God of War (PlayStation 2)

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Written by  :  Cor 13 (174226)
Written on  :  May 22, 2008
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars

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Gods demand sacrifice from all of us

The Good

The new millennium was marked, among other things, by a splendid constellation of games that belonged to a genre called "action adventure" by some people; I prefer to call it "3D platformer". The genre was struggling to gain recognition during the late nineties, when it was still plagued by awkward controls and lack of technical support. Now, some of the top games of our time belong to it; just think of ICO or Psychonauts. I'm sure everyone has at least one personal favorite among those wonderful new-age platform games.

God of War is yet another entry into the library - certainly the darkest, most violent and disturbing one.

The game begins in a most extraordinary way. When you start it, you see an immense portrait of Kratos superimposed over the menu options. When you select New Game, Kratos simply begins to move. He walks over to a cliff, and throws himself off it. The game begins with the suicide of its main character.

This gives you an idea of how dramatic and uncompromising God of War is. It loves effects, it likes to shock. There are many scenes that will be probably forever engraved in the souls of the players. The violence is so intense that even the sight of a surprisingly explicit sex scene can't quite get the player's mind off the horrors he continues to witness.

God of War is incredibly cinematic, even though it doesn't have that many cutscenes. It features breathtaking views, gigantic structures and creatures. Just think of the titan Kronos walking through the desert, carrying the Temple of Pandora on his back. The graphics are gorgeous, bringing the dark Greek setting to life. The cinematic feeling is strengthened by the fantastic orchestral music.

Much has been written about the gameplay of God of War. It offers superb platforming, furious combat, and intuitive environmental puzzles which are a pleasure to solve. I want to point out how this gameplay fits into the overall theme of the game. Not just the extremely gory combat, but also little details, such as the need to hold down or tap a button to open chests and gates, the pushing of heavy pillars and statues, the many destructible objects - everything is very physical, you can literally feel the the effort of the body. The puzzles all involve physical activities: pushing, grabbing, jumping, smashing, shooting; even though most of the puzzles are very elegant, they are not too cerebral.

While there is nothing revolutionary about the gameplay, it is so expertly crafted that you won't feel you need more original gimmicks. It's just the classic mixture of visceral combat and platforming brought to perfection. The way these segments are arranged leaves little to be desired. Just when the hordes of enemies coming at you from all sides begin to tire you, the game offers you a bit of quiet puzzle-solving; just when you begin to feel frustrated by a tough jumping sequence, the game throws at you a gigantic, vicious boss on whom you can unleash your fury.

I found the story of God of War surprisingly interesting and even emotional in its own way. It is a story about a ruthless man and cruel gods. There is no place for morals here, just for the body's desire to smash and to crush, to extinguish its own pain by the pain of others. But when you play through this story, you feel how everything Kratos does on the screen reflects his torment and despair.

The tragedy of Kratos is that he cannot change himself, cannot change his ways. The way he was raised, the way he had lived his life, everything he knew is coming back at him, and yet he is unable to change. Kratos is not a sophisticated villain with evil plans; he is more like a beast, a being without a feeling of right and wrong, almost like a carnivorous animal who kills simply because it knows nothing else. But this brutal creature is capable ofone unselfish emotion, so understandable to any of us. This is a tragic tale of a human who is on a quest for redemption without really understanding what redemption is. Kratos has a lot of feelings, and we can't help understanding him, despite all the evil he has done, and continues to do.

Actually, the entire world of God of War is an exact replica of its hero. The gods, who are the only other important characters in the game, are in many ways more cruel than Kratos himself. They are bloodthirsty, treacherous and absolutely merciless. It's important to note the following detail: during their conversations with the protagonist, the moral side of his quest is never mentioned. When commenting upon his success, all the gods talk about is how powerful he has become or how well he serves them. Not even once do they refer to his redemption, for which he undertook the entire quest.

I think this is exactly what makes the game the most authentic representation of the Greek myth: it has no morals, yet it is full of imagination and emotions. People who become slaves of their dark passions, brutality and cruelty everywhere, evil and treacherous gods, power and pride as the driving forces of the heroes - everything in the game is true to the spirit of Greek mythology, and I applaud its creators for not sparing dark colors and presenting Greek mythology the way it really is - fascinating, artistic, yet lacking any sense of right and wrong.

This means that all the extreme gore and violence of the game is not gratuitous. In fact, I can say that the game is about violence; all the aspects of the game serve that purpose. Narrative, presentation, and gameplay all come in an extremely tight package. If you rip out a minotaur's throat, accompanied by menacing orchestral music, you do that in a bloody Greek temple, and you do that as Kratos. You are immersed into its universe, that looks, sounds, feels and plays the way only it can; it lives in accordance with its own laws, and it lets you in to experience its darkness and horror.

The Bad

For an inexplicable reason, there is no camera control whatsoever in God of War. I can't understand how an otherwise immaculate game could be plagued by such an irritating flaw. There is absolutely no excuse for not having free camera control in a 3D action game, both for aesthetic and gameplay-related reasons.

The game is absolutely linear; there are no optional areas, and nothing to explore. I think it would have been more interesting if some rare items and abilities were placed outside of the main "playing field", so that the player would have to stray from the linear path in order to find them.

God of War is bombastic, it relies on effects and shock value, and is - for better or for worse - a typical child of its time. When people say video games (or just today's video games) are bloody, primitive products for teenagers, God of War will probably not make them change their opinion (as would, for example, ICO or Psychonauts). It is also quite unoriginal; the game doesn't really do anything new, it just does a lot of basic things better.

The Bottom Line

God of War won't win any awards for originality; but whatever it does, it does well. It is a tightly designed, entertaining action game with great presentation and a narrative that brings the cruel and violent world of Greek mythology to life.