Come Along and Kick Ass with Kratos!
"Holy ****, this game kicks ***!" will likely be the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you pop God of War in your Playstation 2. The first game in the premiere franchise, GoW casts you in the role of Kratos, a Spartan warrior on a mission of vengeance against the war god Ares. Kratos is your stereotypical sort of anti-hero. He's big, scowly, unforgiving, and is only out to kill Ares for his own selfish reasons. It just happens that the gods want Ares dead, too, so Kratos agrees to help them. While you may not really need much backstory to get you motivated to kill everything in Greece, as you discover the gruesome history between Kratos and Ares you'll find yourself wanting to kill Ares more and more.
Third person action games live and die by their battle mechanics. GoW's combat is not only spectacular, but it also introduces some new gameplay elements that set it apart from other similar games. You begin GoW with the devastating chainblades. They're a bit of a cross between a sword and a whip, and Kratos makes full use of their abilities. For instance, you'll be able to fling your enemies into the air and throw them back to the ground. You'll unleash a whirlwind attack that cuts through the baddies like butter. You’ll drop the enemy to their backs and stab out their hearts. As if that's not enough, Kratos is granted additional weapons by the gods, including a heavy sword that's just perfect for decapitation, a Medusa head that petrifies your enemies, and Zeus' lightning bolts. Each weapon has its uses, but the chainblades get the job done most of the time and are, by far, the most fun weapons to use.
In a nice touch of twitch gameplay, an icon representing the PS2's buttons and analog controls will appear over an enemy's head once you wear them down. Pressing the corresponding button sequence executes a finishing move that will give Kratos more experience, magic power, or life. Each finishing move is unique to the enemy type, and they all are totally gross. It's the kind of gross that's just awesome, like ripping the head off of medusa, stabbing the crap out of a cyclops' eye, or tearing the wings off of a harpy. As you can tell by now, overkill is definitely the theme of combat in GoW. GoW is unrelentingly nasty, and just gets more and more over-the-top as the game wears on. At no point will you feel the slightest bit of remorse for what you've done to your enemies. You'll find that they all deserve to die the most painful death they can by Kratos' cold and uncaring hands.
Obviously, the presentation in this game needs to be good to keep up with the brutality. As heads go flying, soldiers burn to a crisp, and hydras get swords jabbed into their faces, you'll be amazed at the high level of graphical polish and vicious-sounding audio. Nowhere is this more evidenced than the few, but incredible, boss fights. The bosses take up the entire screen, and are complete with dripping fangs, dark gleaming eyes, and thunderous roars of pain as you sink your chainblades into them. Kratos looks especially badass and is animated very well, especially when he's putting a major hurting on his enemies. As you execute combos, the really powerful finishing attacks slow the entire game down for a split second, sort of like bullet time from the Matrix, so you can see that Kratos is about to put his enemies to rest, permanently. Kratos has a deep, dark voice and he sounds almost haunted by his pain. The voiceover work is excellent from every character, though you won't recognize any familiar voices.
Make no mistake, GoW is unapologetically mature. There's cursing, sex, blood, decapitation, disembowelment, and human sacrifice. Amazingly, each element fits well; it's not just about gratuitous violence. The entire story is about one man's desire to kill the god that ruined him. The brutality of the game serves to show you how far one man can fall. Could GoW been toned down and gotten its point across? Sure, but the maturity of the game serves the theme without overshadowing it and brings more punch to the story.
Having amazing fighting, great graphics and sound, and tons of blood doesn't mean that GoW is perfect, however. First, the combat is exciting, but the bad guys are very repetitive. You’ll face off against maybe 10 or so enemies repeatedly throughout the game. Once you figure out how to take them down quickly, they become nothing more than cannon fodder to your blades. When you do wipe the floor with the baddies, you’ll find that you may do quite a bit of backtracking through the current area in order to solve the puzzles. The enemies don’t respawn, so you don’t waste a lot of time slogging through the same area, but it is a bit boring to go through the same room over and over again. Lastly, although the game is great from beginning to end, it does end rather quickly, and there’s no real replayability. Once you kill everything, you’ll wrap up the story and move onto another game.
God of War is a fantastic game and is certainly on a short list of “must-have” PS2 games. There are few games that risk this kind of mature content, and fewer still that justify it like GoW. This short game is worth your time. Just make sure that you put the kids to bed before firing it up.