Review by 47pik
Square, Square, Triangle
With God of War III on the horizon I figured it was about time I played the original God of War. It's release came and went without my noticing since I was not a PS2 owner, and even if I had known of it's existence, I wouldn't have been allowed to play it. As my hobby of gaming grew, I began to hear talk of God of War, a game which everyone spoke of with the utmost reverence. I began to see the legacy of God of War, and the footprint it left on the gaming industry from the fighting system to quick time events, yet I still knew of it only in whispers. "Revolutionized the action genre" some would say of it, others would go as far to say that it revolutionized the entire industry. But even being exposed to a slew of newer releases that gamers and critics described as "like God of War. but..." I still didn't know what to expect as I inserted the God of War disk.
The game begins with a cutscene showing Kratos, the main character, committing suicide by jumping off a cliff. Before long time is rewound three weeks, and the game begins, letting you see the events leading to the suicide. An interesting set-up, though the game's plot never truly lived up to my initial impression of a Greek tragedy. It is however a fun romp through ancient Greek mythology, and has a story that, while not deep or complex, will keep you interested. Ares, the god of war has invaded the city of Athena, his divine sister. Zeus, their father, has forbidden them from fighting though, and Athena can do nothing about it. So it falls to a mortal man, our "hero" Kratos, a Spartan warrior, to do the gods' dirty work, and take out Ares, a job that Kratos has no qualms with, in fact, one he relishes. His motives are gradually revealed over the course of the game, and are certainly unique if nothing else.
Depending on how you look at it, Kratos is either one of the best, or one of the worst video game characters ever created. The strength and weakness of his character is his stoic reaction to everything that goes on. There is absolutely zero character development, personality wise, at the games end Kratos is exactly the same as when he started. There's something to be said for someone with that much conviction, and given what you learn about him over the course of the game, his unwavering resolve is given a good context. As a result, Kratos is essentially the ultimate badass, who is very different from the typical good natured hero. There is one point where, to proceed further, Kratos must make blood sacrifice. The blood that is sacrificed is not his, but a helpless Athenian soldier.
Presentation wise God of War is phenomenal. Today the graphics look fairly dated, but the art direction more than makes up for it. This dark interpretation of Greek mythology is highly interesting, and is felt throughout every aspect of the game's presentation. Over the course of the game you'll traverse environments ranging from the streets of Athens to the depths of Hades all of which are visually striking. The developer seemed especially fond of vistas that allow you to take in an impressive view of the surroundings. Enemies were particularly interesting to me, consisting of dark interpretations of classic creatures such as the minotaur, gorgon, or cyclops. Each type of enemy feels unique, though I could have done with a little more variety. Not that I got bored with fighting what there was, instead I just wanted to see more of this great design. Something I could have done with a little less of was nudity. There is a not insignificant amount of low polygon bare breast, and though in some ways it fit with the feel of the setting, for the most part it just felt gratuitous and took away from my enjoyment. The other ESRB descriptor that many would find objectionable is the violence and gore, however I embraced it. Given the violent nature of the source material, combined with it's dark interpretation the developers came up with, it's only fitting to have over the top, brutal and bloody kills, which are immensely satisfying.
You will fight a lot in God of War, and kill many an enemy. At your disposal are Kratos' Blades of Chaos, his main weapons, which are large blades attached to chains, which he can whip around. Pressing Square is a weaker, but fast attack, and Triangle is a slower, but stronger attack. Combined with modifiers, jumps, and grabs, you can pull off some stylish combos. These combos are slowly introduced with such fantastic pacing that it never is a challenge to remember how to do something, partly also due to their simplicity. Some are more useful that others however, Plume of Prometheus (Square, Square, Triangle) in particular you will find yourself using a lot. The simplistic, yet fun nature of this system ensures that the game will never be too complicated, but never get boring either. Over the course of the game the gods will grant Kratos several powers that accomplish what his blades cannot. Poseidon's Rage inflicts major damage to all enemies near Kratos for example, while Zeus' Fury is a ranged magic attack. By collecting red orbs from defeated enemies and treasure chests, you can upgrade your weapons and magic as you see fit, both boosting power, and giving you access to new ways to use them.
After damaging an enemy enough, an icon will appear above an enemy's head, which is your cue to grab them and begin a kill. These are the origins of what are now known as "quick time events" or QTEs. You will be shown a button prompt on screen, and will have to react to it as quickly as possible, by tapping the correct sequence of buttons, turning the analog sticks in the right directions, or just simply mashing circle as fast as you can. The resulting violent ends to enemy lives are not only brutal and satisfying, but beneficial, as Kratos gains more health, magic, and experience from disposing of enemies in this way. That said, often times this kill system is a real pain. Buttons need to be pressed too quickly and without lighting reflexes you are going to fail at them a few times. Analog stick rotation just doesn't feel quite right sometimes. Finally, button mashing is just annoying, especially to someone like me, who simply can't repeatedly press a button with any amount of speed. Making things more problematic is the rare occurrence where you cannot initiate a kill despite the icon being above the enemy's head. Sometimes it's best just to bypass going through this effort altogether, and just continue attacking with your weapons and magic instead. One final complaint, some enemies don't die after just one successful kill sequence. I'm sorry, but if I stab an enemy in the face repeatedly, they should be dead, not getting up and continuing to fight.
Boss battles are particularly cinematic and fun, but unfortunately, there really aren't very many of them. Normally I'm not a person who enjoys fighting bosses, but the three bosses of God of War are all a joy to fight, and ultimately take down with stylish kill sequences, which are key in their defeat. They're all also fairly strategic in contrast to the other fights in the game which pretty much amount to running around and pulling off the quickest combo you can (Square, Square, Triangle), which is a welcome change.
Unfortunately, beyond the fighting, the other parts of gameplay don't fair so well. Puzzle and platforming sections are thrown in the mix with the fighting, and though they add some nice variety, are a real mixed bag. Some puzzles are clever and interesting, others are just tedious, and though I liked the platforming for the most part, Hades related areas were a real exercise in frustration mostly the fully auto controlled camera. For fighting, the game's camera works great, always allowing you a clear view of the battle. As you go through the environments the camera also is great for showing you cinematic views. But the camera falls apart when it comes to exploration and platforming. Treasure chests are often hidden in places you can't see and have to fight the camera to get to, which don't make them hard to find, bur does break up the gameplay flow. And when it comes to platforming it's awful. Moving towards the camera as you try to navigate treacherous jumps and traps is never a good idea, and yet you're forced to do so in several sections of God of War. But even apart from camera issues, the game clearly wasn't made for platforming. Kratos is not Mario, nor does he move like Mario, and really has no business walking along small beams while jumping over spinning blades. Also, memo to whoever it was that thought up the idea for the two towers of spinning blades that players must climb: your ideas suck.
After dying a certain amount of times (and you will die on these platforming sections), the game offers to tone down the difficulty to Mortal (Easy). This change only affects combat, but you're much more likely to be given the option after repeatedly failing platforming sections. Not to say you won't die during combat while playing Hero (Normal), the game isn't too easy, but navigating perilous jumps is the leading cause of death among Spartans. With an accidental button press you will have dropped the difficulty to Mortal (Easy) though. This is a huge problem, because you cannot raise it again. Roughly two thirds of the way through the game this happened to me, and the game just became less fun since the combat was so incredibly easy following the difficulty drop. But there was nothing I could do about it. Watch out.
Once you've finished your journey, beaten the game, gotten your revenge, killed your enemies, and somehow passed the platforming sections, you'll be given a wealth of unlockables. "Making of" videos, trailers, a challenge mode, as well as some other cool stuff. Beating the game on harder difficulties unlocks even more, though that might be a problem considering our little accidentally-dropping-the-difficulty problem. Also, the most interesting stuff, extra story bits that serve as hooks for the sequels are, for the most part, only unlocked on higher difficulty levels, which doesn't really sit well with me. I had no desire to play the game on God Mode (Very Hard) just to see an interesting reveal about Kratos' father. If I played this back in 2005 I would have been very annoyed. Thankfully, this is 2010, and we have something called YouTube.
All in all, God of War is a solid game. It has phenomenal art direction, and visual style, but though the core gameplay is good, other parts, specifically platforming detract heavily from the overall experience. God of War may have sparked a revolution with it's simple fighting system that has loads of possibilities. It may have been instrumental to the mainstream appeal of ultraviolent games. It may have shown gamers and game designers alike the power of great art direction and setting. But it's numerous flaws are too hard to overlook, and really hold it back from rising to the ranks of timeless classics. That's not to say it's bad, in fact, God of War is quite good, and I recommend it. Nor do these flaws detract from what God of War achieved, and the landmark accomplishments it made. However, to play it today, out of the context of release, it's a product that is only merely good.
Rounded to 7/10 for GameFAQs
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: God of War (Greatest Hits) (US, 03/01/06)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.