God of War (PAL) box

So we’ve had games based on legends before. The Japanese seem to brandish theirs in games much like a bible basher to packs of nearby heathens. Norse mythology has also been given a spark with Square Enix and their “Valkyrie Profile” series. But perhaps the most touched on all European mythology is that of the Greek nature. We’ve had Indiana Jones in sprite form navigating the Lost City of Atlantis, some burly berk with a sword masquerade around as if he owned the place, and even you being whatever kind of God from mythology and attempt to make yourself the most believed and influential one of the lot, much like Greek mythology. Heck, we’ve even had a large-bosomed girl in khaki hot-pants in a Greek temple. But all of this, except for the berk with the rusty dagger, merely touches upon the concept of Greek mythology. One game dares go further and become mythology itself. God of War, perhaps one of the bigger franchises created in this century combines just about everything that makes games good, pours fine wine all over it and serves it to its guests at the video game banquet of excellence.

About the plot, all I can say is: mythology is a funny thing. One minute the gods are sitting on top of a mountain, merrily drinking wine to their hearts’ content; the next they’re stomping the snot out of each others’ worshippers or plotting the complete and utter demise of their probable siblings. The minute after that, they could be subjecting one of their loyal slaves to years of torture and torment. This is apparently what is happening to Kratos, who for all purposes is a bit of a berk. He is a member of the Spartan army who pleaded with Ares – the God of War – to save his life in exchange for his soul. Since then, he had Athena’s blades surgically attached to his arms, and perhaps reluctantly obeyed Ares in many ghastly deeds, such as killing his wife and child. Now, Ares is stomping the snot out of Athens and Athena is mightily annoyed. She asks Kratos to do the impossible to save the city. Kill the God of War. As you progress, more is revealed about Kratos through elaborate, albeit random cut-scenes.

You instantly realise that this is a fairly linear game, but because of the gorgeous visuals you will quickly dismiss that argument altogether. To get a true perspective of just how epic it looks, use a very large TV – say about fifty inches’ worth. When you see one of those zoomed out landscape parts, such as looking at Ares stomping Athenian soldiers and chucking boulders, you get the impression of just how small Kratos is compared to the bigger picture. Incidentally, Kratos’ model is what can only be described by using slang term – “Bad ass.” While a little on the sluggish side at times, Kratos and the foes he meets all have so much detail, it’s a marvel that the engine could possibly cope, and rather amazingly it does. It’s as if the game orders the PS2 to perform whilst whipping it constantly.

I've blown this image up to the maximum size just so you can appreciate the sheer spectical of the backgrounds. I apologise to those with Dialup...

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way in a single paragraph. Firstly while the camera is generally as good as it can be for a fixed camera game, there are moments where it lets you down as much as the Alien vs. Predator films have. Because I wasn’t sure how harsh I was being, I thought I’d send it off for a second opinion, like a doctor and a patient with hypochondria. What I got back was pretty much the same as I experienced in places. It especially screwed my second opinion over when they were trying to walk across the beams in the ‘Challenge of Hades’: Kratos is walking into a limited space and dealing with things that are moving towards you from an area not yet showed on screen. It’s like trying to bat conker shells blindfolded and they being hurled by a baseball machine. It’s almost impossible to do it first time round because you have to learn where everything is. While I reward a game for trial and error, this part in particular felt like a kick in the jockstrap due to the camera being an awkward, tantrum-prone six-year-old. The other bad thing about the game is the ease at which Red Orbs are accumulated during the course of the game. Red Orbs are used to upgrade the various weapons and magic Kratos obtains from the gods and every enemy spits them out in abundance; chests even sprout them. This is probably one of the bigger shortcomings of the game because to complete it, all you really need is the starting weapon and first spell. Sure there are moments where you need special equipment but I found that the game is complete-able just slashing away and shocking enemies when needed.

So, along with the monsters, gods, women not wearing very much and less than convenient camera is the combat system, which is generally combo based. You can swing with Square, heavy attack with Triangle, Jump around swirling your blades around, and grab things to do nasty stuff to them. Every so often you’ll see the Circle button appear over the heads of enemies, and the dreaded Quick Time Events pop up like rodents in a brutal game of whack-a-mole. To criticise God of War for its QTE is redundant since it set off the trend everywhere else. Having said that, it’s probably the best example as the buttons are clearly marked, sufficient time is given, and some of the results are worth the punching in of buttons. Minotaurs in particular are rewarding as repeatedly hammering the Circle button results in Kratos driving the blades he holds into the things throat and throttles the bull violently. Much blood gushing ensues.

There are many moments in this game that stand out. From the introduction where you are on a ship, to perhaps the most original puzzle I’ve come across. There is a moment where Kratos is in a desert, and in the middle of a sandstorm. Depending on where he walks you hear a faint singing sound. Using your ears you must walk until you spot an enemy, which turns out to be a siren. Desensitizing your eyes and relying on your ears to progress is a fantastic idea and one that is done very well. Using surround sound in particular for this part gives the best results as you are led to the enemy. The actual puzzles also give plenty of challenge, with some being obvious to some and not to others. Bosses are perhaps the best part of the entire game, with some of the most iconic characters in Greek mythology; such as the Hydra, attempting to stop Kratos in his tracks. His savagery is even more apparent here, as the QTE are more elaborate and end in even stickier results. Every enemy you fight has the potential to annoy you greatly, so the bitter end for them is so much sweeter.

You know a game is gory when it enables you to do root canal surgery...without anethesia!

For those who want to bleed everything physically possible from the developers; Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) haven’t forgotten you like that toy you got for Christmas from the obscure relative when you were seven. The unlockables include Titan mode, some documentaries on the game’s creation, some new character models for Kratos and quite a few more. While you do have to run through the game’s entirety before you can even think of looking at extra content, the game has lots to do so this is entirely forgivable. Some may feel that the content available isn’t very interesting as documentaries aren’t for everyone and character models range from the cool to ridiculous. It’s debatable as to whether or not the extra content is worth the continuous play.

For the Playstation 2, God of War changes everything. Not only does it churn everything from the box in terms of outstanding visuals and frame rate to match, but the sheer depth of everything that appears from puzzles and combat to the plot itself and outstanding panoramic backdrops make this game a pleasure to play. It’s amazing what could have been possible from the Playstation 2 considering it was in development at the turn of the century and many advances have been made, yet it is one of the best looking and above all fun games on the system. Even if you are a straight girl who might not like to see 34Ds on a fifty inch widescreen TV, everything else should please you enough to forgive the game for that.