Review by Akheon
The first and the most central of Kratos' misadventures
Ah, God of War. From the entire series, the first game is the one I still remember the most fondly. Probably because this was the God of War-series at its most fresh - the concept still new and the developers still finding out how to best utilize an "ancient Greek" setting and mythology. It was a good time, a more innocent time, before the series became a shameless cash cow franchise. Before the series became annoyingly cinematic and the amount of gore increased to downright ridiculous amounts. Before the somewhat lame PSP-games too.
I'd say the first God of War was a good, inspired attempt at a hack 'n' slash game, and thematically closest to a Greek tragedy the series ever got. In it you play as Kratos, a man who does various violent oddjobs for the Greek pantheon in the hopes of one day being released from his nightmares - being released from the violent past that haunts him for once and for all. He wields an unique weapon, sort of double blades attached to his arms by uncomfortable looking chains, helping him slash all around him with surprising agility and reach. While the chains symbolize his servitude to the Gods, the blades... well, they contribute to some fun gameplay moments. It's a winning combination.
God of War is a sort of mixture of hack 'n' slashing, platforming, adventuring and light puzzle solving. As such, the game world is more open and has more things to do in it than in a more pure-blooded action game. Even sightseeing plays a part in all this since the locales you go to are pretty impressive looking, and deserve to be admired - maybe not as much in 2014, but for its time the level design and visuals were both (mostly) functional and beautiful.
The combat generally feels fluid and nice even today. But being the first game in the series, the developers also had some daring experiments and missteps when it came to Kratos' movelist and the overall balancing. In part the flaws make the experience what it is, so I can't hate them too much - for example using your secondary weapon feels clumsier than it should be, and there are also glitches all around. Still, combat remains as one of the high points of the game.
Level design is sometimes very impressive too, but (again) not without occasional horrible blunders. Sometimes you are subjected to sudden, merciless platforming which can be very frustrating. Sometimes the levels lack checkpoints and after dying you have to try again from further away than what seems humane. And some levels are just "there", as dull as ancient Greek dishwater. Yeah, things can get messy in this regard too.
God of War has many, many flaws. No, make that many, many, many, many flaws. But then there's another thing that speaks to its favor, and that is the atmosphere. Immersion. There is something very intriguing going on with this game... Guess it helps that the soundtrack is one of the best you'll hear on PS2 - epic, catchy symphonic music with a lot of ethnic instruments and mystique, bolstering even the more quiet moments with melancholy and the occasional glimpse of hope.
The story is also very functional and iconic. It's simple, but presented in a tidy way in flashback cutscenes that never outstay their welcome. The overarching themes are clear and poignant: loss, vengeance, redemption. Something most of us can relate to on some level. If you look past the juvenile gore and the more cartoonish moments of the art direction, you'll find a very potent, quite archetypal tale here.
Despite being infuriating at times, God of War has won me over and I've since played through the game many times. It's not a horribly long game, and sadly there is no New Game+ either (unlike in most later God of War-games). But still, it's not a bad game, even by today's standards, and it deserves a try if you want to witness the first and most central of Kratos' numerous misadventures.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: God of War (EU, 07/08/05)
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