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.