Action adventure games; they're a dime a dozen. They've been a staple since the dawn of videogames. God of War takes all the lessons learned from the great action adventure games and combines them to create one of the best games ever to grace a console. The game does not offer much in terms of innovation, but it simply does everything to perfection.
As the title would lead you to believe, this game is based in Greek mythology. Surprisingly few games have taken advantage of the depth of Greek/Roman mythology and God of War makes excellent use of it. You are Kratos, a Spartan warrior with a mysterious past. The game opens as Kratos, citing the abandonment of the gods, steps off a cliff committing suicide. Just before he hits the rocky sea below, you are taken back three weeks prior in the Aegean Sea. You know basically nothing about this man at first, but as you progress through the game, you learn all their is to know about this conflicted, brutal man. Kratos is not a hero. By all accounts he is a merciless, bitter asshole who has been wronged by the god of war, Ares. Ares is currently laying waste to the city of Athens, and since Zeus has commanded that none of the gods may go to war with one another, it is up to you to stop him. Along the way you will meet many of the other gods who will gladly help you on your quest by offering new skills, magic abilities, or even weapons. To kill Ares you will need to find the mythical Pandora's Box; the only earthly item that even the greatest gods fear. In your way are hordes of undead, cyclopses, minotaurs, gorgons, harpies, and many other classic creatures from Greek mythology but with a dark, sinister twist.
God of War is one of, if not the best game on the PlayStation 2. It is one of the best games of this generation and will rank high on the list of best all-time.
Right off the bat you just have to love the art design in this game. It's painfully obvious how much time they spent researching ancient Greece and designing a huge world that is certainly believable. You may be familiar with the concept of creatures such as minotaurs and Medusa, but not like this. God of War has a unique twist on everything. The dev team was obviously inspired by the likes of Gladiator and Clash of the Titans, but they haven't copied anything from anywhere. The game successfully makes you feel like you are in this vast world of fantasy and realism. It is simultaneously beautiful and disgusting. The only bad thing I can even say about it at all is that once in a while (not always) when you get a whole bunch of stuff happening on screen, there is a slowdown in the framerate, but it's hardly noticable. The complete lack of load times alone easily makes up for any slowdown you see. From the main menu when you turn on the game you are taken directly into a cutscene which fades into the first level. Not once are you waiting for anything. Every once in a while you might catch "Loading" flicker in the bottom right corner as you run through a level, but other than that, the game is a seemless experience. Simply put, the game is excellent from an art, design, and technical standpoint.
Combine everything you love from games like Prince of Persia, Devil May Cry, and Ninja Gaiden, then you have an idea of what to expect here. You have your basic Jump, Light attack, Heavy attack, and Grab buttons, but there's nothing basic about what you can do with them. Kratos' weapon of choice are two short swords called Blades of Chaos which are connected to him via chains that are wrapped around and seared into his forearms. He uses them almost like whips, and the animations for all of these unique attacks are amazing. As you progress, you gather red orbs from defeated enemies which you can cash in for upgrades to your weapons and magic. Dante doesn't hold a candle to the pop-up aerial attack combos that Kratos can pull off. Along with the gruesome attacks, there are some platforming elements and puzzle solving. Although some are elaborate, none of them are too difficult, but they are all unique. Another unique element of God of War are the QTE combat sequences. Resident Evil 4 did something similar but not to this extent. Some of the larger enemies, once whittled down a bit, can be killed in an extremely violent, spectacular fashion. For example, once you've weakened a minotaur, run up to it and hit O. Kratos will tackle the mino, and attempt to drive the blades into his face. You must mash O to fight against the mino as he tries to stop you. Other kills are more involved, such as ripping the head off of Medusa, which requires you to follow commands to rotate the analog stick in certain directions, which makes it feel like you really are ripping off their heads. Never in God of War are you not part of the action. While some games have you only watch the really cool parts, God of War immerses you in the role of the sinister Kratos.
If you were expecting maybe this to be the game's weak point, too bad. The sound design in God of War is astounding. The game is continuously backed by a wonderful orchestral score that completely fits the action and the environment at all times. The game is narrated by Linda Hunt, whose name you may not recognize, but her rapsy omnipotent voice you surely will. Even Kratos himself has an excellent delivery. From the crackles of fire to the roars of monsters to the distant screams of terror from fleeing Athenians, the sounds of God of War are exemplary.
Still looking for a weak spot? You're out of luck. On the normal difficulty setting, God of War is going to take you 12-15 hours to complete depending on how much time you spend exploring the nooks and crannies of the world. The game is quite linear, but that's not to say there aren't sidetracks that yield bonus powerups and items. After completion, you will be treated to a plethora of bonus material including various behind the scenes documentaries and even some deleted levels that didn't make the final cut. Also available is a Challenge Mode, which if defeated unlocks even more extras like bonus costumes. Also after completing the game once, you will unlock the fourth difficulty setting...God Mode. This setting is comparable to Devil May Cry 3. You will get your ass kicked all over the place, but it's definitely a good challenge for those who have beaten the game. God of War sets a new standard for value in a single-player adventure game.
Do I really need to convince you further? This game is a blast. It's grotesque. It's beautiful. It's the best of games past combine with a dark twist of originality. It's the world of Greek mythology from a different perspective. God of War defines the word epic. If you own a PS2, you must own this game. Go now and hope your local store still has some left. It may be Q1, but I believe we are looking at the PS2 Game of the Year, if not the overall Game of the Year. It's just that damn good.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***