Upon first hearing of God of War, I had moderate expectations, given that it was from Sony, whose dubious projects included the massive disappointment of Legend of Dragoon. I maintain that Sony should not make games, as they often just seem to lack the creativity necessary to take a project from a concept to a fully realized and well-made game.
God of War changed all that. I was ambivalent about the Greek Mythology theme, as this has been done in video games since the time of Rygar. I was first convinced that GOW would be something special after playing the demo of the Aegean Sea, in which you fight against the Hydra. I had never seen the Hydra realized in such a way, it was massive and intimidating. So, it was established that the game gets off to a great start, does it maintain this quality?
God of War was released in March of 2005 and stars Kratos, a captain in the Sparta army and servant of the Greek God of War, Ares. The game opens with Kratos' apparent suicide then flashbacks several weeks ago to the Aegean Sea incident mentioned above. After finishing this stage, the game moves to Athens. As many played the demo, this could be considered the beginning of the game, as this is where the story really begins.
The graphics in God of War are definitely impressive. Kratos' muscles, white skin, and fearsome expression make him quite the expressive visual creation. His weapons, the Blade of Chaos, are some of the best in gaming history. They consist of chains attached to two bladed weapons, which allow long range attacks and circular swings to hit closer enemies. Quite an inventive weapon for mass slaughter.
The graphical element that really made God of War something special was the vivid realizations of classic monsters of myth, such as the Gorgons, Minotaurs, and Centaurs. When I think of them in games like Rygar or Battle of Olympus compared to their depictions in God of War, size is what matters. I also like their ferocity and detail present. Just look at the Gorgon's wriggling snake hair for proof. Great job.
The environments look good for their size, similar to Devil May Cry 2. The main problem is the dearth of them. You don't visit all that many actual locations in the game, and I had trouble believing in the presence of an underwater and underworld section in the same temple. It feels like too much of a budget compromise. I know, let's throw in a water level or a space level just to liven things up. These stages don't feel like a natural extension of God of War's levels, but rather tacked on obstacles designed mostly to lengthen the game.
The music is the stuff of classic mythology and its many Hollywood film depictions. Think of Steve Rogers as Hercules and that's the kind of music in God of War. Lots of booming bass, choral chanting, and other over-the-top and totally awesome pieces. The score, mostly by Gerard Marino (who used to work in a strip club) is great work. Michael Reagan, Cris Velasco, Winifred Phillips, and Ron Fish also contribute to the impressive score. Despite the somewhat similar nature of the compositions, God of War's score is powerful and impressive. My favorites include the Vengeful Spartan, which is the main title, and the Great Sword Bridge of Athens, a piece that really fits in with the wide expanse and scale of its location.
This game's sound effects also excellently echo the themes of Greek mythology, with the roars of beasts and the shrieking of the gorgons. These effects also come to be important in the gameplay. Once you hear the sound of the gorgons' eye beam, you'll definitely know to dodge away quickly (and certainly hope that you are not in mid-air at the time...) Kratos also has guttural bellows and shouts that definitely suggest that he is not someone that you should mess with, it even works to suggest that he is capable of all the impressive feats that you witness throughout the game even before you see him do it. The sounds give Kratos a sense of menace that instantly ingrains an image of him in the player's mind. Lastly, the voice acting is top notch. Terrence "T.C." Carson as Kratos and Linda Hunt as the narrator do amazing work; you really believe not only their words, but also the motives concealed within.
Gameplay in God of War follows the 3rd person action genre firmly established by classics such as Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry. It follows these games right to the letter, with upgradeable weapons, magic, and abilities. There are also hidden items for increasing your life and magic bars. Hey, if it isn't broke, why fix it?
The biggest divergence for God of War is the addition of the QuickTime event during actual combat. Foes can be dispatched by stringing various combinations of attacks together, culminating in a button prompt appearing over their head. If Kratos is able to complete this sequence of buttons, a fatality is executed and the enemy releases a greater number of red orbs, and sometimes blue orbs for magic.
This little addition, while seemingly inconsequential, does a lot to make GOW feel like a fresh take on the action genre, especially as its "dial-a-combo" gameplay doesn't exactly require the skill and timing of a Ninja Gaiden. God of War is friendlier to casual gamers and it is well aware of this fact. The magic system is also pretty standard, from screen filling blasts of energy to the ability to turn your enemies into stone. Medusa's head was an inspired choice and a good use of Greek mythology well incorporated into the game.
God of War also makes use of a grab system for shortcuts in combat. If Kratos presses the circle button up close, he can do everything from tear weaker enemies apart to keep stronger enemies at bay, as a sort of balancing act between foes. It isn't necessary, but it does serve to make the combat less repetitive and more fun.
God of War's challenge is middling at best. There are a few frustrating sections that are mostly due to bad level design. The red fires of the underworld come readily to mind. Besides this, this game can be completed fairly easily, if you take the time to learn it. The Blades of Chaos are a bit overpowered and if you are looking to coast, you never really need to use any other weapon. These Blades are both fast and strong, and are more than capable of handling the myriad of foes that the game throws at you.
Replay is covered by the usual for the action game, there are multiple difficulties should you desire a greater challenge and the rewards that accompany it. Besides harder difficulties, there is also a Challenge of the Gods bonus mode, which features a selection of different tasks, which range from killing a set number of enemies to using no magic to defeat your foes.
Challenge of the Gods is a fun diversion and the additional costumes that you can unlock by beating it are worth the effort. The best part about the costumes is that they are not mere palette swaps a la Ninja Gaiden. Each costume comes with its own unique attributes that I will not spoil here.
In summation, God of War is the beginning of a continuing franchise that still has a lot of life in it. I enjoy its unique take on Greek mythology, Kratos, the ultimate anti-hero, its music, and its unique gameplay. All these elements add up to a great experience that any fan of action games should play!
- Ugly Bob