Review by BloodGod65

"Furious Baldo's Fantastic Furious Adventure"

God of War begins with a suicide. Kratos, the ill-fated hero of the story, curses the gods for their actions before jumping off the highest peak in all of Greece and into the sea below. Before the inevitable occurs, the scene transitions to show the events that have led up to this point. As it turns out, Kratos was once an infamous Spartan general who made a pact with Ares, god of war, and then embarked on a campaign of wanton destruction across Greece. But for some reason, Kratos turned against Ares and is now consumed by his hatred and drive to destroy the god of war.

I won't spoil any more plot elements – each new revelation is too shocking and awesome to ruin – but I will say that the narrative is downright impressive, especially for what is essentially a hack and slash game. It's a simple tale of vengeance, but the emotional conflicts and betrayals interwoven into it makes it very compelling.

When it comes to gameplay, God of War takes the Devil May Cry formula and doubles the intensity and brutality. Kratos wields twin blades attached to his arms via chains, and he uses these to slash enemies from a distance and at close range. Like Dante from Devil May Cry, Kratos can use a variety of combos that open up more avenues of assault and spectacular destruction. Over the course of the game, Kratos earns another weapon – a giant sword – along with several magic items and spells. These range from a gorgon's head that can turn enemies to stone, to the ability to summon the souls of the dead to attack enemies. Overall, the combat is very satisfying and the constant unlocking of new moves and spells ensures that it never has a chance to grow stale.

The variety of enemies Kratos faces also keeps the game fresh. There is an excellent selection that encompasses everything from undead foot soldiers to mythical Greek monsters, such as minotaurs, cyclopes, harpies, gorgons and satyrs. There are usually a few sub-types within a group as well. For instance, the undead soldiers can be swordsmen or archers, and they come with varying degrees of armor, which can make them much tougher to defeat. Each enemy type also has its own moves and tactics. Minotaurs are capable of dashing moves, while cyclopes can smash the ground with their giant clubs. Gorgons and satyrs are brutally fast, requiring an equally quick and agile response. Harpies run interference whenever they are present, opting to harass rather than fight.

In keeping with the variety of the combat and enemy types, the ways of killing each enemy are equally diverse. When enemies have been sufficiently weakened, Kratos can opt to perform a brutal execution move to finish them off. Executing a gorgon has Kratos pin it to the ground and rip its head off, while dealing with a cyclops involves Kratos clambering up its back to stab it in the eye. Even the most simple execution – ripping an undead soldier in half – is brutal and satisfying. But it's worth mentioning that all of these executions are performed through button-prompted events. While it has now become a custom for games to have player-interaction cutscenes, God of War is where the mechanic started. In hindsight, it's hard not to look back on this as a terrible idea, but it was a cool when it first started.

Finishing off enemies in the most brutal ways possible is important because doing so earns Kratos more red orbs than he would get otherwise – and it is these red orbs that serve as the currency used to power up weapons and learn new attacks. Yes, the idea is taken straight from Devil May Cry, but it works just fine. In addition to red orbs, Kratos can find green orbs to refill his health and blue orbs to refill his magic meter.

The fantastic combat is at its best when Kratos is fighting one of the game's many bosses. These fights typically pit Kratos against some massive enemy, and like most boss fights they usually involve learning a set pattern of attacks in order to prevail. In contrast to other games of this type, there is often some special solution required to defeat them rather than just slowly chipping away at their health bar. For instance, the first beast Kratos encounters is the mythical Kraken. When he faces off against it, there are two minor heads along with the main one. In order to reach the main head, Kratos must keep the two heads incapacitated so he can destroy the Kraken, but the main head will regenerate them constantly unless Kratos turns the environment to his advantage.

Though combat forms the bulk of the game, puzzles crop up with regularity. However, calling the majority of these box-pushing exercises “puzzles” is questionable. Even though Kratos spends a lot of time pushing boxes around, most of the time the action is grounded in reality and there are a few that make you consider the actual physics of the action in order to succeed. For instance, in one area Kratos must reassemble a wall out of large stone pieces by using a rotating platform to position them. These little tasks never get too taxing as they all follow simple logic and rarely bog down the action for long.

Like most third-person action games, there is also a platformer element to God of War. For the most part, jumping across chasms, climbing cliffs and swinging from ropes is easy to deal with. Unfortunately, some actions – like walking across a narrow beam – are imprecise and cause a lot of frustration. During most of the game, God of War keeps its platforming shenanigans to a minimum, but towards the end you'll have to endure a poor and painfully lengthy section that involves little more than crossing spinning beams and climbing walls while dodging the various swords and spikes attached to them.

There are other issues in the game as well. While the camera typically captures the grandeur of the environments and frames the action beautifully, it often becomes a nuisance in combat. In many areas it is poorly positioned, leaving the player blind to entire groups of enemies. There are also a couple of game sequences that will sour most people's impressions of the game. One of these involves the Cerberus enemy, a three-headed dog that spawns pups, which rapidly mature into their full-grown versions. In this segment, Kratos has to fight off several swarms of these enemies and failing to kill the pups in time can lead to upwards of six fully grown Cerberus's clawing at Kratos.

Perhaps the most grievous misstep is the final battle. I won't ruin any details, but it is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen in a video game – it's exactly like the last five minutes of an old-school Power Rangers episode. Compared to the rest of the game, this baffling scenario sticks out like a sore thumb and will ultimately left most players with a poor final impression of the game.

Regardless of a few lousy design choices, you'll likely be impressed by the graphics. Even after the advent of next-gen hardware, God of War still looks good. It isn't a strictly realistic look - the art direction is heavily stylized - but that's nothing to complain about. The character models, from Kratos to his many enemies, all look amazing and their animations are fantastic – especially Kratos's gruesome takedown moves.

The environments are also impressive, even when they really shouldn't be. Kratos spends a lot of time trekking through ruins and old temples, but the visuals never get boring. Everywhere you look there's something unique, like a fresco on a wall, a statue, or more often, the horribly disfigured remains of some poor adventurer. But no matter where you look, the environments feel real and detailed, and that's not something that many developers accomplished on the PS2.

Even more impressive are the set-pieces. At one point during his adventure, Kratos will stand on a mountain in Athens, overlooking the bay as a giant Ares demolishes the city. Later he will scale the cliffs of a massive temple strapped to the back of a Titan. And these are not events confined to cutscenes; you can actually move around while these things are going on in the background. It all just shows how powerful the console is in the hands of those who know how to use it.

With that said, there are some technical issues. There were numerous times when I was knocked through the walls of an environment by a trap and instantly killed. I also saw Kratos stand several feet away from enemies after I triggered an execution while he acted out the kill, but to no effect. And then there were the camera freak-outs, which zoomed in to a random spot while obscuring everything that was going on onscreen. These problems weren't common enough to create any problems, but they were certainly noticeable when they occurred.

While God of War takes its core concept and design straight from Devil May Cry, in the end it becomes much more than a clone of another game. From the fluid and brutal combat and epic boss fights, to amazing set pieces and the excellent storyline of hate and revenge, God of War has a lot going for it. There are some missteps – noticeable and jarring missteps, no less – but as soon as Kratos rips an enemy in half or lays the smackdown on a beast ten times his size, all is forgiven.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/07/11

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

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