Review by ShadowGuardian9

"I don't remember mythology being so violent. But, who cares?"

Ah, Ancient Greece. Land of great deities of Olympus, Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Aphrodite and the rest; it's quite a spectacle. A rich tapestry of beautiful stories, vast lands, triumphant heroes. . . and a whole lot of blood. Yes, the days of Ancient Greece brought war, bloodshed, conquest, and soldiers entering a battle with grand swords and unstoppable warrior spirit. Early 2005 brought the world of Ancient Greece back to the world of video games, with a brutally realistic and ridiculously gory action game. Anti-heroes, war, soldiers, mythology and a slew of other factors came together in the ambitious, intricate, and over-the-top world of God of War. Is this new spin on the tales of Greek mythology a winning combination?

God of War picks up with disturbed Spartan, Kratos, a hero whose brutal history has left him full of emotional baggage. The game itself is entirely a flashback, with Kratos falling to his doom immediately taking place after the main menu. Kratos's history follows him as a mercilessly triumphant Spartan captain, whose wife and child were killed. In an effort to eliminate guilt-ridden memories, Kratos goes to the Greek Gods of Olympus for a mission. The God of War, Aries is tearing the city of Athens to pieces. Due to the laws of Olympus, deities cannot fight each other, and Kratos steps up to stop Aries in exchange for his painful history. Armed with the chained Blades of Chaos, Kratos is out to topple the God of War himself. The interesting part of the story is the entire epic scale storyline. As Kratos is wandering through Athens, the colossal Aries can be seen smashing the armies of Athens. It's at this point that the player realizes that this is no simple action romp. There's a tremendous amount of high-quality storytelling behind the tale of Kratos and just hearing what Kratos's next objective offers a great deal of mythological storytelling. It's a solid story all around, making the game feel much like a traditional gladiator movie, angry anti-hero and all.

Kratos's journey immediately picks up on a ship traveling across the sea, but quickly changes up to introduce the first major enemy: the Hydra. The Hydra, expectantly, isn't one to play favorites in Greece. As the first level suggests, this is no happy land. There is war. There is conflict. There is bloodshed. There is A LOT of bloodshed. There is a ridiculously high amount of violent and elaborate death scenes, making it one of the games that takes “Rated M for Mature” and flaunts it around like a victory medal. It's violent. How much violence? Try skewering a Hydra through the eye. THAT is violent. It's pretty interesting to see the whole shock factor in God of War, and it's easy to see what the developers were aiming for. God of War has some of the most over-the-top and gory executions this side of the action genre, and despite being a bit on the stomach-churning side, is a major factor in understanding Kratos's struggle. The developers behind God of War apparently thought that traditional action game weren't violent enough. Despite some bloody games like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 4 coming in the same year, God of War's emphasis on shock value makes it a high mark in action games, but that's not all that God of War uses to be different.

God of War takes a great deal of its standard trappings from games like Devil May Cry. Simple attacks can be executed with the square button, and the triangle button can be used for a stronger, though slower attack. Expectantly, the game allows combos for stronger attacks. X is used to jump, twice for a double jump, and circle to execute a grab. R2 lets Kratos interact with objects, open doors, pick up items, open chests and such. Blocking is used with the L1 button, and evasive maneuvers can be used with the right analog stick. Different skills that are learned later on can be used with the L2 button, and Kratos can go all Rage Mode by pressing down on the left and rights analog sticks (the L3 and R3 buttons). The combos aren't difficult to understand, and some later can be easy to master. The incredible range of Kratos's weapons, the Blades of Chaos, offers a surprisingly important amount of complexity in how the battles go. The in-game tutorial makes the gameplay easy to learn and the flexible and versatile battle system makes it deep and fun to progress.

Kratos's other techniques can be upgraded anytime by pressing the Start Button. The “currency” of the world of God of War are Red Orbs. Red Orbs can be found in destroying environmental debris, defeating enemies, or finding chests. The Red Orbs can be used to increase the strength of Kratos's weapons, the Blades of Chaos, and increase the moves open to Kratos's repertoire. Another unique aspect of Kratos's arsenal of annihilation is the magic system. By meeting up with the Gods of Olympus and defeating certain enemies, Kratos can equip some of many different abilities, ranging from a petrifying gaze of Medusa or a colossal wave of energy courtesy of Ocean God Poseidon. Along with the Green Orbs for health, Kratos can collect Blue Orbs to rejuvenate magical strength. Along with healing and regaining magic power, Gorgon's Eyes and Phoenix Feathers can be used to increase total health and total magic power respectively. The magic techniques of Olympus can be equipped to different directions on the Control Pad, and executed with the L2 button. Along with earning new abilities, Kratos can spend Red Orbs to increase the strength or range. There's a ton of versatility in the weapons and magic

One of the twists in God of War's gameplay is the fluidity and chainability of the gameplay. That is, it's extremely easy to create fluid and smooth combos without a ton of extra baggage. A simple combo can be executed in multiple directions: first attack one direction, second another. The combo itself can be rather simplistic, but it's when all the moves come together does the game shine. Try this: attack, knocking the opponent into the air, throw your weapon to drag him down, punch him in the face and throw him at another enemy. There's a ton of fluidity in the combat system and the game's many battles offer a great deal of chances to experiment with approaching a slew of enemies. Combine the strength and versatility of the combos with the sheer number of them, and you see a hero with more than a chip on his shoulder.

But God of War steps up beyond a simple chainable and extremely fluid combat where almost any move can be followed up. At points in battle, with certain enemies, Kratos must execute a certain method of killing an enemy. In that, some minigames appear in defeating enemies. Killing certain enemies in these minigames can offer certain rewards. For example, killing an enemy with simple combos will offer a reward of Red Orbs, but executing an enemy with one of these minigame battles will offer only health. It's a twist to the combat, and the game's balance of pure action and light strategy makes approaching battles different and diverse. Some of the minigames go beyond a quick button-mashing and even require multiple button presses in quick succession. There is a golden blend of action and strategy in God of War's battle system, something action games could use to diversify the battles and dodge their great enemy of tedium.

One aspect of the game that, sadly, seems like an afterthought is the exploration. Kratos can climb, swim, jump, swing, and all the traditional methods of getting to the next objective. But you won't find the phenomenal Prince of Persia moments throughout. A great deal of the game is simply getting to another fight. Don't get me wrong; the fights are phenomenal and some of the puzzles and exploratory moments are well done, but God of War shows that its an action game and doesn't expend much of its energy on exploration. The puzzles are usually “pull the lever, push the block” style puzzles anyway, and slowing down to push a crate after beating the tar out of a Minataur can be a nuisance. Getting to each fight isn't where the game prides itself, but the exploration elements are functional, and the simple break between battles isn't always a loss.

The graphics in God of War are very well done, especially for the Playstation 2. Kratos's Blades of Chaos fly about him without a hitch and the combat is gory, though plenty realistic. You will be seeing a great deal of blood. Bright shimmering blood, but there's still blood. Cutscenes are excellent, with Kratos and the cast animating excellently and realistically. Some good voice acting is also accompanied; the dialogue never sounds overly-dramatic, and never seems to joke around. When the Gods talk, Kratos listens and the player does too. One aspect that God of War nails hands-down is its amazing musical score. The orchestral sounds constantly switch up on the situation. A triumphant sound of ravaging and destruction begins when seeing Aries topple a city, or a serenade of choral sounds from a group of Sirens. There's an epic feel of pure strength and titanic might in the sound, as the orchestral score illustrate brilliantly.

But the game is short. Insanely short. Rent it, beat it in a weekend short. As compelling the story is and as over-the-top the combat is, the game moves at a brisk pace. Too brisk, in fact. You'll no doubt finish God of War soon, but there's enough unlockables and memorable moments to come back to. The battles alone are worth replaying, with phenomenal and constantly-shifting gameplay sequences. It's not lengthy, but there's plenty of unique moments in God of War to return to.

+ Cinematic graphics
+ Excellent music and sound
+ Gameplay has a good amount of depth
+ Challenging, though accessible
+ Some epic and over-the-top boss fights

- Ridiculously short
- Puzzles aren't all well done
- Only a handful of epic and over-the-top boss fights
- Exploration aspects feel tacked on

God of War is a mixed bag of enjoyable moments and frustrating sequences, but on the whole, rounds out as a powerful, gory, edgy, though beautifully written tapestry of Greek mythology. The combat is diverse, the music is astoundingly triumphant, the graphics are brilliant and beautiful. The battles are some of the greatest seen on the Playstation 2 and although the exploration aspects aren't some of the best around, there's always another reason to keep playing through the story till the conclusion. God of War's short length and lack of amazing exploratory gameplay bring it down a bit, but the entire game is epic and worth playing. The game's cinematic feel makes the game feel almost like a gladiator movie, short length and all. A very good movie, but still a movie. It's edginess and violent nature will not be everyone's cup of tea, but anyone looking for a fun, deep, and action-packed game will find a winner in God of War.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/09/07

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