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God of War (PlayStation 2) artwork

God of War (PlayStation 2) review

"Do you have a job? If not, you will eventually. Assuming that you’re not going to mooch off your parents for the rest of your life, you’ll have to face the harsh reality of the working world someday. Chances are, it won’t be pretty. Maybe you’ll start things off as a lowly bagger at a grocery store. Or maybe you’ll suffer countless hours in the hell known as babysitting. If you manage to finish your college education, your degree may help land you a job in a reasonably professional environment…W..."

Do you have a job? If not, you will eventually. Assuming that you’re not going to mooch off your parents for the rest of your life, you’ll have to face the harsh reality of the working world someday. Chances are, it won’t be pretty. Maybe you’ll start things off as a lowly bagger at a grocery store. Or maybe you’ll suffer countless hours in the hell known as babysitting. If you manage to finish your college education, your degree may help land you a job in a reasonably professional environment…Wait, what the hell am I saying? You’ll probably end amounting to nothing more than just another working stiff, a tiny statistic doomed to menial tasks, management bureaucracy, and lost chances. Regardless of where you end up, you will face a problem common to just about every worker in existence: having to deal with a crappy boss. How long will it be before you snap under the pressure of the upper management’s hypocritical reasoning and outright idiocy? It’s not a matter of patience or work ethic; it’s only a matter of time.

Meet Kratos. After working countless jobs for Ares, the Greek god of war, he’s finally snapped. Working for one of the most hot-headed beings on Mount Olympus isn’t easy to get used to, especially the kind of work detail that this supernatural supervisor requires. Kratos’ hands are drenched with the blood of the countless innocent Greeks he’s slaughtered over years under the war god’s leadership. Such messy and uncompromising work isn’t an issue for this warrior, but the guilt and vividly gory flashbacks he’s been getting recently have taken their toll on his mind. It’s one thing to be an unstoppable god-driven killing machine, but he becomes something else entirely when that machine finally starts thinking for itself. After spilling blood and guts all over Ancient Greece, Kratos’ stopped his killing spree when he accidentally murdered his own family. Smooth move, buddy! Such a horrible act brought him back to his senses and humanity, making him realize all the terror, pain and suffering he’d caused over the years. Simply put, he wants out of the whole thing and seek some semblance of forgiveness for his sins. But before he can start applying for the ancient Greek equivalent of unemployment, the gods of Olympus have one last job for him to complete: stop Ares, his former boss, from completely destroying Athens. That’s right, this lowly minion gets the opportunity to stick it to man…er, the god. Disgruntled postal workers, eat your hearts out.

That’s assuming, of course, that he can even reach his former employer’s location. Towards the beginning of the adventure, you’ll discover that Ares and his forces are already laying siege to Athens, bombarding it with fireballs and overrunning it with supernatural beings, such as minotaurs, gorgons, and some remarkably lively zombie warriors. Having to face such monstrous opposition could prove more than a match for any hero. However, Kratos has a pair of aces up his sleeves. Actually, they’re a pair of giant mystical butcher knives attached to some chains that are melded to his forearms. Using these Blades of Chaos, Kratos can execute a wide variety of attacks, combos, and special moves to dice up anything that gets in his way. I’m not talking about simple hacking and slashing, either; this guy can plunge a blade into a foe’s chest, drag it closer, throw it up in the air, swing it into even more enemies, reel it him back in, and go for the next baddie in mere seconds. But what makes it even better is that despite the incredibly fast-paced action, the combat is smooth and easy to follow. Not many action games can boast that.

Aside from a wide variety of combos at his disposal, Kratos has a few other attributes that can help him out in the thick of battle. His arsenal can be further leveled up by collecting Red Orbs hidden in treasure chests throughout the levels. While searching for these magical trinkets may not be as fun as ripping your enemies asunder, they are essential in the growth and development of Kratos’ fighting abilities. As you level up, you’ll gain plenty of new moves and abilities to use against your foes. Aside from the physical attacks that can be used, there are also a slew of supernatural powers that can be acquired, such as Zeus’ Fury, the Blade of Artemis, and even the undead Army of Hades. These mystical abilities live up to their namesake, allowing Kratos to temporarily wield a few awesome abilities. For example, Medusa’s Rage can turn multiple enemies into stone if aimed correctly. Should you summon Poseidon’s rage, you’ll flash fry everything standing within its range. However, using the powers of the gods comes with a price; Kratos has a limited amount of magical energy that he can use at any given time. Should he run out, he’ll either have to start killing enemies the hard way or go searching for more treasure chests to get himself recharged. Don’t worry if this all seems tedious at first; as the game progresses, you’ll be able to collect a variety of items that will boost both Kratos’ magical and health limits.

Even if the combat is awesome, you can find such aspects in almost any action game. However, God of War sets itself apart by adding even more gratuitous, unapologetic mayhem to the already violent gameplay. When Kratos takes on certain enemies, a small symbol will appear over the foe’s head. This is your cue to press the appropriate button on the controller, which will trigger a short series of button commands that set off a few brutal attacks and fatal blows. While this may seem a little gimmicky at first, they can prove essential to taking down an enemy. Slashing a giant hydra on its neck is one thing, but sending a knife through its eye, ripping it out, and impaling its massive head through a jagged boat mast is something else entirely. And that’s only the first boss. Many of the lowly goons you’ll face require the same kind of killing techniques, some more challenging than others. While these unique attacks tend to break up the smooth flow of the combat, they are pretty damned awesome. You ever see a hero rip an enemy in half with nothing but his bare hands, or give someone a lobotomy the direct and hard way? How about a hero that stabs a foe straight through the mouth and does an improvised root canal?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

That’s the thing about the main character of God of War; Kratos is not a hero. Sure, the guy is trying to stop one of the most famous and affluent cities to ever grace the Earth from being destroyed, but he’s not doing it out of the goodness of his heart. His motivation for taking on this job is purely in self-interest; the guy wants to be relieved of the guilt and memories of his bloody rampages of yesteryear. There are plenty of memorable scenes that show off his less-than-stellar personality; he’s not above sacrificing lives to progress through a level, sleeping off battle fatigue with lusty women (with non-censored breasts, no less), or simply belittling any cowards that get in his way. There is nothing pious, righteous or anything else redeemable about Kratos’ character, which makes him very likeable and far less of a stereotypical action hero than he could have been. Accordingly, Kratos is a lean, mean, killing machine. Even though his goal is to stop Ares, that won’t stop him from brutally murdering anything that moves, enemy or otherwise. That’s right, not only can you kill the mythical demons and monsters, but also you can slaughter all the innocent Athenians that are trying to escape from the city. It’s not just for emotional effect, either; killing innocent people will actually help recover your health. Though this may be a little unexpected (and downright offensive to some of you self-righteous gamers out there), it’s just one of many little details that help set the mood of an incredibly intense and brutal game.

However, the dark theme won’t be the only thing to grab your attention. The wonderful gameplay in God of War is complemented with one of the most visually engaging presentations ever seen on the PS2. The game starts off with Kratos lost on a shipwreck somewhere in the middle of a violent storm. You can almost feel the rain pounding on the wooden decks, the ropes swaying in the breeze, and platforms shuddering under the pressure of the waves. When you finally make it to Athens, you’ll be treated to a wide variety of houses, buildings, and other structures that are designed based on Greek architecture. You’ll get to jump from rooftop to rooftop, duck down incredibly ornate hallways and alcoves, and even desecrate random works of art. You can almost smell the smoke from all the burning buildings. Aside from the dramatic musical score, you can hear the dull roar of battle and the anguished screams of people being massacred. In the background of it all, the Godzilla-sized Ares will continue to stomp and crush anything in his way, so close and yet so far from your final confrontation with him. In the midst of all this chaos, Kratos looks amazing with his incredibly fluid movements, flowing attacks, and badass combat abilities that that send the battlefield awash in blood and gore. While some of you may not be able to handle seeing so much fake blood, you’ll be too awestruck by everything else to notice.

God of War is a great game. Some may scoff at it in favor of the likes of Devil May Cry 3 or Ninja Gaiden, but this game can hold its own as a must-have title for the PS2. It’s got everything you could possibly want in an action game; it’s got a refreshing and likeable anti-hero, fast-paced action that never lets up, and a presentation that few can easily rival. It may not have the most complicated gaming plots ever, but the game makes up for it with some insanely fun and engaging gameplay and a ridiculous amount of blood and gore to boot. Fans of action and brawler games, you need to pick this up. The same goes for anyone looking to add a stellar title to his or her PS2 game collection. Who says ancient history is a boring subject?

disco's avatar
Community review by disco (May 29, 2006)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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