Review by Jihad

Reviewed: 05/16/05

Olympic, Herculean, and all that stuff

God of War is a game that channels the bloody, pitiless wrath of ancient Greek gods and warriors. The ads ominously proclaim that “a new myth will be written in the blood of the old,” and I’ll be damned if the designers of this game haven’t gone out and done just that.

A man must fight off legions of mythical beasts and find Pandora’s Box in order to kill Ares (the vindictive god of war) and redeem his own soul. Need I say it’s extremely, unapologetically violent? Birthed from the mind of David Jaffe, the man behind the good Twisted Metal titles, God of War delivers the same sort of fearsome action in the same sort of moral vacuum. This is a world of rage, cruelty, and human sacrifice: expect to be sucked in.

The man who must recover the box is Kratos, a Spartan warrior with ashen skin who acts as the gods’ angel of death. They took the liberty of searing a chain to each of Kratos’ forearms; at the end of each chain is a blade that’s normally soaked with blood from his last battle. He is the hero of God of War, and he isn’t fighting against the ethos of merciless brutality that pervades his world—he’s reveling in it, or at least going along for the ride. He has a haunted past that unfolds as the game progresses, and in fact it begins with his suicide and hurtles back in time from there, but don’t think he’ll be breaking down to weep along the way. About the only wimpy thing you could say about Kratos is that he has a diary. You get to read it at one point. But you’ll probably forgive him this one dalliance when you think back on his spectacular killing of the Hydra and his seafaring escapades with two hotties below deck.

Yes, there is a sex minigame, but God of War manages to push the sexual and violent content to extremes without ever feeling gaudy or gratuitous. The topless Gorgons and dangling genitalia of the Cyclopes go that much further towards convincing you that your enemies are terrifying beasts, not 3-D renderings of artist’s sketches. When you use corpses heads’ as keys in Pandora’s Temple—when you must actually mash the R2 button and rip the heads from their bodies—it is a testament to the temple’s diabolical architect: the heads you must use are those of his sons. These little touches add a lot to the experience, but of course the fundamentals are there. The opening scene: a dark a stormy night, the rain pouring, a fleet of ships torn asunder and overrun by armies of the undead. When the visuals that push Sony’s hardware to the absolute limit strut their stuff and the menacing orchestral score booms, the designers must know they already have most gamers eating out of the palms of their hands.

Oh, and the combat is the best any action game has had in ages. Kratos’ Blades of Chaos are the linchpin, and their furious twirling combos offer the most eye candy, but the whole fighting experience is amazingly calibrated. There is just the right number of abilities to keep things interesting without becoming overwhelming, and the nasty creative touches certainly don’t hurt. At one point you’ll get “Medusa’s Gaze,” the ability to turn enemies into stone. How do you obtain such power? Well, you rip off Medusa’s head, put it on your belt, and point it at your enemies as you see fit. Duh. More than any game I can think of, God of War has a knack for making epic cinematics—normally reserved for cutscenes—part of the gaming experience.

When enemies are on the brink of death, you can engage context-sensitive finishing attacks: you are in control of the wild action. Personally, I have a soft spot for killing minotaurs—Kratos knocks them over and leaps on their chests, about to lower the blade, when they resist, grabbing Kratos’ wrists with desperate intensity, writhing and screaming—the creatures knows their lives are at stake. You mash the circle button, locked in the struggle until, finally, you bring the blade down with a sickening squelch in the back of the minotaur’s throat and a stream of blood gushes several feet high.

The only substantial complaint that can be leveled against God of War is that with all its unwavering stylistic mercilessness, the relative lack of difficulty stands out. I don’t normally have this sort of issue, but even the “very hard” God Mode probably won’t pose a threat to action vets. It’s not easy, but it’s not decapitate-a-Gorgon, stab-a-minotaur-in-the-face hard. And this seems to be a game engineered to come alive in moments of masochistic challenge.

Perhaps they were pandering to the masses? This is a AAA mega-million dollar game meant to sell millions of copies, as well it should. But I’d be surprised if Sony allowed such a visceral, thrillingly vicious title through the door and only took issue with the difficulty. God of War may be the consummate action game of its generation. It’s short, sweet, exorbitantly budgeted, thrillingly designed, immaculately polished, masterfully executed, and maybe a little on the easy side.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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