God of War is rapidly becoming a best-selling series in the world of video games. The first iteration won countless “Best Game of the Year” awards from web sites and magazines alike when it was released in 2005, and it looks like God of War 2 could be doing the exact same thing this year. The game proved to be the greatest swansong one could hope for the PS2, and with its violently fun gameplay and engaging story, it could very well be one of the best game of the year on any system.
However, before Kratos started kicking asses with his blades to become the new God of War, there was War Gods.
With ten times more Gods of War, but half the fun, War Gods was originally an arcade game that was more or less a failure for Midway. Originally programmed as a way to test their new 3-D engine before unleashing it on the Mortal Kombat franchise (which would give us Mortal Kombat 4), it was ported to the N64, the Playstation and eventually to PC despite the lack of financial success.
Even in its different versions, the game didn’t manage to become a blockbuster title, but it did succeed at attracting bad reviews from pretty much everybody who played it. A couple of flaws were criticized more regularly, notably its ridiculous blood effects, cheap moves and the fact that the game was a bit bland. Not bland because of the fighters, which were cheesy to the point of being funny, or because of its graphics, which were pretty enough for the time. It was simply bland because it was released in the same era as countless other fighters, a lot of which were better, and despite having some good sides, it didn’t quite eclipse its competitors and it didn’t really stand-out of the crowd. It still was mildly enjoyable for a couple of hours or for a session of thrash-talking action with friends, but wasn’t that fun when played alone. You will get a more detailed review of War Gods later in the article. For the moment, let’s discuss the game itself.
Billions of years ago, some alien was transporting life-giving ore on his spaceship. This is not to be confused with life-giving whore, which is a common pronunciation mistake of French-speakers like me. Because our solar system was in formation, there was turbulence and our poor alien crashed into the molten lava surface of our planet. The ore was dispersed all over, and over the years, ten humans found parts of it and instantly became WAR GODS!
It is an unimaginative set-up, but it’s good enough to get a varied cast of characters into this. Let’s meet them.
Ahau Kin: An evil priest from some dead civilization, he learned that an untold power was lying at the bottom of his tribe’s well. He sent them one by one down the well, apparently without safety harness, as they each died from the fall. After a while, he went there himself, probably because there was a pile of bodies big enough for him to climb down, and found THE ORE.
Anubis: An Egyptian grave robber, he found a hidden burial chamber and tried to steal its treasures. Unfortunately for him, there was some kind of curse placed on the tomb that killed him, but among the treasures was some of the aforementioned LIFE-GIVING ORE which brought him back to life as a cursed god.
Cy-5: Being from the year 2096, he got some LIFE-GIVING ORE implanted into his body, which changed him from simple killer cyborg to completely crazy war machine. He of course killed his creators and concluded that he needed even more ORE.
Kabuki Jo: The poor guy used to be a feared samurai, but when he found some of THE ORE, he went even crazier than Randy Savage and started killing his own army. Ashamed of his act, he became emo, reflecting on his poor self and becoming an outcast until he could master his new power.
Maximus: As a gladiator, his master sent him into a battle to determine which one would possess THE ORE. Maximus won, killed his master, took THE ORE and fled. Now he apparently turned into a good guy and fights to free other slaves.
Pagan: She’s a witch who read a manuscript telling where THE ORE is hidden. She got there, said a few black magic lines and got it. Pretty bland story, but I guess the developers knew it, so they gave her a victory pose where she shakes her boobs, and they made it so her ass is always showing, ensuring that teenagers who were at the time drooling over Lara Croft would choose her.
Tak: This fighter made of stone used to be a statue which was used by a king to hide THE ORE once another kingdom declared war. Of course, this ORE was LIFE-GIVING, so Tak probably opened a can of whoop-ass on that other kingdom and its would-be conqueror.
Vallah: She looks like a Viking, even though Vikings didn’t use women as warriors. Nevertheless, she was still a warrior who took shelter in a cave during an ice storm. In the cave was FROZEN ORE (new variation!) which transformed her into a Viking goddess.
Voodoo: Somewhere in a Caribbean village, this guy used to enslave people with spells and black magic. Of course, that’s a good thing to do to piss people off, and they answered by burning him to death. They dumped his body in a swamp which contained some ORE, which brought him back to life as an undead. But not any undead: The GOD of the undead.
Warhead: The government of course also possessed some of THE ORE. What could they do with it? Mix it with nuclear weapons! Worried that the experiment was in jeopardy, they sent a soldier to the research center, who arrived just in time for the big explosion. Fragments of THE ORE covered his body, so he became not only a god, but he became a nuclear god.
As you can see, the cast was the very definition of every stereotype you had about any civilization past, present and future. Coupled with a pair of bosses that were forgettable as hell, so much that I couldn’t even find a picture of them on Google (I believe that’s either Grox or Exor on the cover, but can’t remember), what you get is a game good enough for a weekend rent, but not memorable enough for any of its characters to take a place next to Ryu and Scorpion in the Hall of Fame of fighting games.
Now that you know everything you need to know and even more than you ever wished to about War Gods. However, you still don’t know if it’s worth picking up for an old Canadian 5$ bill at EB Games if you see it in the used games clear out section. Let me answer that for you.
I’ll start by saying that in 1997, I thought the graphics were pretty hot. It had 3-D characters with nice enough textures (made from pictures of real-life actors!), crisp and colourful stages as well as sound that was probably without equal at the time on the N64. When I played it again for the sake of this review, the sound was just as good, but the graphics took a pretty big hit. Some effects, like Ahau Kin’s fireball, look so primitive that you can actually see it’s nothing but three round sprites being rotated in opposite directions. Still, I guess you can’t really hold that against a game that’s about ten years old.
As for the sound, it looks like Midway pulled all the stops in that department. I remember very well playing WCW/nWo World Tour and being one sad panda when I noticed that all themes were absent, in-match music was nothing more than cheap guitar riffs and that there were no commentators, no matter how annoying or repetitive they could be. This wasn’t the case with War Gods. You’ve got an announcer with a voice virile enough to make hair grow out of your back instantly. The music itself is forgettable, as I played through the game once for the review but still can’t remember anything that played while I was fighting my way through the roster of b-movie fighters.
Speaking of fighters, I’ve said it a couple of times previously, but these are some of the cheesiest characters you will see in a fighting game. You have the voodoo guy, a chick with boobs that wiggle after the match and a cyborg – which looks like it was the inspiration for the big bad of the 4th season of Buffy – but it all manages to cross over into the “so bad it’s funny” department. Don’t get me wrong, none of them would win one of those nerdy “best fighting game character” tournament organized on message boards all over the Internet, but they do make the experience a bit more enjoyable. My only gripe with them is how cheap they fight, as it looks like they were programmed with the intention of either bringing back players to camp at the other end of the stage, or simply to piss me off. Anubis won’t stop using his blue triangle thing that leaves you wide open for a devastating combo that costs you a third of your lifebar, while Voodoo seems to know only one move, which makes nails rain from the sky to keep you from moving. Don’t even get me started on Pagan and her army of undead.
A.I. issues aside, the engine has other flaws. Maybe it’s my skills coming into play here, but without an instruction booklet (which was probably lost in my basement), I had a hard time figuring out how to use the 3D button, which is supposed to make me jump around and sidestep to dodge projectiles. That can get quite annoying when your opponent is completely untouchable because he keeps sliding and throwing himself all over the place. The moves are easy enough to pull off, but the fatalities, while satisfying when hit, can be a pain in the ass to execute. This has been one of my main grips with Mortal Kombat ever since it started in the early 90’s, and it is still present in Midway’s most recent games. The manoeuvres are basically what sells the game because it is – or used to be – a unique gimmick in the world of fighting games. Yet, War Gods makes the whole thing so complicated that you just give up trying to do the finishing moves by the time you get half-way through the game and end up using the uppercut as your killing blow.
One thing I forgot to mention previously is the animations. As good-looking as the graphics were for the time, I guess it didn’t leave much space for the animations as I am pretty sure that they were as laughable back then as they are now. The breaks between each character’s moves are noticeable to the point of making them look sometimes like robots, sometimes like zombies. Pagan’s head scissors is a good example as she goes from standing around, doing nothing to levitating, to floating up to her opponent’s head. No matter what’s the distance between the two fighters, she will make the leap, which makes the whole thing unrealistic considering the height and length he can achieve on one single jump.
All in all, this is not far from being the worst game I’ve ever played, but it’s far from being the best too. It’s just painfully average, it feels bland and it doesn’t show a lot of personality, which can make games that would otherwise be worse, like ClayFighters, seems so much better. Even though it would fill a void in the N64 fighting games library, which up to that point didn’t have a lot other than Mortal Kombat Trilogy, it would easily be surpassed by Mace: The Dark Age a few months later, which was not only a better port, but a better game all-around.
I told you that by the end of this article, you would know if War Gods is worth a 5 dollars bill should you find it in a clear out bin at EB Games. My answer would be “no”, but I know that there are compulsive collectors out there that are either eager to complete their full library of N64 games just to put it on Ebay in a couple of months when they realize they went completely bankrupt because of it, or that just can’t resist something this cheap. This is the same reason why people buy those DVDs they see in the discount bin at Wal-Mart, despite the selection being either “Mr. Baseball: Special Edition” or “Police Academy 7”. I know Steve Guttenberg is a loveable guy, but we have to trace the limit somewhere.
In the end, War Gods is a game that could have been way more than it ended up being, but was kept down mainly because of the many faults in the gameplay. Apparently, this game started as nothing more than a demo for the “Zeus” engine that would end up being used for Mortal Kombat 4, and it shows. I can’t remember that version of Mortal Kombat that well, but I sure hope they fixed the issues by the time it was transferred to the big franchise. This game is the proof that pretty graphics and good sound cannot take the place of an engaging story, and will end up being useless if it doesn’t add up to a fun experience.
Short Attention Span Summary
Cheesy but fun characters mixed with a bland story and a not-so-fun game experience. Good enough for a multiplayer session or two, but nothing more.