Review by brutusmuktuk
"When is a classic a classic?"
A literary epic is defined by several conventions: a work that focuses on a historical event of significance to a people; it's broad scope covers a great period of time, or allows time to move realistically over the course of an adventure; the story begins in the midst of action and fills in back-story afterward; the gods intervene, and sometimes the hero travels to a netherworld or another domain of the gods; the characters achieve heroic proportions; and finally, the story ends with a vision that puts the work into context.
Sony's God of War is an attempted epic, and in many ways it does follow the conventions of an epic. But this is a video game, which, no doubt, will require new and different conventions as an epic than those of a novel. Sony succeeds, almost, at creating an epic video game, and I think they set up guidelines for the future of epic video games, but as a video game God of War, unfortunately, has even less success.
The story begins interestingly enough, with Kratos committing a somewhat ritualistic suicide by casting himself off of a cliff. We're taken three weeks earlier where Kratos, on a ship to Athens in order to defend the city from Ares' minions, must fight off an ambush of hydras. The early sequences provide very little story, though, after an optional sex mini-game, Kratos demands Athena to release him from the gods' control. She instead sets him on a mission to kill Ares, who, when you first see him, is a giant, hurtling boulders at buildings in the background. Afterward, the story disperses itself, giving us cutscenes only at key plot points. People argue that video games are art, or can be, yet prestigious developers such as Sony can't even provide a cutscene meant only to develop character, but requires a plot point to push forward. That is taking art backwards.
Kratos, beloved by many gamers, no doubt, because he is such a dark anti-hero, alas, isn't even much of a hero. He takes anti-hero to such an extreme he qualifies as a villain, instead. I cared very little whether he would succeed or fail. We're supposed to cheer the hero and against the villain. Where does that leave us here? When we learn of his reasons, finally, for casting himself off the cliff, I felt no remorse for him because he's unlikable. He committed horrendous deeds and, throughout the game, makes no attempt at redemption. He seems, in fact, to revel in his darkness. Dark heroes are only effective when their past gives them no path but darkness. Kratos was born dark and his only reason for being villainous is that he has the strength to be villainous. Gamers will more than likely always herald Kratos as one of the great video game charactersa distinction he doesn't deserve one small bit.
The game's first couple of hours is its best. The hordes of enemies are actually fun to fight. The serpents are easily the most impressive aspect the game has to offer. The first serpent, for example, requires you to play a button tap mini-game to finish it off, and the result is impressive. The boss fight with the hydra is by far the best encounter. When it roars, you feel its might--Kratos falls backwards off his platform. You're thinking, wow, this has the makings of a classic. And then you wait and wait and wait for another moment as impressive as the fight with the hydra. And you wait in vain.
Repetition, and repetition of the wrong sort, is easily God of War's biggest downfall. You will cut down hordes and hordes of constantly respawning enemies in one room, run to the next, and cut down horde after horde of enemies in the next room. The combat runs through a course of stages as the game goes on: it's fun at first, then ok for a little while, until finally it ends in drudgery. In a fight with two minotaurs, for example, you kill one, which would leave one minotaur left, right? Simple algebra. Wrong. Two minus one does not equal one. You have failed to take into account the respawn. In this game, algebra is twisted on its silly little head. What do you subtract from two to get zero? Three, maybe four. It's like filling a well with water from another using a dropper, and when you finish with that task, you must return the water to the other well with your dropper. Worse, the enemies are repetitive. They're simply unimaginative. And this is the game that received Game of the Year awards? By whom? Fire them! Fire them all!
In an attempt to make combat more interesting, the developers provide Kratos with magic. I like magic. But when the most useful spells take a giant chunk out of your magic bar, they're not so useful anymore. Some deplete your magic bar in two or three casting, and enemies very rarely drop refill orbs, so you'll save your magic for bosses, all three of them. None of the magic is very interesting, either. You have an area effect spell, a ranged spell, a slightly more interesting petrification spell, among others. Interesting and useful don't necessarily correlate, but here they do.
In action games like God of War, boss encounters are often refreshing, since they break up mundane tasks like killing hordes of enemies and provide some much-needed excitement. They're something to look forward to. A few exceptions come to mind Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Jak and Daxter had very few (PoP had none) boss encounters, and those games still succeeded. God of War desperately needs more boss encounters. There are only three, and the wait between the hydra and the second boss is very, very long. The hydra is the most fun and exciting, while the rest lack its wow factor. But the bosses also provide the game's most fun, though the two following the hydra still leave something to be desired. The final boss has three parts, with the second part being pointless, thrown in simply as filler.
Also, the game suffers from excess. The repetitive combat is excessive, the blood and gore is excessive. You'll grow tired of the splattering blood and female's breasts in the game's cutscenes, both of which serve only to titillate adolescent gamer's imaginations and appeal to a culture that worships such excess. I'm not a snob, but if sex isn't done tastefully, or right, it's no good. The pleasure mini-game, for example, is interesting, though nothing is shown. Blood, boobs, and massive combos don't make a game fun. Nor do they mask poor gameplay. I doubt it's for that reason so many have enjoyed the game, but I'm still in awe that so many have.
I finished the game in less than 10 hours on normal. There are four difficulties, God mode being unlocked after you finish the game, but why play the game over again, especially when it's barely fun on the first play through? I have to wonder, when is a classic a classic? God of War has won many game of the year awards and received rave reviews. On gamerankings.com it's ranked 51 overall, and I can easily think of a hundred games I'd rather play. Perhaps gaming is just subjective. Perhaps I have no right to question those who've received God of War so well. But God of War is a prime example of the death of gaming, of why gaming is commonly considered as less than art. And it is the very game those in charge of reviews and opinions have deemed a classic. When mediocre, unimaginative, games like this that fail to innovate on any level receive such high praise, then more such games come out. The future of gaming will be a dull, dull world unless somebody has the guts to stand against gaming giants and force them to develop more intuitive, thoughtful, and innovative games. But I'm just one of the little guys pounding on a giant door. Everyone, the gaming journalists, the developers, the publishers, are all looking down at me and laughing. What a fool, their laughter says. Truly, though, God of War is a classic only in the Orwellian sense of the word. A classic is a classic when the majority says it's a classic, but that doesn't make it good.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 02/07/06, Updated 08/18/08
Game Release: God of War (US, 03/22/05)
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