinematics that work between gameplay scenes match seamlessly with the look of the in-game models and environments, which really is more praise for the game's graphics than it is for the cutscenes.
This game's rated M for Mature, and it earns that rating just in the first few minutes of gameplay. The blood and gore in God of War are a bit excessive, and some of the situations Kratos gets himself into put a bit of a dark humor spin on things at the same time. If you're looking to enjoy one of the best games on the PS2 yet but are squeamish about blood and violence, then you're going to be very tortured over whether or not to play this one. There's also a bit of nudity and even a tongue-in-cheek sex joke via a mini-game, so those who tolerate violence but can't stand nudity aren't really going to be too happy either. Still, God of War treats nudity and sex in a much more mature way than most "Mature"-rated games out there.
One of my favorite aspects of this game is an almost complete elimination of load times. This is not to say that there's no loading, as the DVD drive will be working hard constantly while you play. You'll also notice that you're required to run through some twisting corridors when moving from one area to the next, which will give the game time to load up the new graphics that are coming up, but the seamless transitions really keep you immersed in a way that load screens will never be able to deliver.
The music in God of War works perfectly with the game's atmosphere, and there are many themes and excellent orchestrations here. Mostly it sounds like an epic, but there are quite a few other influences going into tosme of the tracks. What's even better is that there's an offer inside the box to freely download the full soundtrack off of one of Sony's websites; and even outside the scope of the game, the tracks really hold up on their own.
Replay value comes by way of secret items, a few extra movies, bonus stages and additional costumes for Kratos. Most of these are unlocked when one beats the game on a certain difficulty. On top of that, the weapon powerup orbs, of which you'll see thousands by game's end, can go into powering up either of your two sets of weapons or other magical capabilities. In my first play-through, I fully powered up everything but one ability, but I think that if I found every secret and maximized as much as possible, I'd have been able to fully upgrade all of my spells and weapons.
While the game includes several boss fights, I found that there simply weren't enough of them. At the very least, though, the ones we get are extremely intense and hugely gratifying to complete. One in particular a few hours from the game's end was my personal favorite, and like any great boss battle, the boss was massive and required many different tactics based on how he was attacking me. It was so satisfying to see him die, as well, that I have to say it was one of the high points in the game. I'm a little upset about the number of annoying fights right at the end of the game, as well as the very difficult jumping puzzles that got thrown in, but I still didn't mind after I was done, because they were still unique challenges that I had to fight my way through.
God of War is a must-have for any action gamer. It's a remarkable experience with plenty of depth, great graphics, intense and rewarding combat, and one of the biggest badasses you'll ever get to take control of in any action title. Few games are so good that I'd recommend people go ahead and buy the console for if they don't own it already - alongside maybe a dozen other titles over the past two decades, this is one of those games.