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God of War (PlayStation 2) artwork

God of War (PlayStation 2) review

"Creating a blood geyser by shoving a blade down a Minotaur’s throat not only looks awesome, it also gives you health. Likewise, ripping the head off a gorgon slightly replenishes mana. Savagely gouging the eye of a Cyclops gives experience, but most importantly, these deviations from normal combat end a fight much more quickly, possibly saving your life."

You really won’t find God of War in any Homeric epic. The reason is simple: Kratos is no hero. He may have all the markings of a classical Greek hero – superhuman strength, courage, ability, and he’s certainly favored by the gods – but he lacks one key element: nobility. His honor is corrupt. If he does good, it’s for his own interests. In fact, he’s often described as a monster. When people flee in terror from undead minions, they run from Kratos, too, because they know he has no qualms about slaughtering them as well.

Fortunately for them, Kratos’ quarrel lies not with innocent civilians, but with his former employer, Ares, who jealously seeks to destroy the vibrant city of Athens in order to prove himself more worthy than Athena of Zeus’ favor. Desperate, the goddess of wisdom and war enlists Kratos to kill her brother in exchange for forgiveness of his sins. With a vendetta of his own and thinking the deal will erase his oppressive memories, the merciless warrior accepts. So begins the true quest, replete with blood, violence, death and challenge.

Yet many obstacles bar your path to the deranged god. There are mountains to climb, labyrinthine temples to scour, numerous traps to overcome, puzzles to solve, and of course, beasts to kill.

With the versatile Blades of Chaos, Kratos has all he needs to take care of any threat. These vicious chain blades can perform any number of sadistic feats, pushing the art of killing to new limits. Amid a flurry of vertical slices that launch opponents into the air, rapid aerial combos and circular slashes that deal significant damage, and slower unblockable heavy blows that can destroy shields, your enemies don’t stand a chance. Blood stains the ground. Corpses litter the battlefield.

Mass violence never manifests itself more beautifully than with the grab. These are the most fun because not only are they useful, they let you see the gore up close. Various “mini games”, self-activated quick time events, will prove invaluable. Creating a blood geyser by shoving a blade down a Minotaur’s throat not only looks awesome, it also gives you health. Likewise, ripping the head off a gorgon slightly replenishes mana. Savagely gouging the eye of a Cyclops gives experience, but most importantly, these deviations from normal combat end a fight much more quickly, possibly saving your life.

Sometimes the simplest actions are the most effective.

Catching monsters in midair lets you toss them to the ground, repeatedly if timed right. It’s especially useful in large groups when your chances of injuring surrounding minions are highest. Cerberus-transforming puppies squeal as they’re forcefully smashed to the ground, zombies moan, and Minotaur roar. If you’re not in the mood for acrobatics, you can snatch an unfortunate soul and twirl him around like an Olympic hammer thrower, knocking him into his fellows upon release. These gruesome, if somewhat cheap, tactics will greatly improve your survivability in massive battles.

Which is good, because most of these battles involve more than just swarms of monsters. Traps are often incorporated, forcing you to kill everything within the time limit. Your exits are blocked by a magical force field, so you can’t retreat. In Pandora’s Temple, you emerge onto a narrow walkway, collect the shield that serves as a key to the next area, and discover your way blocked by a handful of undead guards. That handful becomes a swarm, which you ferociously try to annihilate. So engrossed are you that you fail to notice the second danger. A spiked wall has slowly been advancing in your direction, narrowing your fighting space and shoving you closer to the sealed exit. Yet you can’t seem to rid yourself of these enemies. They’re almost gone, but it’s too much. And soon, you’re a bloody pancake on the opposite wall.

But you have other sources on-hand for dealing with extraordinary numbers. Magic plays a key element in any large battle, but you have to use it wisely. It’s never good to spend all your energy on the first few moments of a huge fight because enemies attack in waves. Spread out, however, you can be done in moments. Conjure a powerful lightning storm to annihilate lesser foes and weaken mini bosses. Use Medusa’s head to freeze larger beasts in place and smash them to bits, saving you from excess damage. Fire Zeus’ thunderbolts at distant targets that can’t normally be reached by any other means. Or summon an army of lost souls to devour anyone in your path, clearing the way for an easier victory. But don’t take these abilities for granted; each spell drains your power a certain degree, and it’s up to you to balance which ones get used and when.

Naturally, you can’t have all the fun, though. Kratos may be strong, but he does have limits. He’s not invincible, and his adversaries are intelligent. Undead soldiers will flank you and try to jump you as you execute an attack. Gorgons will employ their stone gaze liberally, making you think twice before you attempt any aerial feats. If you’re petrified in midair and fall or if you’re struck before breaking free, you’ll die. Instantly. Shattered into a million pieces. Centaurs will take turns firing an unblockable bow-launched energy wave that knocks you down upon contact. Harpies dive-bomb you in a fiery blaze; only evasion can save you from severe damage. Some monsters will even grab you if you’re not careful, forcing you to shake them off or else receive great injury. If you can’t, most will let you go after a short while, but not the notorious Cerberus, who literally won’t stop eating you until you manage to break his grasp.

Ares’ minions are particularly annoying where heights are concerned. Scaling a cliff, enemies often attack from all directions – left and right, above and below – leaving you to choose which to assault first. Snatching those from above or the sides allows you to smash them into a wall repeatedly before tossing them into their brethren below, but anything else must be slain with extremely slow swings and thrusts from a single blade. Kratos can’t hold onto the cliff face and use both hands to fight at the same time. Gravity doesn’t allow for such things. So you may very well find yourself getting knocked from your perch, blasted into the infinite depths below.

It’s even worse when crossing gorges. Since you’re pulling yourself along a thin rope, attacking is even harder. You can either rapidly double-kick anything in front of you or thrust one of your blades in a slow arc. Get close enough and you can even clutch your foes between your knees and snap their neck before tossing them over the side. However, your enemy’s reach is much longer than yours, and they frequently attack from both sides. Killing them without taking damage, or dying for that matter, especially on the hardest difficulty setting is nearly impossible and requires a bit of strategic thinking.

When you’re not killing things, you’re usually traversing hazards. Narrow beams must be carefully crossed. Losing your balance is fatal here because you literally have no time to pull yourself back up. Every few seconds, rotating saw blades pass over your ever-advancing position, forcing you to stay ahead or jump over them, a risky maneuver. In a cave at the side of a cliff, you must pull a switch that opens a gate with a box inside. You must push this box to the other side of the room so you can use it as a leverage to leap onto an upper platform. Here’s the catch: the floor is spiked, and you have maybe a minute to reach the end before you’re impaled. In a dimly lit corridor, you must evade giant flaming boulders while searching for the right exit. You have to be quick, and time your moves right, because it takes a good while to lift open a door. Boulders don’t care if you’re flattened in the process, after all.

In some ways, God of War reminds me of The Odyssey, despite the fact it clearly isn't. Maybe it has to do with the setting or the mythical creatures you fight. Maybe it has to do with the almost “epic” feel of the levels, the platforming and the puzzles. Maybe it has to do with the gauntlet of challenges confronting Kratos on his quest to kill Ares. Whatever the case, it’s impressive that a game designed to embody man’s primal instincts can be even remotely reminiscent of a beautiful art form created to express the virtues, principles and values of a culture.

Rating: 8/10

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (January 27, 2009)

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Lewis posted January 28, 2009:

What a lovely review. You should enter it into some kind of competition.
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darketernal posted January 28, 2009:

I liked this review, and yet, I can't help but not notice the word "manly" in any part of said review. That must be some sort of lapse of judgment?
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wolfqueen001 posted January 28, 2009:

Hahaha. Thanks, guys. Does that mean you liked this version better than the older one, Lewis?
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Lewis posted January 29, 2009:

Much tighter, yes.

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