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God of War (PlayStation 2) artwork

God of War (PlayStation 2) review

"God of War is a game that channels the pitiless wrath of ancient Greek gods and warriors. The ads ominously proclaim that “a new myth will be written in the blood of the old,” and I’ll be damned if the designers of this game haven’t gone out and done just that. "

God of War is a game that channels the pitiless wrath of ancient Greek gods and warriors. The ads ominously proclaim that “a new myth will be written in the blood of the old,” and I’ll be damned if the designers of this game haven’t gone out and done just that.

A man must fight off legions of mythical beasts and find Pandora’s Box in order to kill Ares (the vindictive god of war) and redeem his own soul. Need I say it’s extremely, unapologetically violent? Birthed from the mind of David Jaffe, the man behind the good Twisted Metal titles, God of War delivers the same sort of fearsome action in the same sort of moral vacuum. This is a world of rage, cruelty, and bloody sacrifice: expect to be sucked in.

The man who must recover the box is Kratos, a Spartan warrior with ashen skin who acts as the gods’ angel of death. They took the liberty of searing a chain with a nasty looking blade on the end to each of Kratos’ forearms; these are his weapons. He is the hero of God of War, and he isn’t fighting against the ethos of merciless brutality that pervades his world—he’s reveling in it!

Kratos has a haunted past that unfolds intermittently, in fact the game begins with his suicide and hurtles back in time from there, but don’t think he’ll be breaking down to weep along the way. About the only wimpy thing you could say about Kratos is that he has a diary. You get to read it at one point, and it is a little pathetic. But you’ll probably forgive him this one dalliance when you think back to his spectacular killing of the Hydra or his nautical escapades with two hotties below deck.

Yes, there is a sex minigame, but God of War manages to push the sexual and violent content to extremes without ever feeling gaudy or gratuitous. The topless Gorgons and dangling genitalia of the Cyclopes go that much further towards convincing you that your enemies are terrifying beasts, not just 3-D renderings of artist’s sketches. When you use corpses heads’ as keys in Pandora’s Temple—when you must actually mash the R2 button and rip the heads from their bodies—it is a testament to the temple’s diabolical architect: the heads you must use are those of his own sons. These little touches add a lot to the experience, but of course the fundamentals are there right from the get go. The opening scene: a dark and stormy night, the rain coming in torrents, a fleet of ships torn asunder and overrun by armies of the undead. When the visuals that push Sony’s hardware to the absolute limit strut their stuff and the menacing orchestral score booms, God of War will already have most players eating out of the palm of its hands.

Oh, and the combat is the best any action game has showcased in ages. Kratos’ Blades of Chaos are the linchpin, and their furious twirling eviscerations offer the most eye candy, but the whole fighting experience is amazingly calibrated. There’s just the right number of abilities and upgrades to keep things interesting without becoming overwhelming. You’ll be pushing every button with ease in no time, stringing together jaw-dropping combos: the controls are almost too effortless, too skillfully laid out. And the nasty creative touches certainly don’t hurt. At one point you’ll receive “Medusa’s Gaze,” the ability to turn enemies into stone. How do you obtain such power? Well, you rip off Medusa’s head, put it on your belt, and point it at your enemies as you see fit. This is the God of War approach.

More than any game I can think of, it has a knack for making epic cinematics, normally reserved for cutscenes, part of the organic gaming experience. The best example of this is the host of context-sensitive finishing attacks at your disposal. My personal favorite is killing minotaurs: Kratos knocks one over and leaps on its chest, about to move in for the kill, when the minotaur resists, grabbing Kratos’ wrists with desperate intensity, writhing and screaming with the horrible knowledge that its life is at an end. You mash the circle button, straining mightily, until, finally, Kratos brings his blade down with a sickening squelch in the back of the minotaur’s throat and a stream of blood gushes several feet high.

The only substantial complaint that can be leveled against God of War is that with all its unwavering stylistic mercilessness, the relative lack of difficulty stands out. I don’t normally have this sort of issue, but even the “very hard” God Mode probably won’t pose a threat to action vets. It’s not easy, but it’s not decapitate-a-Gorgon, stab-a-minotaur-in-the-face hard. And this is a game that comes alive in its few moments of masochistic challenge!

Perhaps they were pandering to the masses? This is a AAA mega-budget dollar game meant to sell millions of copies (as well it should), but I’d be surprised if Sony allowed such a visceral, thrillingly vicious title through the door and only took issue with the difficulty. In any case, God of War may very well be the consummate action game of its generation. It’s short, sweet, exorbitantly budgeted, thrillingly designed, immaculately polished, masterfully executed, and maybe a little on the easy side.

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Community review by careless_whisper (May 20, 2005)

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