God of War should be considered the pinnacle of a lot of things. Despite being one of the most balanced and suave action games to come out in years, it sets a new standard in visuals on the PS2 and rounds out its presentation with one of the best epic soundtracks to date. In a year where people expect the current hardware cycle to have run its course and offer little in ways of AAA titles, God of War shows us all that there is still some life left in the aging platform.
You are Kratos, a former Spartan general with a troubled past and on the brink of suicide. After being corrupted into an uncaring asshole by the god of war Ares, as well as a few side effects from your past, you are commissioned by the gods to stop the rogue god from destroying Athens. It’s up to Kratos to find Pandora’s Box, which is the only weapon capable of killing a god. Along the way, you’ll get powers from different Greek gods such as Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades to aid you in stopping Ares as well as the minions in your way.
God of War features some of the best over-the-top action ever seen in a game to date and brings some interesting new gameplay elements in as well. Kratos fights with the blades of chaos, a couple of blades attached to chains that are burned into his skin. You can level up your weapons and magic by collecting red orbs that you pick up from fallen foes and chests scattered around the levels. Leveling weapons will gain more power, as well as some very suave combos that are capable of clearing an entire room of baddies. In addition to the blades of chaos, you’ll also pick up the super powerful Aretmis’ Blade that will cut through your enemies like butter, as well as a handful of magic like Poseidon’s Rage which summons lightning bolts to clear the area around you, Zeus’ fireballs for those annoying archers perched everywhere, Medusa’s gaze which turns almost everything it looks at into stone, and Hades’ army, which summons a couple of undead souls to fight at your side. Each of these is great for certain situations and can be changed by pressing any of the four directions of the directional pad. The battle system is extremely simple to pick up and makes you look like a pro right off the bat. Animations also feature seamless transitions between attacking, dodging, and getting knocked on the ground. One of the most unique aspects of the fighting is when an enemy takes a certain amount of damage; they’ll get a circle icon over their head. This will allow you execute a number of kill moves by hitting corresponding buttons or rotating the analog stick in certain directions. These moves really bring a satisfying and stylish end to an enemy and are pretty gory to boot, like pulling heads off or tearing them in half. It’s more than enough to satisfy anyone’s bloodlust. One small problem is that enemy variety is limited and you’ll be fighting the same goons over and over again…sometimes having the same types of enemies respawn second and third times. Luckily, there are boss battles to break the monotony.
Boss battles employ the same strategy and are actually really fun once you get the hang of them. Bosses are normally about five times bigger than you and employ some strategy to bring them down. You’ll also get some really neat and sometimes grotesque results when boxes get the circle icon over their head, which just goes to show how much of a bad ass Kratos can be really.
Environments are just as good as anything else. You’ll go through a variety of environments such as a war torn Athens, dank sewers, and a desert in the middle of a sand storm. Each environment looks great and really immerses you into the experience. As the game wears on, you will find yourself in similar situations frequently, such as climbing walls while enemies attempt to pull you down or climbing ropes while enemies attack from each side. You’ll see these scenarios on more than one occasion, and while they’re not annoying, they tend to be repetitive after the first couple of times, but all are really well done in terms of execution. There is the occasional puzzle, but they don’t tend to be overly difficult and offer some enjoyment as well as creativity like rotating and moving a bunch of Tetris-shaped blocks against a wall. Enough to make me think, yet not give me a headache.
The definite icing on God of War’s cake lies in the visuals. The game is easily one of the most visually impressive games on the PS2. Every character, enemy, and environment is modeled to perfection. All of the spells and special moves in battle have really neat effects as well. The games cut scenes are also very stylish in their presentation of Kratos’ back story and offer a very artistic style that makes them stand out.
As mentioned earlier, GoW sports an epic soundtrack worthy of a game of this magnitude. You’ll get a ton of energetic; drum filled background music during battles as well as softer, ambient music when danger isn’t lurking nearby. Voice acting is also very well done from the narrator to Kratos to the miscellaneous soldiers you encounter along the way. Weapons also sound like they pack a punch when hitting walls, getting blocked, and when they hit flesh.
I said it once and I’ll say it again; God of War is one of the best action games to come out in the past few years. It offers up some of the best over the top action gameplay on the PS2. Fans of action games should be required to play this game, that is, if they’re not weary of blood and nudity (Did I mention nudity? Yeah, there’s nudity). Match this up with some really great visuals, story, and sound and you’ve got an instant classic that shouldn’t be missed.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media