God of War (PS2) – Review Repost

God of War - CoverGod of War, to put it simply, is extremely gory and violent event for taking place in ancient Roman times, but is an excellent gaming challenge and a reasonably fresh approach to platformers.You play Kratos, a mortal on a vengeance against the god Ares, who is currently attacking Athena’s city of Athens. We quickly find out Kratos is much more than mortal–he wields lethal blades on chains, and cares little for fellow mortals. As Kratos rescues the Oracle of Athens, he finds that the only way to stop Ares is to obtain Pandora’s Box from a temple set to safeguard it for all time, and then to use it’s power against Ares.

God of War is best described as a mix of platformer and fighting game. It’s all done in third person, but with fixed camera positions. However, the engine does a good job of locating the camera at the right places that are needed to see all the action, with only a few areas where camera point-of-view transitions get in the way, but usually not during fighting. Standard platformer elements are all there–jumping, climbing, etc, but except in one place (noted later) is super-spot-on timing or reflexes required, and many of the normal platform elements take a backseat to the fighting. At the start of the game, you get a few combo attacks with your chain blades, but as you kill off enemies and collect red orbs, you can upgrade your attacks to include new and more powerful combos. Additionally, you gain various forms of magic and other weapons from the gods that can also be upgraded as well as adding to your combo list. As you need to collect enough orbs to make these upgrades, you get to decide what approach to fighting and combos you want, but as I saw it, there’s definitely some upgrades you want to get as soon as possible.

God of War - GameplayYour foes are various mythical beasts, including minotaurs, harpies, medusa, and the like. Some enemies just require enough damage to destroy, but most enemies require a lot of pounding before they will drop. Many of these powerful enemies, however, have a special ‘finishing’ touch that will appear as a circle above their heads when they’re weak; if you move close and activate it (via the circle button, natch), you can try to finish the beast by following various onscreen prompt (the same type for each monster, but some may have random sequences). If you succeed, you’ll get a better rewards in terms of dropped orbs, health, or magic from the beast than if you finished it off normally. However, if you fail, you may be thrown clear and take some damage, giving the enemy time to recover. A lot of the battles are waves and waves of monsters, but these key finishing moves are usually necessary to recover health and magic, as well as giving a good sense of accomplishment against a tough monster. There are also a few bosses (not many, which is appreciated)–one early on more as in introduction in the game, but the other two are reasonable tough but nowhere near impossible, which is a good thing. While many of the enemies are difficult, they don’t work together, so developing a strategy for beating each type can be determined easily.

The levels are pretty well varied for the setting; going from a sinking fleet at the start, through the ruins of Athens, and then through a desert to the fortress containing Pandora’s box, they all represent epic parts of the Roman mythology. The engine used is very good which gives a good sense of vast open spaces and tight narrow hallways. When in the open air, the backgrounds are nothing but stationary–as you fight your way through Athens, Ares, a huge god, can be seen stomping on the mortal defenders of the city, for example. The detail parts on many of the levels are quite well done, and definitely have a good organic feel to them. The designers also did a good job in subsectioning levels off such that instead of seeing a lot of loading screens, you’ll run down a short hallway or interconnecting space while the section is being loaded (if you are fast, you may spy a “Loading” title for a brief moment, but even this was a rarity). As such, much of the world Kratos explores does feel like a huge interconnected world, similar to how Black Mesa felt in the first Half-Life. Throughout levels are many save points as well as places to replenish health and magic, and secret stashes of red orbs, gorgon eyes and phoenix feathers–these last two items, when enough are collected, can be used to increase your overall health and magic levels. There’s also frequent invisible checkpoints along the way, usually after defeating a horde of creatures, that you’ll return to when you die. Level designs were such that there was not a lot of repetition in structure used, and enough landmarks to identify where you were on a level if you had to backtrack around.

There are a good number of puzzles to solve, but nothing Myst-like. Most will seem straight forward, with enough hints either by cutscenes or printed words to complete.

The story is presented through cutscenes throughout the game that tell of Kratos’ rise and fall and why he’s where he is now. It’s nothing great in terms of writing, but they are extremely violent and bloody (even for computer-imaged blood). The game itself does feature a lot of blood spurting from Kratos and his foes, as well as a small amount of nudity. It’s apparent from the game design that the producers didn’t set out to make a gore-fest, but in order to tell this story properly, they needed to include these graphic scenes in the game. As it should be obvious, this game is definitely for mature gamers only.

There’s a few areas that I found the game quality to drop a bit. First, because of the setting, there’s a lot of browns and greys throughout the level, and even when color is splashed around, it seems to be mostly red or yellow. It reminded me a lot like Quake 2’s limited palette. That’s not to say that this game isn’t impressive graphically–just that there’s a lack of other colors and the overall game ends up feeling like a mass of brown. There’s also more than a few places where the screen refresh slows down when a lot is on the screen–not surprising given how well the graphics look, and rarely a problem in the gameplay.

Second is the second to last level (a traversal of Hades)–it introduces two types of moving hazards that require strict timing and jumping (swords on rotating cylinders, either horizontally or vertically oriented) as well as involving a lot of platform jumps that seem well out of place with the game as a whole, much like Xen was to H-L. Fortunately, the checkpoints in this level are placed well such that once you complete individual parts, you don’t have to go back and face them. But I believe this entire level could have been avoided as it felt like a quick fix as to get the plot from one area to another without making the player retrace a lot of steps.

Finally, I think the fighting system, while mostly excellent, had a few problems that made me irritated at the game. For example, while the circle button is used to initiate the finishing move, it’s also used to ‘grab’ an opponent–if there is no opponent to grab, you lunge forward empty-handed. In more cases I could count, I would try to start a finishing move on a beast, only to find myself lunging forward, then getting attacked from the backside. This was more difficult to do when there were a lot of opponents around and I could not easily make sure I was facing the opponent I was finishing off. Additionally, some of the combos seemed tricky to pull off, in that I thought I had the right keypresses, but ended up doing a different, slower attack. I’m sure that some of these may be related to reflexes, but given that this is a game for older gamers, I’d think they’d give a bit of slack on that side.

God of War is nothing new, genre-wise. It’s a much better version of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (and would argue what PoP:WW should have been given the direction the producers of that game wanted to take it), and acknowledges that this game is about the fighting and not the puzzle solving. It does, however, expand on the idea of adding a lot more moves and combos to increase the variety and gameplay methods available to the player. It’s about the right length, maybe a bit long, but not overkill, for a game of this nature, and this is helped by the frequency of the save points allowing the game to be played in short sessions as well as much longer ones.

I’d recommend God of War for anyone looking for a good action title in the current vacuum of action games, as long as they aren’t going to get squeamish over the amount of blood and gore in the game. The challenge is good and fair to the player, and has enough variety to keep the game fresh until the end.

Addendum: I played GoW back when it was out, and already reviewed it once on Shacknews. As I am working on getting my GoW 2 review out, I wanted to go back to this and see what’s changed in the game that I wanted to note. As this was before I standardized my reviews, it lacks the usual grades that I have, but were I to add them today based on what I wrote and remember:

– Story: A-

– Gameplay: A

– Value/Replayability: B+

– Graphics: A-

– Sound: A-

– Overall: A-

One Response

  1. You’re the least enthusiastic games reviewer ever, reading you review i thought you were going to give the game like a 7/10 but apparently it got straight A’s with one B.

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