Game Description: Unleash the power of the Gods and embark on a merciless quest as Kratos, an ex-Spartan warrior driven to destroy Ares, the God of War. Armed with lethal double chainblades, Kratos must carve through mythology's darkest creatures - including Medusa, Cyclops, the Hydra and more, while solving intricate puzzles in breathtaking environments. Driven by pure revenge, nothing can stop Kratos from achieving absolution.
Some games seemed destined for the top. It's hard to predict and even harder to define, but once in a while all the elements come together to create something that catches everyone's eye. It's almost like a cosmic conjunction when the action feels right, the style is electric, and the visuals grab on first glance and don't let go. Before its release, a large amount of buzz had built up online and in magazines—and nearly everyone who saw it agreed—God of War had it.
By most accounts, the game has walked its talk and made good on the hype and excitement generated by the media. I was fully prepared to agree and join the crowd of cheerleaders before I started writing this review, but now looking back and reflecting on it after completion, I'm not so sure. I certainly think that God of War is an outstanding game when looking at each of its components, but it takes more than technical excellence to create a true classic.
A third-person action adventure from Sony's Santa Monica Studios, God of War comes from the pedigreed minds behind a number of Sony hits like Twisted Metal: Black and War of the Monsters. The game stars fallen warrior Kratos on a quest for revenge against the Greek god Ares. The reason for this quest is told through a series of cut scenes whose drama won't be spoiled here, but it's safe to say that anger and rage are his driving forces.
Kratos is a very able-bodied man with many techniques at his disposal and a thirst for bloodshed. Gamers who like their action on the brutal side will not be disappointed after seeing the carnage caused by his Blades of Chaos—two huge knives on the end of extendable chains. Backed up by these weapons (as well as magic and abilities provided by the gods), no man or beast found in Greek mythology can stand up to his assault. Without overstating the case, blood-drenched violence is rained down upon everything in his path.
Although it's clear that using the Blades of Chaos and slaughtering mythical monsters are the highlight, gameplay strikes a balance between combat and environmental navigation. A large portion of the game takes place inside a large complex divided into small areas, each with its own set of puzzles. Although none of them were extremely difficult, they were always engaging and interesting, providing a break from the action while being straightforward enough to keep the pace of the game very high with little dead space to be found. I admired that I was never stuck on either combat or puzzle-solving long enough to become bored.
Gameplay aside, the game itself is absolutely beautiful. Featuring a static camera, I was treated to many stunning environmental shots showcasing the hard work and excellent design incorporating classic elements from Greek mythology and combining them with videogame scene-setting. The view from a cliff below Pandora's temple overlooking a desert was stunning, and doubly so after reaching a ledge and seeing the crawling giant on whose back the temple is perched. The characters in the game are just as impressive as the landscapes and the people behind Kratos' animation deserve a standing ovation. Watching his bladed chains spin and whirl was hypnotic, and the amount of work that must have gone into making such sequences so seamless was no doubt backbreaking.
God of War takes a very mature approach to its presentation during combat and cutscenes. Although the depictions of gory death are extremely graphic, I do feel as though they are an appropriate fit to the violent fantasy tone of the game. The weapons themselves spill raging rivers of blood, but Kratos also shows lethal hands-on creativity in ripping the flapping wings off of shrieking harpies or impaling giant serpents onthe masts of ships. Visually, very few punches are ever pulled.
Nudity is also on display, with multiple examples of females being shown completely topless, or with garments so thin and revealing that they might as well be. Obviously, neither kind of content will be for everyone, especially children who might not be prepared to deal with bare breasts and stabbing soldiers in the stomach with their own swords. But, as a mature gamer who is very conscious of my purchases, I appreciated it and would welcome similar efforts—as long as it was clear who the intended audiences were, as it was here.
This is usually the time when I bring up a game's flaws, but I could find almost nothing to hold against God of War, technically speaking. Occasionally there would be a less-than-perfect camera view, but outside of that, Santa Monica Studios has crafted an unassailable product. However, I must admit that I had a hard time warming up to Kratos; I find that he lacks the "classic" element I mentioned in this review's opening.
His bone-white skin and twisting, flying blades cast a strong spell, but as a character I found myself being kept at a distance from him throughout the length of the game. It was hard to identify with a character so focused on destruction and rage, and in spite of the fact that his reasons for being so hell-bent are eventually revealed as valid ones, I never felt very much for him at any point.
Obviously, he is aimed to be something of an anti-hero, and in this respect I think he was successful. But, I can't help but think that a valuable sense of connection is lacking. For being the focus of the adventure, I needed more than madness and hate to motivate me. As cliché as it sounds, a little bit of heroism and maybe even a sympathetic trait or two would go a long way towards warming up Kratos' cold persona. As cathartic as it may be at times, I don't believe that any truly great games are built around characters with such hard, dark cores.
Comparing Kratos to others of his ilk, I was somewhat reminded of an earlier character, the vampire Kain from the original PlayStation's Blood Omen. However, even as a vampire wantonly draining villagers and bringing ruin to the world, I never felt distanced from Kain the way I did from Kratos. There was a balance to Kain's character, and he retained much of his humanity even while committing terrible atrocities. If anything, I would say that this lack of a connection, this lack of balance is God of War's weakest link.
It's undeniable that God of War is an outstanding technical experience. As a critic, I really can't find any flaws in the production values or the intensity of the graphic content, but I still couldn't help feeling a little bit empty after all was said and done. It may set a new high watermark by polishing its mechanics to near-perfection, and the integration of combat, animation, puzzle-solving, environmental design, and graphics are about as fine as anyone making an action game on the PlayStation 2 could hope to produce. Still, I can't help but think that a little more depth and soul underneath Kratos' untouchable repertoire of fatalities would have lifted the game into true super-stardom.
Instantly accessible and consistently thrilling, God of War represents a truly great achievement in action game design—a game that within minutes of pressing the start button has players ripping undead soldiers in half, tearing the wings off harpies, and subduing giant hydras through sheer brute force. Though not a groundbreaking game, it is a visually and aurally exciting one, and stands as arguably the most outstanding example of its kind.
Brad's praise for the game largely resonates with me. However, I am surprised that he neglected to mention of one of its best aspects—namely, the amazing soundtrack, an impressive mix that includes epic militaristic compositions, thumping percussion, and even a few synthesized sounds that recall Vangelis' Blade Runner score. Music often plays a central role in determining my lasting enjoyment of a game, and this definitely holds true with God of War.
For some, Kratos may seem bereft of heroism, but you can't spell antihero without hero. On an emotional level, the mythic and awe-inspiring environments combined with the sweeping orchestral accompaniment compensate for the imbalance by suffusing the game's over-the-top violence with a heroic feel. Kratos may be cruel, but his monstrous foes are no better, and—cruel or no—leaping onto a cyclops and savagely dispatching him in the middle of ancient Athens with trumpets playing in the background feels practically noble. There is a difference between empty brutality and epic brutality, and the violence in God of War definitely falls into the latter category.
As Brad suggests, the game indeed lacks a balanced conception of humanity. And I would further argue that on examination its characterizations offer neither insight into human nature nor a meaningful perspective on the theme of revenge. But I do not see this lack of depth as a significant weakness, because at its core God of War is aimed at stimulating our aggressive instincts rather than our intellects. Even the puzzles—which serve mainly to provide a breather—involve such violent tasks as toppling a giant statue, ripping the head off a corpse, and obliterating a doorway with a giant bow and arrow. The scale and intensity of the game's action succeeds in giving the player a catharsis that is both draining and exhilarating.
Of course God of War is not without flaws. Some of the obstacles are excessively difficult (a climb up some rotating columns of blades proves especially frustrating), and the game's flow occasionally suffers from an overabundance of enemies. In addition, the dialogue sounds awkward at times, both in its writing and delivery. And despite its M rating, the extreme violence in the cutscenes can feel as though conceived by the mind of a 14-year-old. Nevertheless these faults do little to detract from the satisfyingly ferocious gameplay that ultimately makes the experience so much fun.
From beginning to end, God of War pounds on the same few notes of rage and aggression with such unwavering focus that it's hard not to get sucked in. But what makes it work is that it envelops those raw notes in an air of righteous brutality. Put simply, the player gets to be an unholy brute and feel good about it.
Edifying? No. Entertaining? Absolutely.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Sexual Themes
Parents should be aware that this game is not for children under any circumstances. The violence is extremely brutal and graphic, featuring many different kinds of fatalities and explicit slaughter. There are also several instances of topless or nearly topless women, although the sexual situations listed on the box's ESRB warning only occurred one time, (and were very low key, without anything graphic). I did not notice any strong language during the game itself, but in the commentaries given by the developers afterwards there were a few expletives used. This game is obviously aimed at an older audience, so do not make the mistake of getting it for younger children or those who might be sensitive to such content.
Action gamers will definitely want to check into the title. It's one of the most solid hack and slash adventures that's been created, and the effort and thought that went into making it shows. The controls are tight, the action moves briskly, and there is certainly no shortage of flashy maneuvers or entertaining violence. Without a doubt this is one of the most brutal and bloody adventures on the PlayStation 2, but it's not just for show—the gore is also backed up by mechanics that hold up under scrutiny. As far as I'm concerned, it easily eclipses Devil May Cry or the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers are completely screwed. There were no subtitles or text during any of the cutscenes or dramatic moments, meaning that the game's plot is completely inaccessible. This was an extremely disappointing choice, especially in light of the fact that the developers went the extra mile on nearly every other facet of the game. Being cinematic does not necessarily mean removing all text from the game during play, and it would've been a very simple thing to include this option. There are no significant auditory cues during gameplay.