God of War

God of War

Written by Jennifer Lam on 4/29/2005 for PS2  

There’s a lot of talk going on right now about the lack of original franchises. I mean, just head over to the local EB and look at how many games have the number 2, 3 or even 4 behind them. That just goes to show that it’s impossible to make a great game that’s entirely unique and original, right? Wrong.

Take one glance at God of War and you’ll see the very embodiment of originality. A game oozing to the brim with style, polish and the panache that it takes to give the gaming industry that shot of originality that it’s sorely been lacking. Sure, the game doesn’t really do anything new or unique that other games haven’t done before, everything that is does has been tried in other games, it’s just that God of War perfects them.

Step into the shoes of Kratos, the Gods’ hit man. As Aries, the God of War (hence the title of the game) stirs up trouble in Athens, Zeus and the other gods call in Kratos to clean up the mess. Using his wits, his strengths and the most badass flails this side of Ninja Gaiden, Kratos is the quintessential badass with all the right moves. Kratos will travel all across Athens, doing battle with a cavalcade of minions as he tries to restore order and balance to Athens.

The beauty of God of War is that the story is told through action and gameplay. There are cutscenes, that’s for sure, but they’re brief and give way to the action when it seems fit. And although the game is heavily tied into the Greek mythos, the developers rarely delve into language or imagery that is tough for the average gamer to understand. All of the dialogue is easy to understand, the imagery is excellent and the entire storyline comes together nicely thanks to a masterful piece of storytelling.

Conceived by the brilliant minds at Sony Santa Monica, God of War is a refreshing take on the 3rd person hack’n’slash genre. Think of it as Devil May Cry on Greek steroids and you can begin to understand what you’re getting in to. It’s easy to see that the developers took notes on Capcom’s original epic as most of the elements are similar, including the presentation and the combat system.

Kratos’ fury is derived from a set of flails that he wields around with tactical precision, slicing and dicing everything that stands in his way. There are only two standard attack buttons available but judging by the variety in animations and the different number of maneuvers in his arsenal, you’d be hard pressed to tell. We’re also impressed by the amount of combos available at our fingertips and the ease at which it takes to pull them off. To be sure, there’s a good amount of precision required but you can still button mash your way through the game and experience a relatively large amount of success. Part of what makes the combat so fun resides in the way it’s portrayed. Watching Kratos do battle is like watching the ballet, a ballet of death, but a ballet nonetheless.Aerial combat plays a huge impact in the gameplay as you will be able to toss your enemies into the air and perform combos on them a la Devil May Cry or Marvel Vs. Capcom. It’s really amazing to see some of the 20 or 30 hit combinations that you can pull off just by mashing different buttons; it’s even more amazing when you realize that you’ve just mowed down an entire horde of enemies. And just when you think you’ve got enough weapons in your arsenal the game throws in some magical elements as well. It’s nice to see that they’re not hackneyed and actually have a rightful fit in your already impressive arsenal. Also as the game progresses, players can collect orbs which can then be used to power up the pre-existing arsenal, making the attacks even more deadlier.

One of the game’s most unique elements is the manner in which it handles the boss fights. By tossing in “mini-games” the developers have added a refreshing dimension to the battle. After dealing out a certain amount of damage, you will be placed in a situation where you need to perform a quick combination of button presses (noted by on-screen indicators) which when successful, will yield impressive results. Even failure yields great results such as an improbable escape from the mouth of a hydra or the jaws of a gigantic beast. What makes these particularly great is that they break up the monotony that tends to draw out these juggernautical battles. And just wait until you see how impressive these beasts are. There’s something truly awe-inspiring about watching the camera pan back as you battle a 20 foot tall Aries and noticing that you’ve suddenly been reduced to an insignificant speck.

Occasionally the game takes a break from being gory and tosses in some puzzle-like elements to spice things up. God of War would have been perfect had it not channeled these Prince of Persia-esque jumping sequences. These jumping puzzles, though necessary, completely derail the action and actually cause much more frustration than they should. The game doesn’t offer any guidance in these situations, turning these minor diversions into semi-frustrating affairs. Luckily the game has plenty of checkpoints sprinkled about to help alleviate the pain, but something tells us that this could have been averted entirely. The game should have been a bit more forgiving in these situations as they can be pretty annoying.

God of War is one of those games that are as fun to look at as they are to play. The graphics definitely hold up their end of the bargain culminating in the best looking PS2 game to date. Kratos looks great and animates with the fluidity and precision that seems to be lacking in most of today’s games. There’s a certain sheen and polish to the overall product that really signals something special. Take one glance at the game and you really begin to wonder how such great visuals can be produced from a four-year-old console. Take another glance and you begin to wonder if we really need to enter the next-generation, or if Microsoft is just jumping the gun.

Speaking of guns, there aren’t any of those in God of War but there are some amazing audio effects that really make us wonder what these developers could do with a game in a modern setting. All of the sounds are impressive and come through with the kind of clarity and precision only reserved for high-end DVDs. Those of you with pricey home entertainment setups will have a great game to use as a showpiece. Dolby Pro Logic II encoding helps the process as well as does some of the best mood music that we’ve heard in a long while.

Aside from the jumping puzzles, we found God of War to be entirely too easy. When it’s not punishing you for failing to land on a 1x1 ledge, it’s being too lenient in the boss battles. The game offers up too many escape hatches and the enemies simply aren’t that much of a challenge on the standard difficulty. It ramps up in difficulty in the latter stages but it wasn’t really too much of a challenge until about the 7 hour mark. We recommend that seasoned gamers start off on the hard difficulty and extend the life of the game. Either that or it’s a quick run through in about 12-14 hours.

It’s only April but we already have our strongest contender for Game of the Year. Play Sony Santa Monica’s God of War for five minutes and it’s easy to see why it’s easily the best game up to this point; its polished visuals will draw you in but its addictive action and compelling storyline are the tenets that will keep you there. If you only have $50 to spend right now there’s no better choice than God of War.
A conversation about the PlayStation 2’s best franchises isn’t complete until names such as Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter arise, but lately Sony Santa Monica has been making a case to ensure that God of War will be an integral part of these conversations as well. Severely under hyped, God of War is an example of how an original franchise can succeed on its own merits and not the media hype. It’s no myth, God of War is for real.

Rating: 9.6 Exquisite

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


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