Review: God of War (PS2)

God of War
System: Playstation 2
Publisher: SCEA
Genre: Action

Greek mythology, like lots of your basic stories in religions, was designed to convey a lesson to the listener. Stories of bravery, love, consequences, greed. All come to mind when I think about Greek mythology. Gods with human emotions and the humans who had to live with the interference of the gods.

I’m telling you this because today’s game is very much based on many of those stories. The game is God of War, and the review starts now.

Warning, this review contains spoilers.



Story:

As mentioned God of War is based on Greek Mythology. Or to put it more accurately, it’s heavily inspired by Greek Mythology. Kratos is a man with one desire. To see the God of War (Ares, Mars to you Romans out there) dead at his feet. For you see Kratos has a history with the God of War. Ares had saved Kratos when he needed help the most, but the bargain cost all he held dear. Now, when Ares decides to attack Athens to spite his sister Athena, Kratos is given a mission to find Pandora’s Box and kill Ares.

Like I said, it’s heavily inspired by the myths. The story takes what it likes and what it finds convenient gameplay wise and uses it to fashion a story that might have occurred in an alternate universe Greek Mythology. Medusa only had two sisters in the mythology, but in the game there are dozens. Cerebus was the only 3 headed dog I ever heard about in the myths, but that dog has been getting busy apparently. They do remain faithful to the stories in most aspects though. There is no 5 headed dog, no machine gun toting Cyclops.

My one major complaint about the story in this game comes from the fact it’s been inspired by those old myths. Unlike those stories, there are no consequences for Kratos. Yes, throughout the story you slowly find out what happened in the past to cause such murderous rage towards Ares, and it is certainly a tragedy. But you are such a force of nature in this game, killing so much and finally succeeding in your mission to eliminate Ares, that what happened in the past should be nothing compared to what should happen to him now, and yet you are rewarded by being given Are’s throne on Olympus. Something tragic should have happened to him, not to those around him. This probably shouldn’t bug me as much as it does, but all of the epic stories have a point to get across. The story in God of War is basically what happens to Kratos well after he discovers that power comes with a price.



Graphics:

There aren’t many games on the Playstation 2 that look better than God Of War. Metal Gear Solid 3 is pretty much the only one I can think of that is clearly better looking. From Kratos himself to the top of Mount Olympus and everything else in between, this game is truly showing what that cranky old PS2 can do when pushed by programmers who know what to do. There are moments of slowdown but those are there to help you start combos and not as a result of too many polygons on screen at a time.

The amount of violence that you can dish out at any given time is quite staggering.. Ripping the wings off harpies, beheading enemies with their own swords, Kratos is a tornado of blades and blood. The designers clearly took the time to animate in exquisite detail some truly gory deaths. Gorgons in particular have it fairly rough. Add in some magic powers and you have an outstanding graphical experience.

Games these days are really stepping up to the plate when it comes to astonishing me with their visuals. I don’t mean pretty graphics, I mean sights I’ve never seen, or would never imagine. Like climbing onto the back of a fallen god who had been made to crawl around a desert until he dies. That to me qualifies as a sight I never expected to see, and it’s really quite something. I love seeing real imagination at work in games. There needs to be more of it.



Sound:

“And Kratos cast himself off of the highest mountain in Greece…” so speaks the narrator of the game, and just like that you feel as though you’re watching an epic movie. That’s what excellent voice casting can do for a game.. Kratos himself is given some choice material to give voice to, and the actor, TC Carson, very much fits the character. And it isn’t just Kratos’s voice that they nailed. The Narrator, voiced by Linda Hunt is perfect. You feel as though she is sitting with you telling you this story, passing it on to you so that you may pass it on to your children and grandchildren. At the same time you could also be sitting in a movie theater watching the latest blockbuster. I could go on but why bother. Whomever did the voice casting for this game should get a raise.

The composer for the game’s soundtrack should also be given a raise, since I’m throwing Sony’s money around. Much of the music captures the epic feel that this game is trying to convey to the audience, and when you at last reach the room where Pandora’s Box is stored, the battle that must be fought is made all the more intense because of the music that’s playing. I don’t know if you can ask for anything more out of a soundtrack.

Background noise and sound effects also benefit from excellent sound design. Hades in particular is outstanding. I won’t tell you why, just get there, turn up the volume and listen.

If I had to list a negative, and I do, it would come from the music portion of the sound design. It’s excellent, as mentioned above, but there are times when due to level difficulty or stupidity on your own part, you’ll hear it over and over again. So what may be excellent after one or two attempts will suddenly start to get on your nerves as the level frustrates you. It’s not even the sound designers fault really, but I know I turned the music off at least twice just because it was getting distracting.



Controls/Gameplay:

You are given a fair amount of freedom to choose just how you will go about dealing death and torment while making your way towards killing Ares. From the very start of the game Kratos is armed with the Blades of Chaos, which are blades attached to chains which are embedded in the arms of our hero. With these blades, numerous deadly combos await those who wield them. You have a light attack button and a heavy attack button, a grab and a jump. As you progress in the game you open up new combos which use many of the buttons. You also earn different magic spells and another sword.

Earning new combos is achieved by collecting red mana, which is then invested into the weapon or magic spell while in a pause screen. One thing I have to mention is the leveling up itself. Instead of just allowing you to press a button and automatically get that weapon upgraded, they force you to sit there and watch as a meter fills up and another counts down how much you are spending. I don’t know if this was part of a larger idea that later got removed from the game or if they really did intend to waste my time by forcing me to sit there for minutes at a time spending my mana. Either way it should have been fixed.

Health is green mana, and magic is blue mana. Both can be obtained from treasure chests stashed along the road to Ares, but you can also obtain ridiculously small amounts of them by killing certain creatures. The larger the creature the more health or magic you can obtain, but you don’t get nearly enough while being bombarded by the some fifty thousand harpies that attack you at times. This works more as something to frustrate than something to entice you to dive headlong into battle with larger and larger foes.

Level design is good, solid for the most part. Only one part of the game comes across as being not so well thought out, or perhaps even rushed. That level is the escape from Hades. Imagine a giant skeleton you have to climb. That’s fine so far. But then add in at certain points long thin rotating pipes which have blades. This is fine, it’s good to have challenges in platforming games. Where it gets ludicrous is when they force you to climb up a spinning pipe which has many blades, each at different places and which force you to move side to side as well as up and down. Even this wouldn’t be so bad if the collision detection wasn’t so intent on hitting you, when you aren’t really that close at all. Plus, while the pipe may be 5 stories high, one hit will send you crashing down to the ground. It’s choices like that which do nothing to help the game and only serve to frustrate the player. The level design itself is quite good. After all it should not be an easy thing for a mortal to escape death and return to the world of the living, but there is good hard and stupid hard. Hades is where the game crosses over the line from good to stupid hard.



Balance:

The difficulty starts off as mildly challenging and moves closer and closer to maddening as you get deeper into the game. It’s not the entire game that’s like this, many of the enemies become cannon fodder the stronger you get. But because quantity is often a quality all its own, there are times when you will be attacked by a ridiculous amount of these weak enemies. They will wear you down if you aren’t capable of finishing them off correctly. Often this means using the proper weapon or magic spell, but this is not always possible. I mentioned in the sound section the fight to get into the room containing Pandora’s Box and how dramatic the music is. What I didn’t mention was that fight alone took me 2 days to accomplish. The fight to get into that fight cost me much of my health and all of my magic, and by that time I was no match for the onslaught of Harpies. I finally broke down and backtracked until I could find a health box I hadn’t opened. Had there been more health given off by lesser characters I would not have had such a problem passing the level.

You run into 3 true boss fights in the game, though the last one is spread out over a couple of levels. The Hydra was in the demo, and if it’s possible the fight impressed me even more this time than it did in the demo. Each fight is unique, and the way you kill each is very true to the violent nature of Kratos. You must attack the boss until their health is low enough to be stunned, then do a button combo as it appears on screen. Succeed at the combo and the Boss’s health will drop, fail and the health will be restored. And while the final boss was probably a bit more frustrating than I’d have liked, had it been easy I wouldn’t have been happy at all, and felt no thrill at finally defeating him.



Replay Ability:

Upon completing the game you unlock God Mode, which is really just suicidal in my mind, but it’s there for you types who just have to conquer a game. You also unlock the Challenge of the Gods, which is a series of 10 challenges. Each one is different and each of them changes your skill set to make the difficulty even higher. Your weapons are downgraded for example, or your life bar is shortened.

The game itself is one of those that can be as much a stress reliever as it can be a stress inducer, so if you get really good at the game you may find the desire to rip some enemies to pieces may just be what the doctor ordered.



Appeal:

Well, first of all, if I haven’t mentioned it to you yet, this is a very adult game. In fact it’s so adult Sony approved frontal nudity on some female characters. Well endowed female characters at that. So if you’re over the age of 17 and haven’t seen a woman naked yet, here’s your big chance. Don’t get all worked up about the sex mini-game though, Kratos isn’t one for stamina apparently.

Secondly, this is a main character who has no morals. Nothing is going to stop him on his quest to see Ares dead, not a cowering soldier who won’t extend a bridge for him, nor a prisoner in a cage. There are areas of the game where you kill civilians to obtain health, and there are places where he will choose to let a man die instead of saving him.

Finally, if you like puppies, don’t play this game. Especially cute puppies. I mean if you can’t stand even thinking about doing harm to a cute little puppy, even if it IS soon to grow into a poison drooling 3 headed dog who was just trained by a bad owner and is really just excited to see you, don’t play this game. On the other hand, if you think hellspawn puppies should be put down before they become Hades guarding hellspawn dogs, this here is the game for you.

If any and all of this appeals to you, you’re a sick bastard, and I welcome you to the club. Just don’t do any of it in real life for Pete’s sake. That draws unwanted attention.



Originality:

The story of the game as I mentioned before is inspired by Greek mythology but it’s not a true telling of it (if a true telling of a myth is even possible.). The gameplay is often very similar to Devil May Cry, but without the guns you can’t retreat and blow away the enemy like you sometimes could in DMC. The fighting is often a puzzle itself, as you can often find yourself fighting a needless battle that could have been avoided with the help of some magic. Minotaurs for example, are susceptible to Medusa’s stone gaze, and by turning them first to stone and later to rubble, you can avoid much pain.

If the ghost of Dante can be felt through some of the gameplay, so to can that of a Prince of Persia in the puzzle element of the game. You don’t just fight in God of War, you have to use your brains too. Some puzzles are more basic than others, but there were times that I just couldn’t help thinking that this was where the special feeling I had in Sands of Time went when they sucked the life out of Warrior Within. In fact this feels very much like the game that Warrior Within tried to be. Generic Rage done right.

God of War takes much of what has already been done with action games of this nature and refines it to a higher level in terms of presentation and destructive force. But I can’t really sit here and tell you it’s an original game when I’ve played two games in the last six months that are similar to it.



Addictiveness:

The game possesses a lot of qualities that make it very addicting on the first play through. First of all you want to see just how big of a badass Kratos really is, so in other words see all the cool combos and weapons he’s going to earn. Next you have the story line, where Kratos would probably be considered a villain if you weren’t playing the game through his eyes. Much of what he does is just mind-bogglingly amoral. Finally you have the boss battles which rank right up there as some of the best I’ve played this console generation.

After you’ve played it once though, the only addictive quality that I come away from the game with is the various combos you can pull off while attacking multiple enemies, and I’m not sure that’s really enough to make me want to play this game over and over.



Miscellaneous:

The bonus features that come with the game are better than a lot of DVDs. They include a “Making of God of War”, a character graveyard of characters that didn’t make the game, another for levels that didn’t make it, each of which with commentary on why they didn’t fit the game. TV commercials and all the in-game movies and more, all unlockable by completing the game on its different difficulty levels. They even stuck something of a teaser for God of War 2 in the extras, and it looks to be a family affair.

Finally, like it’s competition Devil May Cry 3, God of War will take pity on you after you die a certain number of times in a row. This makes it easier to kill enemies, but does nothing to make the traps easier. And all this really accomplishes is to annoy you if you’re eager to get back to playing the game, or if you are trying to complete the game at certain difficulty. It’s a nice thought but there’s no need to ask the question every 10 times you die. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but you are going to die a number of times in your quest.



The Ratings:

Story: GREAT
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: GREAT
Controls: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GOOD
Replay Ability: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: GREAT
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
God of War is a game that is really well presented and polished, but which features some flaws that keep it from being a true god amongst games.