Review by HPHovercraft

"Ta-tas and blood do not a classic make."

While trawling the used bin at the game shop recently I came across several copies of this old gem. I never played it when it was new, and as there seems to be an entire genre of games that try to pass themselves off as 'God of War-like' I figured it'd be worth the 7 bucks to see what all those imitators are shooting for. Was it worth it? Ummmmm.....read on.

Story

God of War aims to present something of a Greek epic in video game form. To this end, the developers painstakingly skimmed the "Greek Mythology" Wikipedia page for names, then made up the rest out of whole cloth. The result is a plot that is truly awesome in its silliness. But what the hell, let's run with it:

You play as Kratos, a pale-skinned slab of beefy idiot psychosis who was formulated by running down the list of juvenile power fantasies and gleefully checkmarking each box. Creepy body dysmorphia? Check. Mysterious past? Check. Brooding disposition, hinting at wellsprings of angst to be revealed via flashback? Check. Sexual dynamo, irresistable to all females, though it gives him no pleasure? Check. Wanton, indiscriminate destruction of innocent and guilty alike? Check. Anyway, you pilot Kratos through his battles against the minions of Ares, the titular god of war, whom Kratos has decided to kill. As he goes, he is aided by some of the other gods of Olympus in the form of advice, new powers, and weapons.

That's basically all just window dressing—God of War is a typical Quest for the McGuffin, represented in this case by the hilariously misunderstood Pandora's Box. While Pandora's Box in Greek mythology was a metaphor for hope in the face of evil, Sony's turned it into a major artifact, capable of deicide—The Ark of the Covenator, if you will. This ham-fisted approach carries over to almost every element presented. Okay, they got Zeus more or less right ("Uh....he's the lightning guy, right?"), but when Artemis, the graceful goddess of the hunt, forks over a sword that's larger than Kratos' own freakishly huge torso, it's hard to think they were going for anything other than camp.

As camp goes, it's pretty entertaining. For the first hour or two. Sadly, once the effect wears off there's nothing to hold my interest.
(2/10)

Visuals

God of War is pretty to look at. There's a lot of smooth motion, smooth animation, and beautifully rendered environments to be seen. Unfortunately, there's no free camera or "look" mode, so if you do want to get a look at something your best bet is to run over to it and hope it doesn't kill you. There are several moments where the camera pulls back and shows you a huge, sweeping vista, upon which Kratos is only a teeny dot. Which makes it rough to see where you're going, but it's gorgeous to look at.

Character design leans toward the farcical. For a game that strives to present a grim tale of epic something-or-other, there certainly seems to be a lot of exposed breasts about. You'll be able to tell which females are sympathetic to Kratos by whether or not they've got their rack out. Kratos himself is impossibly muscled, square-headed, and wearing an expression of either confusion or rage. In some of the cut scenes, you can see the lines on his face and the pores in his nose, which is impressive (if unappealing).
(8/10)

Sound

Well-done, but not particularly memorable. It's got a huge OST full of monolithic orchestral 'BUUUUUUUUUUMMMMM BUUUUMMMMMM BUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMM' noises, which fits the game well enough. Voice acting is predictably overstated—Kratos grunts, roars, and bellows, the females carefully overenunciate every syllable so you know the crushing gravity of their words. Pretty standard for video game VA, in other words.
(7/10)

Gameplay

Combat isn't bad, it's just not very interesting. The controls are pretty smooth, with all manner of combo attacks available that you won't use because every enemy can be killed quite easily by hanging back and mashing square-square-triangle in between blocking. Enemies are literally dime a dozen—there are maybe five or six varieties of foe, and they all appear in every area of the game (though reskinned for each area). Once you get past the first hour or two, the only variety you'll see in combat comes from the number and type of enemies you'll be locked in a room with (via a magic I-stay-up-until-everything-dies force field) every thirty feet. And if you think that's unnecessarily repetitive, wait until you realize that more or less every enemy respawns at least once the moment you kill it, which is the developers' way of telling you that the game's so unbalanced it might as well be flashing 'TILT'.

Speaking of balance, let's discuss weaponry. The Blades of Chaos with which you begin the game are so vastly overpowered that by the time other weapons become available to you, there's no point in trotting them out. Similarly, of the magic powers you receive from the gods the only one that's not situational is Poseidon's Rage, which spams the entire screen with lightning and kills more or less everything. This power provides the most hilarious game-breaking moment, i.e. when Aphrodite locks you in a tiny room with a constantly-charging magic bar and three minotaurs which will respawn infinitely until you use her otherwise worthless Medusa's Gaze power on them, thus enabling you to powerlevel your abilities to the maximum faster than you can say "1200-hit combo".

Still, if combat was all the game was about, it'd probably score halfway decently, but unfortunately the developers played Prince of Persia somewhere along the way and decided that what God of War really needed was extensive platforming "puzzle" sections. Most of these are fairly ho-hum, except you can't control the camera angle. So when the camera shifts position in mid-jump, causing you to somehow execute a 90-degree turn in midair and fall to your instant death, you'll be wishing Sony'd decided to copy POP's time-reversal mechanism as well. There's something jarring about being death on two legs, dispatching hundreds of enemies without breaking a sweat, and then dying instantly from touching the blunt end of a slow-moving blade trap.

I get the feeling that the developers were either rushed or just didn't care about quality control, as when you realize that the game mechanics aren't internally consistent. Sometimes there's an invisible barrier preventing Kratos from falling off every ledge, and sometimes there's not. You won't know until you've had to restart from checkpoint, of course. Kratos can drop fifty feet, stick the landing, and not take damage, but being knocked off a wall and falling ten feet to the ground below is instant death. Kratos can murder thousands, smash down walls, push huge statues around like nobody's business, but he can't get over or through a wooden safety rail at the Temple of Pandora and must therefore go around the long way ("Line-jumping is not an Olympic sport").

And, to top it all off, my least favorite three words in the gaming lexicon: NON-SKIPPABLE CUT SCENES. It all contributes to a feeling of relentless padding, as if the developers tried to spread two hours worth of content over six hours of game.
(4/10)

Replay Value - 0/10

Just playing the game was repetitive enough—I can't imagine why I might want to revisit it.

Conclusion

While it's pretty to look at and listen to, God of War feels unfinished. It's ridiculously short—even having spent an hour powerleveling myself early in the game, I still turned it out in just over six hours. The combat system, though it works, is unbalanced. The focal shift from fighting to clumsy tacked-on platforming midway, however, is maddening. The story and characters are laugh-out-loud ridiculous. So why was this game so popular? Boobs and blood, my friends. Boobs and blood.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/11

Game Release: God of War (US, 03/22/05)


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