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Game: God of War
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studios
Publisher: Sony
Year: 2005
Reviewed: 2012
Platform: PS2
Genre: Action
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

God of War is one of those games with qualities that can be quite hard to describe. The fact is, every time I played the game I could come up with a few ways to criticise the game and yet despite the flaws I’d still return to the game again the next night and still get enjoyment from it. It’s far from the perfect game that many people seem to imply, but it’s an entertaining one while it lasts.

Based on a bastardised version of Greek mythology, God of War follows Kratos as he pursues his quest for vengeance against Ares, god of war, who had tricked him into killing his own family. It’s a typically grim revenge plot but ultimately it’s little more than a framework to hang a huge amount of action on. And if there’s one thing GoW knows how to do it’s action. It takes place on a massive scale that very few other games even attempt. The game kicks off with an action packed fight across a ship in a storm and within a few minutes we’re hacking away at the many regenerating heads of the Hydra. It’s the sort of scene that most developers would reserve for the end of the game as a final boss. The fact that God of War throws it at you at the start is pretty much a statement of intent for the game.

The bulk of combat consists of using several different types of attack linked to various buttons on the controller. You get the usual array of quick attacks and slower more powerful hits as well as grabs and charges. It’s a fairly good system that’s quite versatile and generally works well, even if it can easily descend into button mashing territory in the busier areas when the enemies swarm in.

In addition to the normal combat, throughout the course of the game you gradually gain access to a series of magic powers to help you on your way. These range from the ability to throw lightning bolts to the use of Medusa’s head to turn enemies into stone. Ultimately you get the Army of Hades, letting you summon a horde of souls from the underworld to swarm at the enemies for several seconds. These act very similarly to the way smart bombs used to work in the old shooters, basically wiping out all the weaker enemies around you and severely weakening the strongest ones. Once you have this ability, the combat often becomes much easier. Combos are built up by chaining together sequences of attacks. The bigger the combo, the more red orbs you collect, and these can be used to level up your various abilities to more powerful versions. These are joined by green and blue orbs, which recharge your health and magic respectively. All of these can also inexplicably be found in random chests.

Less successfully, at various points in the game the combat also includes that bane of the gamer’s existence, the quick time event. Towards the end of a fight, mostly with the larger enemies, these events can be triggered leading to a series of button presses that need to be copied to finish the battle. While it does add some variety and provides some player interaction rather than simply watching a cutscene, it’s also distracting and often requires extremely quick reaction times that can lead to having to retry them over and over again. Thankfully they’re not the sort that instantly give you a game over screen when you fail at them. Rather, you just get knocked back and have to restart the finishing sequence with only a small reduction in your health. It’s actually one of the better usages of quick time events that I’ve played, but it’s still not perfect, especially if you’re the sort of person who thinks of the buttons in terms of what move they control and not as immersion-breaking circles and squares.

The pace of the opening doesn’t really let up at any point in the game and you’ll end up fighting everything from Medusa to Ares himself. Despite this, the game would become repetitive if this was all it had to offer. Fortunately the most surprising aspect of the game is the number of puzzles scattered throughout the levels. They’re of a reasonably high standard, well above that managed by most action games, and more impressively they’re all unique and not just variations on the same theme. Considering that for most action game designers, the concept of a puzzle stops at the ability to push crates around to climb on top of them, it’s quite refreshing.

Not so refreshing is the platforming, and unfortunately GoW becomes more and more reliant on this as the game progresses. The camera angle utilised is a mostly fixed cinematic one and this doesn’t lend itself well to judging the distances and angles required for precision jumping. For much of the game this isn’t too much of an issue, but there are some lengthy sequences towards the end of the game that involve lots of jumping and climbing and balancing on rolling logs. The lack of precision is especially galling since a single slip leads to you plummeting into the abyss and being sent back to the last checkpoint.

This brings us to the save system. You can save your game whenever you see a glowing save point, and these are generally reasonably spaced. The game also automatically checkpoints at various times between the saves, so that if you die you are sent back there rather than all the way back to the last save. If you want to quit though, you still have to find a save point. It’s only really a problem at the aforementioned platforming segments, where you might have to get through several tricky tasks before being able to save the game. If you want to play GoW, you need to make sure you don’t have any pressing appointments.

Graphically the game is obviously dated, being released 7 years ago on a system that was already coming to the end of its lifespan. On the other hand, it really pushes the PS2 to the limits of what it was capable of. The levels feel absolutely gigantic and while the technical quality of the graphics might not match the equivalent PC games of the time, it’s hard to fault them artistically. God of War is ultimately a great action game and one of the best that the vaguely defined “action-adventure” genre has to offer. If it had toned down the platform elements or provided a camera option that was more appropriate for them then the game would be hard to fault. As it is, it’s still well worth playing.

Save System Review: As mentioned, checkpoints as you go along and fairly regular save points, but occasionally can get irritating in the trickier areas.
Graphics: Obviously dated by now considering what it’s running on, but it makes the most of the technology at hand.
Sound: Solid sound effects and music and a strong voice cast makes it hard to fault the game on its sound.
Bugs: Nothing that I encountered.
Gameplay: Generally good combat despite occasional lapses into random button bashing, decent puzzles, marred only slightly by poor platforming and quick time events.
Storyline: Passable. A grim story of revenge that mostly takes a backseat to the action, but fulfils everything it needs to in this regard.

Arbitrary Final Score: 3.5 stars

If you like this, you might also like: Devil May Cry series, Onimusha series, Ray Harryhausen films.

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