Review by Evil Dave

"An epic, but abbreviated, action-adventure game."

Greek mythology has captivated the human mind for thousands of years. Tales of vengeful gods, tragic heroes, lustful affairs, and the travails of the Greek empire have been told ever since the fall of Greece, and even today Homer's The Odyssey and The Iliad are read in literature classes by many students. Due to this history being such a well-known property, it has been somewhat surprising that no videogame developer had yet attempted to create a game for modern consoles based upon it. That is, until SCEA decided to throw a project called God Of War at their developers.

GOW puts the player into the role of Kratos, a warrior in Greece's heyday. He must embark on a journey to kill Ares, the aforementioned god of war, based on motivations that are not entirely clear. The game plays out as an action-adventure title, with a heavy emphasis on weapons-based combat. From its first appearance at E3 2004, it garnered tremendous praise from those within the videogame industry, and since then it built quite a bit of building positive momentum. David Jaffe, Lead Designer on GOW (and the mind behind the Twisted Metal series), had talked about the game as his attempt to revive its genre, a statement that belied his tremendous confidence in his work. How did GOW turn out? Read on:

Visuals:

Menus, both in-game and the main menu, look amazing, and are also very good functionally. There will be small effects, such as fire, constantly in the background, and at the beginning of the game, the start menu will move seamlessly into the opening video. This design choice helps get the player right into the game, without the disconnection of a normal menu system, while at the same time giving the whole look a very aesthetically pleasing feel. All menu options are made clear for the player, including what buttons to press to perform which actions. The in-game menu portrays all important information, without getting in the way. It is a great credit to the talent of the developers that the menu design is memorable, since so little gameplay time is spent in it.

GOW is one of the best-looking games to come out on a home console. While the graphics do not go for a completely photorealistic look, they nonetheless look incredible, with a tremendous amount of detail visible. Kratos looks truly terrifying, complete with a very noticeable scar over his right eye and tattoos snaking over the rest of his body; enemies, though not as prominently as Kratos, also feature an impressive amount of minute detail. Environments have the same quality of care as the main character, and you will almost never see similar areas repeating themselves. Character animations for Kratos are unbelievably fluid – he will go from swinging his weapons to using a magic attack in an instant, without any stutter in his animation; enemies, once again, are also similarly seamless. There is also plenty of interaction between the player and the environment, such as breakable objects, the ability to throw enemies into walls, and lots of movable items for puzzles. This all occurs with the only problem being an occasional frame rate dip when there is a lot of action on the screen at once. This happens rarely enough that it won't affect the experience for almost all players, and overall the amount of characters and animations on screen at once is extremely impressive.

In any action game, the camera is probably the most important aspect of the visuals. Thankfully, GOW usually gets its camera angles right. When in larger areas, the camera will pan out to a God's-eye view, giving the player a view of all of the surrounding environment; at the same time, when the player moves into smaller quarters, the camera moves down to ground level, giving the player an excellent view of the action. Unfortunately, there will be times when an enemy or environmental object will block the camera's view of Kratos, and this may even cause an undeserved death at some point. For the most part, though, you will never have any problems with the game's camera, and the gameplay is improved as a result.

GOW's cutscenes use both the in-game engine and pre-rendered videos to advance the story. The in-game videos look as good as the actual game, and are always animated exquisitely. The pre-rendered videos look excellent as well, with plenty of lighting and texture effects that make them stand out. Some of the video portions that deal with Kratos' flashbacks are done in a more artistic style, and these are arguably the best of them all.

The excellent character and environment models, silky-smooth animation, highly stylized menus, and graphically wondrous cutscenes combine to create an incredible visual experience. GOW's look is a completely stunning, artistic take on ancient Greece that will leave you consistently amazed – and will allow you to forgive the occasionally frustrating camera.

Score: 9/10

Sound:

Sound effects play a significant role in GOW's gameplay. Every enemy makes different sounds, and they are all very appropriate to the nature of the monster. Kratos' swords will constantly be hitting something, and every time they do, the sound is just what you would expect. Spell animations and background sounds for each level are spot-on also, and help create the illusion that you are actually experiencing an epic adventure movie.

GOW also boasts some great voice acting from all of the characters involved. The best performance of the game clearly belongs to the narrator, whose wise, elderly tone sets the scene for every area you will visit. Kratos himself sounds exactly as you would expect for such a grizzled, angry warrior. Even the Greek gods, who have peripheral roles, steal the show with what few lines they have during the course to your adventure.

The music in the game is of the same high level of quality as the rest of the audio. The orchestral scores you will hear are always appropriate to the tone of the gameplay, and will swell and ebb with the action you find yourself in. In different areas of the game, the music may be simply a low, background sound that seems almost barely there, or it may be a grand, exciting score that mimics the action you find yourself involved in. The music always feels like it is exactly what you would expect during such an epic tale, and it never outlives its welcome when you hear it.

With its spot-on sound effects, Hollywood-caliber vocal performances, and outstanding musical score, GOW accomplishes perhaps one of the best acoustic outings of any console game to date.

Score: 10/10

Gameplay:

GOW is certainly a success in its audio and visual components, but without an incredible gameplay experience, the game may as well be an expensive tech demo. Fortunately, SCEA got the gameplay right as well – so well, in fact, that it may even outshine those other aspects as the true star of the game.

In any action-adventure game, control is everything. Without solid controls, this type of game can very easily become a mess; once again, though, GOW manages to avoid the pitfalls of other games within its genre, as the controls are so intelligent that you will have them down within the first five minutes of gameplay. The left analog stick moves Kratos, while the right stick can be used to execute a quick dodge in any direction. The X button jumps, while the R1 button executes a dash attack. Kratos' weapons are controlled primarily through use of the square and triangle buttons, which will execute regular and strong attacks, respectively. The circle button has Kratos grab the nearest enemy, and the L1 button has Kratos block enemy attacks. L2 has Kratos use his selected magic (the four types of which are selectable by hitting the corresponding direction on the D-pad), while R2 is used as an environment-interaction button. There are also underwater portions of the game, where the controls are slightly different. When underwater, the square button will have Kratos swim downward, while the X button has him ascend. R1, when held down, has Kratos charge himself up for a dash swim, which he executes when the button is let go. Overall, the controls are very well thought out, and they take almost no time to learn – a fact that is aided even further by the presence of in-game tutorials whenever a new ability is added.

From the beginning, you will guide Kratos through legions of monsters to reach whatever goal you have at the time. Using his weapons, and his magic, you can perform incredible combos on enemies – the number of consecutive hits you can land is only limited by the supply of enemies, so long as you have good timing. That's not to say that Kratos is invincible – he takes damage somewhat seriously, and can be overwhelmed in bad circumstances. The combo system is certainly not the deepest to ever make it into a videogame, but it allows enough flexibility to give the player plenty of options on how to dispatch each enemy. Ultimately, this fighting system is just incredibly fun to play with, and the combo system – and, more specifically, the reward for high-hit combos – makes for excellent motivation to put together impressive strings of attacks.

Another mechanic in GOW is activated when you have whittled down an enemy's life. Once an enemy is at low health, a circle icon appears over its head. If you press the circle button while near it, you will trigger a finishing blow-type attack on that enemy. Luckily, since just watching Kratos disembowel enemy after enemy isn't all that entertaining, many enemies feature mini-game type final attacks. In these, the player is charged with pressing buttons or moving the analog stick in tune with on-screen prompts. If successful, Kratos will finish the enemy, and with certain enemies, will even be rewarded with health or magic orbs, instead of only experience orbs.

Much like in Devil May Cry, dead enemies drop orbs, which can be collected by Kratos. These come in three types: red orbs, which act as experience; green orbs, which act as health; and blue orbs, which act as magic. Red orbs are used to power up your abilities, such as your magic and your weapons. Usually, health and magic pickups are scattered very liberally around the game, between orb chests and breakable environmental items. Pulling off high-hit combos also increases the number of red orbs dropped by enemies, for you to earn even more. It is likely that by the end of the game you will have maxed out the magic and weapons you prefer to use; motivated players may even max out all of the abilities by the finale.

Enemy AI is one of the more impressive aspects of the gameplay. When there are multiple enemies around you, they will always attempt to surround you, oftentimes passing up an opportunity to attack just to get a clearer shot from you back. The enemies all feature a broad range of attacks, and you will learn their patterns quickly, as some of these attacks are both powerful and unblockable. This, as well as multiple combinations of different types of enemies, makes each encounter memorable, as well as uniquely challenging.

GOW is also filled with puzzles, as one would expect from a game based on Greek mythology. Most of the puzzles have fairly obvious solutions, although there are a certain few that may leave you scratching your head for a bit. All of the puzzles are engaging, and are entertaining to perform; in fact, one of the areas in the game, Pandora's Temple, is practically one giant puzzle, which you must solve to acquire Pandora's box. Solving all of these puzzles will give you a feel of satisfaction, almost like that which you'll be getting from destroying all of the monsters to get to it.

GOW's boss fights are probably the highlight of the entire game. There are only three of them, which you will discover to be far too few after you finish the game, but those three are as impressive as any boss fight you've seen in a videogame to date. It starts with the multi-headed Hydra in the first level, whom you will do battle with for a significant amount of time. As you progress, you will also fight a giant minotaur, and, eventually, you will face the god of war himself. The final battle really brings the game to a fitting climax, as it is multi-tiered, and it is also the most difficult fight in the entire game. Beating the god of war will leave you as impressed as you will be relieved.

GOW, while not an incredibly innovative game, does what it does as well as any other game within its genre. Its combination a strong combat system, excellent enemy AI, well-designed puzzles, and vividly memorable boss fights make for an excellent gameplay experience. Its only drawback is that it ends too soon.

Score: 9/10

Story:

With a game based on Greek mythology, one would expect an epic tale involving a tragic hero, who must overcome tremendous odds (with the assistance of the god of Mount Olympus) to defeat his enemy. GOW delivers such a tale, all beautifully narrated and acted.

The game starts out, straight from the main menu, with Kratos throwing himself off a cliff to his presumed death. Just as he is about to hit the water, the game's narrator takes over, and you begin playing the game about three weeks before Kratos' plunge. As it turns out, Kratos is asked by the goddess Athena to save her namesake city, Athens, from the wrath of Ares, the titular god of war. To do this, he must find Pandora's Box, the only weapon capable of destroying a god. Kratos' journey brings him through Athens, the desert surrounding it, Pandora's Temple, and even Hades, all to kill Ares.

The story starts out slowly, with almost no information about Kratos or his motivations given to the player at the beginning. As you progress through the game, though, you will encounter flashbacks of Kratos' past that fill in the holes, giving you the perspective you need of why he is going through so much trouble to destroy Ares.

Kratos himself is an incredible character, truly fitting of the tragic hero moniker. He appears extremely bloodthirsty and ruthless, and yet he is very likeable because of how strong and (essentially) cool he comes across as. Through the course of the game, you will learn more about how he came to be the way he is now, and the more you learn, the more his actions make sense. Eventually, you may even pity him – even though he is the same character who, during the course of the game, had killed several innocent people to further his own goals.

The story of GOW is truly fitting of the Greek setting that it features. Kratos' tale has all the trappings of an ancient, epic tale, and although it may seem cliched, it will only serve as further motivation for you to complete the game.

Score: 9/10

Features/Modes:

There isn't much in the way of replay value once you've beaten GOW on Normal, other than two higher difficulty levels. Once you beat the game on any difficulty level, you unlock several ‘making of' videos, as well as a difficult mini-game. There are no extra gameplay modes, other than the regular game, and there aren't very many secrets to find during the game, so replay value is highly limited.

With no significant extra features to speak of, you will basically be done with the game when you finish it the first time. Hardcore fans of the game may want to beat it multiple times, but there's no real motivation to do so.

Score: 4/10

Total Score:

Greek mythology has entertained many generations of people for thousands of years. Its combination of epic battles, fantastical god and goddesses, tragic heroes, and the interactions between them has created many timeless stories. GOW successfully puts the player into the middle of one of these tales, allowing them to go back in time to live the story. The game's outstanding visuals, audio, gameplay, and story make this game one of the best action titles to ever be made for the PlayStation 2. No one can say that it is tremendously revolutionary, but it is still a great game.

If you own a PlayStation 2, GOW is worth picking up at least for a rental. If you are a fan of Greek mythology, then you should also try this game out with a rental. If you are a fan of action-adventure games, you may want to purchase this title. GOW is not for everyone, but anyone who fits any of these categories should definitely give this game a try.

Score: 8/10 (not an average)

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Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/08/05


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