“God of War” is published by Sony Computer Entertainment of America and developed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studios.
The casts you in the role of Kratos, a Spartan with a grudge to settle with Ares…the God of War. We see Kratos stepping off of a cliff, the gods apparently having forsaken him, in the beginning of the game. The events leading up to this moment will be what the player will experience over the course of the title starting three weeks earlier on the seas as a doomed fleet attempts to fight the Hydra.
Kratos is not an altar boy. The designers have made him into a flesh and bone bound killing machine before which little can stand. He’s the Greek version of Death incarnate divinely driven to exterminate everything and everyone in front of him that gets in his way. The game makes no apologies for his character or for what he will do for revenge. The God of War must die and Kratos will not stop until he spills Olympian blood.
Finding out why he wants to stick it to Ares is revealed in the well written storyline behind it as revealed in the many cinematics for the game. Make no mistake: in putting together the game with a ‘Mature’ rating, Sony Santa Monica pulled no punches. As Kratos’ tragic history is explored, you’ll see heads cleaved, women half naked in his bed asking him to stay just awhile longer to help him forget his past, people split in half, necks chopped, pools of blood slapping at your heels as you run through them, monsters impaled, people burned… For most of the game, it’s like watching Mortal Kombat on ‘continuous Fatality’ mode. But there’s a method to Kratos’ madness.
Deus Ex Machina
The game is played in what I think is one of the best implementations for third person that I’ve seen in a game. Everything is viewed from this perspective and the camera does a very good job at keeping what you need to see and eviscerate in view. The bird’s eye view helps in allowing you to take full advantage of the fighting area with the only downside being that you can’t control the camera. It does such a good job of keeping Kratos’ victims in view, however, that you won’t miss the option.
In the beginning, the player will find that Kratos can only use the Blades of Chaos at first. These dual wielded weapons are chained to his arms allowing him to not only engage in close combat but strike at a distance. You will also find that the player will gather ‘experience’ from enemies in the form of red orbs that float free to you aside from the blood. This is the currency of game that you can use to purchase and enhance new and existing skills. As you power up your weapons and your abilities, Kratos’ combat skills soon transform themselves from the simple slash and attack swings that you start off with. Soon, Kratos will be dancing in a ballet of destruction with his blades swinging, spinning, and slashing in all directions as he sends torsos and bodies flying to the four winds before his onslaught. Over the top? Not for Kratos. You’ll pummel enemies, drive blades through heads, tear the wings off harpies, bend creatures in half when you grab onto them, or rip apart the undead with your bare hands as you chain together his attacks. The game never lets the player forget how much of a badass the Ghost of Sparta is.
Magic is also part of the game as the gods, although forbidden from attacking Ares directly, give you an edge with gifts. You’ll be able to launch bolts of lightning like Zeus, call down thunderous rage from Poseidon , turn enemies to stone with the head of a Gorgon, or summon the dead to your side as you call forth the Army of Hades. These abilities can also be improved as you gather more experience from the dead. For example, the Gorgon’s head when it has been upgraded will allow the player to freeze enemies all around them. A flick of the thumb on the control stick and the light attack button and you’ll have rubble at your feet.
You magic abilities run off of a magic meter that you’ve also got to monitor along with your health as you go into the adventure. The meters themselves, both health and magic, can be improved over the course of the game just as your abilities can. In this case, you’ll need to find special items such as Gorgon’s Eyes that…after collecting a certain number…give you an increase. Believe me, you’ll need as many as you can find for later on in the game. The only thing that Kratos carries are the weapons and the hate he has for Ares. There’s no store on the way to Hades.
The controls are pretty easy to grasp with every part of the controller doing work. I never had the controls get in the way of me having to get Kratos to do something. The only time I had to go into the menu was to power up either my weapons or my magic. Everything is at your fingertips and within easy reach making it a snap to dole out Kratos’ version of anger management at a moment’s notice. Defending yourself in battle is also easy to do with Kratos being both able to guard against most attacks or dodge out of the way through judicious use of the right thumbstick. His guard isn’t a catch all in standing up to attacks, though, and many creatures can still break through. Some creatures, such as the gorgons, won’t need to break through but I’ll get to that later.
This leads to another area of the game that works extremely well and that has to do with the combinations that you can dish out. Mixing fighting system combos with straightforward action elements in the combat system with weak and strong attacks, you get something that lets you go completely free with the moves you can do while chaining together combinations for mad amounts of damage. Combine that with spell abilities and suddenly you’re looking for new ways in what you can do to make a much longer chain and blow away everything on the battlefield in one fluid motion. Unfortunately, my skills weren’t up to par having scored a measly 70+ or so in total chains, but thanks to the graphics and special effects, I was able to look good while doing it.
But wait, there’s more. The menagerie of monsters in the title is nothing short of impressive. Inspired by Greek mythology, you’ll run into everything from regular zombies with swords to hoof footed demons twirling two handed sickle ended staves to centaurs and cyclopes. All of them have their own unique abilities and strengths, can guard themselves against your attack, will try to outflank you if they can, and generally will make your life difficult. Others can employ special attacks such as the gorgons that can turn you to stone. Even here, the game gives you a chance to fight back by shaking off the effects before one lucky shot turns you into dust. Kratos’ abilities are more than enough to put most of these monsters down, but the designers have also added opportunities to take them out in spectacular fashion. This is especially true for many of the larger beasties such as minotaurs and cyclopes with a ball and chain for an arm.
When fighting one of these creatures, you may see a button icon appear over their head once they’ve been weakened. If you get close enough and hit that button (the ‘circle’ or grab action), you will initiate a sort of ‘mini-game’ were you will need to chain button presses together to help Kratos kill or hurt the monster. Some monsters only need one button press and Kratos just goes to work finishing them off or inflicts a damaging super move such as launching his blade into the eye of a cyclops before pulling it back out. Others will have you following the prompts as Kratos slides below and through the legs of a hulking giant, hop up on their back, and then jump and plunge his blade into the monster’s head from behind…if you pull it off. And if you don’t? You can always grind away at the critter to kill them but it’s not as satisfying. These special moves also allow different orbs to be freed as a reward. Sometimes you might just want to take out a monster in this way to get much needed health or magic orbs instead of straight experience, adding another level of strategy to the carnage being served. This works well for the ordinary monsters that are sent like so much cannon fodder against you, but as you will see, there are other creatures that need more than just a fancy set of moves to take out.
Every stage in the game was designed to challenge the player not only with the kind of combat that they will face but will also throw elaborate traps and obstacles into their path. I’m not talking crate puzzles, either. The puzzles consist of everything from timed jumps across moving platforms to building a simple jigsaw out of giant stone blocks to braving flaming boulders while trying to make your way down a corridor. Obstacles become opportunities for the designers to throw another challenge at you or hide extra chests filled with experience orbs and the thing is…they work. It’s not all perfect, of course. Some things were a little more over the top than others, but on the whole, the puzzles were as much a part of the levels that you found yourself in other than just being ‘stuck’ in there to give the player something to do.
The game’s boss battles are where a lot of these elements come together and where I mentioned that fancy moves can only take you so far. The first boss battle against the Hydra, for example, highlights how such battles will be fought combining parts of the level architecture with the player’s own skills as they try to impale the Hydra’s heads with what they can get to. The only problem is that there aren’t a whole lot of these spectacular battles to take part in which is both good and bad. Most of the levels in the game do not have a boss waiting for the player at the end pitting them, instead, against a few new monsters or several larger ones. This helps to keep the game from feeling like a staged affair with giant monsters waiting at the end of every chapter. However, because of how well the boss encounters were done, I also hoped to see one or two more of these fantastic battles while on your way to meet the God of War.
The game is also pretty forgiving in how it treats the player. A well implemented checkpoint system in between save points kept me from screaming obscenties at the screen for missing the one jump right before a chapter ends or in having to work my way through a level just to fight that boss that kicked my ass. Saving the game will also save the state of the chapter that you’re working on getting through.
Graphically, the game is very well done. Each of the environments in the game were just as nice to look at as they were to play through as they brought the ancient Greek legends and places of myth to life. From the spectacular architecture of Athens to the diabolical traps and mechanical wonders of the Temple of Pandora, to the monsters themselves, each level brought the player closer to Kratos’ world. Special effects are all over the place in the game and for anyone that says water looks better on the Xbox, the game puts out a good argument that it can do the same fancy reflections and wave patterns just as well. The effects also make combat not only fun to play but a sight to just sit back and enjoy. You’ll be looking forward to finding more zombies to fry just to create your own cinematic masterpiece of destruction, watching flaming trails of light from Kratos’ blades trace their way through the air before colliding into your enemies on the screen. The game also has very few loading screens given the size of some of the levels. The only time you will really see a load is when you reload from a previous checkpoint, a saved game, or transition from one chapter area to the next.
Sound wise the game is an incredible experience. The voice acting is nothing short of phenomenal with TC Carson a perfect fit for Kratos with Steve Blum as Ares. Even Claudia Black of “Farscape” fame does line duty as Artemis. The music is also so much sweet ear candy with both orchestra and choir matching the scenes and the action helping to create an epic tragedy in the style of the ancient Greek storytellers. The cinematics in the game also do the story complete justice as they portray the history of Kratos and his struggle against the God of War, the wonders that he sees, and the past he is trying to escape.
Even the manual is well done, filled as it is with the lore behind the monsters that you will encounter in the form of text and sketches including a map of the ancient world that Kratos will be adventuring through. In today’s day and age where such things are treated more as afterthought items by more than one publisher, this was a welcome change. The last time I had seen a manual done with this kind of care was for “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb”. From just looking at the art on the manual and the style within, you might find yourself trying to wipe some of the dust off of your hands right before you take your part in the myth of Kratos.
Additional bonuses in the game become unlocked when you finish it including an interesting video of ‘Deleted Levels’ covering some material that they could not get into the game because of time constraints. There is also a challenge mode that becomes available unlocking more items and more background story to the game that is revealed when you finish it on a harder level.
I guess the only gripe that I have about the game is that it is fairly short. A determined player can probably work their way through the game in less than a weekend on “Normal” mode but the extra modes and bonus items somewhat make up for this.
The game also comes with a code that you can use to download a full copy of the “God of War” soundtrack from Sony’s Connect service. The idea was great, but the execution left a little something to be desired. Keep in mind that you have to sign up an account to access the free music first and install their software to get to it. I ran into problems with the software when I asked it to create a music CD from the album I downloaded only to watch as my CD drive spun up and down repeatedly while freezing the app when I tried to close it. Apparently it didn’t play very well with my Yamaha.
This is not Hercules
“God of War” is a treat that not only makes gratuitous use of its ‘Mature’ label but tells both a story and sells the action that goes with it. I wholeheartedly recommend this for any PS2 player looking for an action adventure fix blending the best from across many similar titles in terms of action, platforming, puzzles, and story. From beginning to end, the player will be pulled into an era where heroes dared to challenge the gods in stories of victory and tragedy. Only in this case, the name of the man is Kratos and he’s not looking to be a hero. He’s the Ghost of Sparta and he’s looking for only one thing.
He’s looking to kill the God of War.
– World 1-1