Fellow gamers, I’d like to ask you to do something for me…Forget about the upcoming launch of the PSP, the details about next generation consoles or the continual rumors on future games. Instead, I want you to sit back and revel with me in what’s easily one of the best titles released for a console to date. While some reporters have been quick to start writing an early eulogy for Sony’s PS2, David Jaffe and Sony Santa Monica were busy crafting one of the darkest, angriest, most action packed adventure platformer ever. The result is a game that literally turns the stereotypical revenge story upside down, with a complex plot, an expansive setting and an anti-hero that you’ll love and hate at the same time. It’s time to explore the darker side of mythology with God of War.
I’m going to give you scant details about this game, primarily because it’s so good that even an attempted summary doesn’t adequately do it justice. As you start the game, Kratos, an extremely powerful Spartan warrior, has committed suicide by climbing to the top of the tallest mountain in Greece and hurling himself to the rocks below. As the narrator implies, however, there’s much more to this story than the suicide of a mere man, and the game flashes back through a number of sequences in his life that explain Kratos’ personal vendetta against Ares (the titular God of War), his subsequent use as a weapon by the gods to destroy the rogue deity (with the help of Pandora’s Box, naturally), and the bloody path he cuts through the Greek countryside to accomplish his quest of vengeance. Along the way, you’ll discover why the gods themselves couldn’t solve the problem, as well as a certain amount of understanding as to how Kratos got to be such an unlikable man.
Aside from his permanent scowl and permanently bad attitude towards everything, Kratos isn’t the typical carbon copy gladiator or Greek warrior that you’ve seen in countless other games or movies. The most obvious reason is because of the twin swords that are chained to his forearms that enable him to quickly perform a number of devastating combos. While the combo system might seem like a standard button mashing affair, the control scheme is so incredibly fluid that it will: a) allow players the option to chain together a huge number of hits, and b) interrupt attacks in mid-stroke to block, initiate a new strike or move away to take on an incoming threat. What’s more, players also have access to a number of grappling attacks and mid-air strikes, all of which are incredibly powerful and can be further upgraded to unlock new attacks and abilities.
Kratos also gains power from the gods in the form of incredibly destructive magic. For instance, he’ll acquire the ability to turn creatures into stone with a gorgon’s head, electrocute opponents with Poseidon’s energy blast or hurl lightning bolts at distant opponents thanks to Zeus. These abilities can be upgraded as well, providing Kratos with stronger magical attacks, which give him an edge in fighting off the hordes of enemies flocking to Ares’ flag of destruction. If you’ve seen Clash of the Titans or read any Greek mythology for a while, you’ll be able to pick up on a number of mythical creatures you’ll be fighting against. Harpies, sirens, minotaurs and undead soldiers are merely a partial listing of the monsters you’ll take on, often at the same time.
This forces players to not rely on a specific tactic to get through a stage, because some attacks are more effective on some creatures than others. During pitched battles, you may also find yourself engaging in a minor “rhythm game” if you inflict a significant amount of damage on one creature. If you get close and follow all of the directional prompts or button presses that pop up on the screen, you can trigger a brutal finishing move, such as impaling a minotaur or snapping a siren’s neck. However, your timing has to be exact, as not only will a mistake leave you vulnerable for a little while, you also wind up giving the enemy a chance to restore a bit of their health. It’s an interesting convention, and it’s one that forces you to pay attention to what you’re doing, instead of the standard complacency when triggering “cutscenes” from attacks.
There are two factors that immediately stand out as soon as you load up God of War: The immensely beautiful graphics and the incredible scale and scope of the title. This is one of the best looking titles on any, and I do mean any, console. Kratos looks phenomenal, and literally is the definition of “anti-hero” with his chain blades, war paint and battle scars. Character models are large and equally as defined, and the sheer number of enemies and NPCs that can fill the screen is incredible. Take a look at the first level when the harpies descend upon the sailors, or the attacks on the Athenian citizens and you’ll see exactly what I mean. However, the additional fact that there are practically no load times, graphical hiccups or slowdown is simply amazing. Remember, this is a title on the PS2, which has found some titles hampered by a number of graphical issues, but you really won’t find any of that here. This is simply a showcase of what this machine can do, and it also proves that there’s plenty of juice that can be squeezed out of this console. Just look at the screenshots attached with this article and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The other factor, as I said, is the sheer scale of the game itself. Not only does God of War capture an epic adventure feel thanks to the mythic creatures you battle, it manages to wow and amaze you with its sweeping shots of Greece and other ancient locations, making you feel as though you’re just a part of a larger cosmic conflict. Sweeping shots packed with background action give a sense that this world is literally being ripped asunder due to Ares’ insanity and Kratos’ thirst for revenge. For instance, the first time you actually come across Ares trampling the city of Athens, the mere size of this god hurling fire and shrugging off the feeble attempts of the citizens below literally gives you a feeling of, “I have to fight that?!” There are other scenes that are simply incredible, such as running along the stone blade of a massive statue or watching the Titan that houses Pandora’s Box crawl through the desert. While I wish that the camera angles weren’t as fixed as they are (because they can interfere with some jumping attempts or other action through the game), this is a beautifully directed and captured game, with cutscenes merely underscoring the rest of the game action.
This is supported with a beautifully scored soundtrack that should be in a movie. Here you have music that perfectly matches the tone and the in-game action, so quieter moments feature evocative mood music, while battle sequences had a great charging beat that pumps you up as you attack your enemies. Sound effects are great, with a ton of attention paid to the sound of combat. When Kratos swings his blades, the sound of chains rattling along with his swords ripping into flesh is awesome. However, the voice acting is clearly the star of the sound category. Kratos sounds so hard, he could look at someone and make them die of fright. Gruff and hard-edged, he matches the anti-hero concept to a tee. Coupled with the lyrical quality of the goddesses or the sheer screams of the terrified Athenians, and you’ve got an awesome title.
Just to warn any parent out there: this is an extremely mature title, with plenty of characters getting ripped in half, impaled or beheaded (this is only some of the gory ways that people can die in this game, and it’s not even Kratos’ doing). Aside from that, there’s also some nudity scattered throughout the game and mild sexual situations, such as Kratos leaving a bed with two topless women in it or the Athenian Oracle who wears a see through blouse. However, the nudity isn’t so much the focus of the game as much as it is secondary action to Kratos’ tale. Although the game does seem to be all action, there are a number of puzzle sequences and platforming sections that spaces the game out and forces players to slow down and think about what their next move is. Some of them can be slightly confusing, making their solution so much more satisfying once you accomplish it. Perhaps the largest knock against the title is that there aren’t as many boss battles as you’d expect there to be. Many of the fights you have are against numerous creatures that seem to spawn out of nowhere, and once you’ve beaten the Hydra on the first level, you hunger for the next massive beast to eviscerate, only to be somewhat disappointed. Fortunately, the game has plenty of replay value, with multiple difficulty levels and a ton of unlockable features once the 15-hour game is completed. Just try taking the game on in God mode….
Simply put, this is what the PS2 was designed for, and this is what we’ve been waiting for: games that literally show off the power and technology of Sony’s machine. Sure, it might be one of the oldest kids on the block, but it still knows plenty of tricks to put its competition in its place, and God of War captures every single nuance of action/platforming gaming. Personally, my words do the game a disservice, because I can’t even explain how beautiful this game is. If you own a PS2, you owe it to yourself to get this game.