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Summary*I* *AM* *THE* *GOD OF WAR*
The GoodI admit that I was approaching this game with a small bucket of skepticism. Actually it was a huge tank car of skepticism, to be exact. “The Best Game For PS2” (as labeled by some professional critics) while observing from the bird-view perspective of a hardcore PC gamer, seemed to be nothing more than an mindless teenager slasher-fantasy full of inappropriate tits and gore. When I had actually completed it, the game turned out to be exactly that, with a small exception. It’s an extremely bloody fantastic mindless teenager slasher-fantasy full of inappropriate tits and gore.
During the course of the game I tried very hard to suppress all the good feelings I felt towards this game. I guessed that is what every sane and mature person would do. The game has surprisingly little to lure you in from the start. The bastardized version of ancient Greek mythology, square-jawed protagonist who speaks more akin to a US marine than to a champion of gods and to finish it all lots of QTE sequences taken straight from Shenmue and elevated to height of Olympus itself. So, tell me, who would actually buy into that sort of crap? As it turned out, I would. The explanation for this paradox can be summarized in three words: premise, design and variety. These are three whales upon which the genius of this game rests. In the good section of this review I try to explain each of those in detail. Follow me.
The premise of God Of War is deceivingly simple. You are Kratos, son of Sparta and the champion of the Gods. Athena, your only contact with the Olympus asks you of last favor, after which all the nightmares and horrors of your past would be erased and you will be released from the servitude to the Gods. The task is daunting: kill Ares, the God of War. What’s brilliant is that it unwillingly copycats (or maybe devoutly follows) one of the most popular story in the ancient Greek mythos. Not a particular one, but a general idea. The idea of a mortal opposing the gods themselves. Kratos is a powerful character; he doesn’t undergo a series of dramatic changes or offer any psychological insight into the human nature. Instead he is son of anarchy, the mortal who defies fate, and is up to challenge the god of Olympus himself.
The Gods VS Man theme is evident throughout the whole game and is retained in sequel, God Of War II, and I presume will be concluded in the final installment of the series on PS3. This is a effective albeit a very simple theme. It gives the game an initial charge that provides player with enough amount of motivation to complete the game no matter what. The first time you see Ares, a true god of Olympus, you wander “How on Earth would I be able to defeat such a creature?” (a feeling not so unlike the one experienced in Shadow Of Colossus), and only the determined look on Kratos face reassure you, that this man is certainly up to the task. The idea of initial thrust is actually a saving grace of many action-oriented games. Many of the not-so-bad shooters have fallen a victim to their extremely mediocre starting levels with no personal connection to the protagonist: Black, Chaser, Far Cry, Doom 3, Cybermage and lots of others. The player ought to be given some motivation in order to cope with the limited interaction possibilities an action game offers. The good examples of that are Max Payne and Outlaws, utilizing the ever-green plot of revenge. God Of War stands besides those titles offering us an amazingly determined protagonist, Kratos, who in his hatred and despair challenge the Gods.
But the premise and cool character alone is not enough for any game to succeed. People need meat! The minute to minute process of the gameplay, so to speak. While being a slasher in its core God Of War still carries with itself a huge bag of additional goodies. You’ll get puzzles to solve, huge areas to explore and items to collect. Everything here is governed by Variety. I deliberately spell variety from the capital letter, since it appears a capital design idea behind the game. No matter what, the Santa Monica studios gently caters each of the player’s wishes. As if afraid that he might lose interest in the midgame. Tired of town ruins? Here’s a change in scenery. Tired of puzzles? Here’s a nasty monster. Want some jumping? Here you go. The amazing fact is that those sequences are timed just right. Never had I encounter a group of monsters with a thought “Not again!” in my mind.
Another side of the entire “keeping things fresh” agenda manifests itself in game constantly feeding you new abilities. It doesn’t give all the powers at once, but give them out gradually through the course of the game. You won’t feel that things have become stale not once. Alright, partly that is due to the game being rather short, but mostly thanks to diversity God Of War boasts. Even the Quick Time Events, which has already earned an infamous status, are brilliantly executed. You don’t press the buttons because developers felt limited in providing real gameplay. You do just for delivering a final blow to the weakened enemy, which if done with traditional cut-scenes would have felt anticlimactic. Perfect implementation of the not-so perfect element. As much as I like Fahrenheit, God Of War presents a completely different and at the same time utterly correct use of QTE ever imaginable. Look closer, Quantic Dream (developer of Fahrenheit) this is what QTE are for.
I’ve mentioned puzzles a bit earlier in the review. I think those require a few more bytes of this HTML page. Puzzles in God Of War are not particularly challenging, however they are extremely entertaining. Once again an amazing “no thing repeats itself” formula takes its effect. Various contraptions, combinations, traps provide the most interesting tomb raiding experience reminiscent of … well, Tomb Raider series, I guess. While in search for the Pandora Box in the huge temple complex, Kratos has to partake in a series of challenges associated with each God of Olympus. That bit of the game was clearly influenced by original Tomb Raider. A very good choice of inspiration, I might add.
And to finish it all, the game wraps its already attractive nature into eye-popping visuals. I won’t grow tired of repeating that the graphics must solely lie on the shoulders of artists, not programmers. Artist draw, programmers fit into a game’s engine. God Of War is a prefect visualization to that design idea. It neatly combines the Greek approach to design with an overall fantasy flavor and spice it up with extreme love to gigantism. Everything is big and awe-inspiring in this game. Titans, gods, temples – everything visually speaks for itself. In its graphical department GoW easily beats every other game of its genre. Even Prince Of Persia series, while trying to do something similar with Arabian Nights setting doesn’t quite reach the Olympic production values of God Of War.
All in all, GoW is one fantastic game. Keep that in mind while reading the bad section, and don’t you forget, that I am trying really hard to find something wrong with it.
The BadThe first problem that bugs me is too connected with the game’s style and presentation. Much of its goodness relies upon on a camera angle and superior lighting techniques. Add to this an extreme linearity of God Of War levels, and you will see that the game’s illustrious locations are nothing more than a cardboard set of Hollywood decorations and there is no world to speak of behind them. Mind you, those are very well crafted decorations. However, in order not to reveal their other ugly cardboard side, the developers p have ceased a camera control away from the player, so you won’t be able to look where developers don’t want you to. That in its turn provides an opportunity for some very juicy angles and camera work. It doesn’t make the technique any less cheaper and fake though.
As I said, that’s not just a problem of camera. The whole approach to visual design consists of load upon loads of tricks and limitations according to what gets on camera and what doesn’t. You can’t depict a convincing virtual world based on such trickery. Shadow Of Colossus is a perfect combination of cinematic action and unrestricted freedom of movement and camera.
Another gripe I have with the game is its plot. I don’t mean premise or story, which being not exactly great serve their function well. What I have in mind is the changing objectives and unfolding narrative. This game has none of that. In the beginning you are told to retrieve the Pandora Box, (developers should really have chosen another name for it, since it’s nothing like a Pandora Box from the Greek mythos) the only weapon capable of defeating Ares. Little did I know, that the whole game will consists of that important but ultimately not that inspiring an objective. The road to Pandora’s Box is interesting enough, but I would definitely preferred a larger number of milestones. As it is, the pace of the game feels extremely uneven. Something Max Payne, for example, which also had a very simple story, avoided altogether by introducing a lot of interesting side villains and constantly changing the current objective of protagonist consequently keeping the pace strong.
And last and the most least is that gore and sex haves a very juvenile portrayal in this game. Sex doesn’t go beyond showing tits with blurry textures on them and gore just stays in the middle with disjointed limbs without venturing to do some really nasty stuff. Not that it bothers me so much. In fact, it rather saddens me that people concentrate their attention on such stuff instead of parts where the game really shines. If so I could've appreciated it much earlier.
The Bottom LineLet’s sum it up!
As far as camera changing, locations and music go this game was a dream-like experience. It’s hard to believe that the only game the studio has outputted before this one is a distasteful Twisted Metal racing game. Great job!
Clearly, the game screams to you: “I am something you have never seen before!”. Can’t say I agree. But the ambition of developers is very hard to ignore. They really wished the game to be “the most” in pretty much every area. And they did succeed. The Titan Kronos wandering in his eternal torment through the sands of damned desert is a good illustration to Santa Monica’s titanic ambition.
Pteity (Pushing The Envelope - ity): 2/5
We’ve seen it all before. The amazing level design and thrilling action together with the exploration of the ancient Greek setting and QTE sequences weren’t invented by this game. In fact taking into account that the game takes a freelook camera view away from the player may be considered as a step backwards to the days of 2D platformers. And that is not a good thing.
No problem, here. The game goes to great lengths to be constantly entertaining to a player. That results in a zero amount of filler material. Everything is unique and well timed.
I say that even if the Greek setting isn't portrayed exactly as Homer and Co envisioned it, the overall theme and story the game takes is pretty much consistent with the Greek mythology. A single mortal defies the rule of Gods upon him and defeats the God Of War. Will do.
God Of War is an action game. And everything which is required from an action game it does well. It has plenty of variety in it to keep you coming back for more, or as in my case, spend a whole night through playing it unable to stop at all.
The amazing design of locations is enough for everyone even in 2007 not to regret the lack of next-generation console at home. The music is a perfect fit for the game. I can’t even find the words to describe it properly. I guess it can be called a classical music with an attitude of Trash Metal band. Great!
And a nicely presented story keeps you from wondering, why you are playing this stupid slasher game when there is a serious Role-Playing experience awaiting you in other room.
That’s all, folks! See you back in God Of War II.