God of War holds up magnificently a half decade later and remains
As I pass through the archway, flags billowing in the ash and ember that congests the air, I wonder what great scene of amazement will next assault my senses. No manner of visual splendor previously attained could have prepared me for what I see now. In the distance a towering giant, a lone God of War, battles against thousands of hopeless Athenian soldiers. I stare in awe, my mind reeling from the vista laid before me. Now this is a video game.
These thoughts, or some similar, most likely passed through the minds of most every player the first time he saw Ares in the PS2 exclusive God of War. A triumphant audiovisual showcase, God of War pushed Sony's aging system further than any thought possible, providing such great graphical wonderment that the game astounds to this day. Beyond the production values, God of War features a compelling tale of revenge and betrayal, and is fronted by anti-hero Kratos, an ex-Spartan general who traded a lifetime of service to the Gods in return for them sparing him from a one way trip to the depths of Hades. In his service to the titular God of War, though, Kratos commits a terrible sin, and swears to bring down Ares and stop his quest for blood. The game begins as Kratos rides a ship to Athens, where Ares is slaughtering the populace and laying waste to the city.
God of War is a third person action game similar to Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. Kratos is in possession of a strong and weak attack as well as a grab move and various magical abilities. As his main weapon, Kratos possesses the blades of chaos, two bladed chains melded into each arm. The unique weapon is fun to use and gives the game a different feel from the likes of Ninja Gaiden or other sword based action games. Also unique to God of War (at least at the time of release) is a special finishing move mechanic. After Kratos has pummeled enemies to the brink of death, the player can press "O" to initiate a quick time event wherein the player presses a series of buttons as they flash on screen. By correctly pressing the buttons, players allow Kratos to perform a grisly finishing move on his enemies. While all enemies have a simple form of this mechanic, bosses have a much more complex QTE at their conclusion. The main issue with this is that while standard foes can eventually be killed by simply hacking away at them, bosses must be finished with QTE's. For many players, QTE's can be difficult or at the very least boring. Forcing the player to complete them slows down the pacing of the game, and reduces interactivity to a minimum.
The minute to minute combat in God of War is highly enjoyable if somewhat mindless. The majority of the game can be beaten by simply mashing the square button several times, ending with a press of triangle. Compared to the complexity of something like Devil May Cry, or especially Ninja Gaiden, this combo system seems incredibly limiting. Since triangle always ends a combo, there is no way to press, say, Square, Triangle, Square, Triangle. This greatly limits the number of possible combos that the designers could implement. In addition, the only other weapon in the game besides the Blades of Chaos is a sword that has only a couple of combos and cannot be upgraded with more. All this isn't to say that the action is God of War is boring or repetitive, because it remains enjoyable from beginning to end, mainly because of the huge number of enemies introduced, but of games of a similar ilk, God of War is by far the most shallow.
When not slaughtering numerous denizens of Greek mythology, Kratos is solving puzzles. These puzzles are possibly the most rewarding aspect of God of War simply due to their scope. One puzzle, for example, tasks players with reaching the center of a circular room containing several layers of walls each with a single door to pass through. To get through each wall players must collect an object. To get the objects players must go through a series of other tasks and puzzles. Getting each object can take upwards of half an hour, meaning that it will take the player a good two or three hours to reach the center of the room. The scale of this puzzle and others really makes them more enjoyable than the puzzles in most other action games.
In fact, scale is truly what separates God of War from other games on the PS2. Like the scene described in the intro paragraph, or another where Kratos stands in front of a huge temple which leaves him seemingly the size of an ant, every aspect of God of War is epic. Game director David Jaffe claimed that size was one of the main focuses of the game and that is obvious in the final project which features some of the biggest levels on the PS2. Likewise, the epic score sets the tone of the game perfectly, giving each scene a bombastic feel and leaving the players feeling even more deadly than they do already.
While the sense of scale, the fun combat, massive puzzles, and incredible graphics make this game shine, it is not without its faults. The platforming sections of this game are far too difficult. The number of times I entered a room and groaned after seeing a dozen blades spinning in every direction is too high to count. Several maddening segments can take upwards of half an hour to master. The level taking place in Hades is especially sadistic, forcing players to, among other things, balance on spinning logs littered with spikes, and climb a spinning tower of blades. Both of these segments border on masochistic and are highly frustrating. While the majority of the game is balanced perfectly, this ending level simply ups the ante too far. The final boss battle is also far too difficult, and actually forced me to lower the difficulty down to easy to beat it. This was mainly due to a grab attack that the boss was able to perform if the player cannot mash "O" fast enough. Since I could not, I got stuck in that grab multiple times, each time taking away over a third of my health.
As mentioned above, the visuals in this game are second to none on the PS2 (save for God of War 2), especially considering the sense of scale and the number of enemies on screen at once. The art design is also great, delivering a beautiful representation of ancient Greece. The game is also satisfyingly brutal, with buckets of blood being spilt most every scene. Likewise, the sound effects are top notch. The background noises are a special highlight. Finally, the voice acting is among the greatest in any game, with nary a single weak performance among the entire cast. Players playing the game in the God of War Collection will be treated to 1080p graphics, a rock solid 60 fps framerate, anti-aliasing, and improved textures. Those playing on the PS2 will miss out on the HD graphics, and will notice framerate dips during intense scenes. In general the game will run closer to 30 fps than 60 on the PS2, so playing the Collection is the way to go if players have access to a PS3.
It will take players around ten hours to beat God of War the first time through, although it is easy enough to beat the game in under five if you know what you are doing. Once beaten, players unlock God Mode, and The Challenge of the Gods, an arena where players can test their skills. Those playing the game in the God of War Collection can also return to the main game to try for trophies they missed.
God of War holds up incredibly well for a game released half a decade ago. While not able to hold a candle to current games from a texture or lighting standpoint, the sense of scale in God Of War remains impressive to this day. Likewise, the beautiful animation, incredible art, impressive sound design and enjoyable combat and puzzles combine to make God of War one of the best games of the last generation. Regardless, some minor faults including required quick time events and maddening platforming segments hold back this game from perfection. In addition, those seeking a complex combat system should probably turn elsewhere as God of War's simplistic combo mechanics are designed more to look cool than offer the great range or depth you might see in a game like Ninja Gaiden. None of these flaws makes God of War any less enjoyable for those desiring an intense, brutal, and epic journey into ancient Greece. For fans of excess God of War is one of the PS2's top entries and shouldn't be missed.