God of War (PS2)

Come back with your shield - or on it

True first party PS2 games seem to be few and far between for Sony. That said, when we do finally see one it tends to be worth watching thanks for luxuriously long development cycles and very talented teams working on them. God of War seems to be no exception and 4tomsm4sher is here to tell us about it today.
In a refreshing departure from the current glut of sci-fi, World War II, and fantasy-themed games, God of War is set in ancient Greece, and draws upon Greek mythology for most of its settings and characters. Equally welcome is the fact that it's a brand-spanking new franchise that, from the looks of things, is likely to have some staying power.

As the game begins, we're introduced to Kratos, a musclebound, goatee-sporting, tattooed Spartan warrior. He's a fairly enigmatic character, initially. With his greyish skin, unique weapons, and almost supernatural combat abilities, it's not entirely clear that he's even completely human. What is clear is that he's got some serious unresolved issues.


Early on, we learn that Kratos been driven, for reasons unknown, to the brink of madness. Tormented by nightmares, he pleads with the Gods to end his emotional suffering. Zeus responds by promising Kratos relief, but only after Kratos kills Ares, the God of War. Ares, as it happens, is on a rampage in ancient Athens, and is hell-bent on destroying the city. Zeus and a handful of other Olympians are none too pleased with Ares' antics, and agree to assist Kratos in accomplishing his seemingly impossible task.

Kratos is one of the most memorable gaming characters in recent years. His unique appearance and stylish, brutal combat abilities set him apart from most games' protagonists, but it's the depth of his character that makes him truly exceptional. Kratos simmers with rage and desperation, but he's completely without the arrogance or taunting sarcasm we've come to expect from most action heroes. Initially, he appears callous, and even cruel. Yet as his background is slowly revealed, he emerges as a complex, compelling individual, desperate to come to terms with a troubled past.

Compared to Kratos' colossal presence, most of God of War's remaining characters are barely more than filler. The enemies, which consist mainly of grotesque soldier types and creatures from Greek mythology, serve primarily as fodder for Kratos' swinging blades. They're all nicely animated and visually impressive, with acceptable AI and a diverse set of attacks and abilities.

Kratos plays the role of troubled, solitary outcast, but throughout the story he's assisted by the Gods and a handful of other helpful figures. The Gods' faces (usually the only part of them that Kratos sees) are oddly animated, though, and Hades in particular looks a little silly. A few scenes feature bare-chested females, with unintentionally wierd-looking, polygonal breasts. There's also a sequence where it's implied that Kratos has off-screen sex with two women at once. Though these "mature" scenes come off as gratuitous and out of place, they're few and far between, and do little to distract from the game's more serious tone.

God of War's 17 levels, which take Kratos through a variety of indoor and outdoor settings, combine well-paced battles, intermittent platforming, and the occasional puzzle or boss fight. The gameplay is highly polished and consistently entertaining, though fairly conventional in many respects. The entire game is played from a fixed-camera, third-person perspective. While the epic environments at times left me wanting some camera controls - purely for the sake of better appreciating my surroundings - the game's camera placement is typically flawless.

Brief in-game cutscenes advance the plot and introduce new enemies or characters, while Kratos's past is revealed through a series of high-quality, lengthier cinematics. These flashbacks, which merge black and white images with vivid, bloody, full-color scenes, are shocking and amazing. I'm not a fan of lengthy cutscenes, but here Kratos' story is told with such undeniable style and power that I looked forward to them with enthusiasm.

The most notable aspect of God of War is its relentlessly violent, addictively enjoyable combat system. Kratos is equipped with a pair of huge, flaming blades, wrapped to his arms by retractable chains. They can be wielded like knives, or, more impressively, swung through the air in graceful, burning arcs. Kratos is capable of a wide variety of acrobatic, devastating combo attacks, which send the blades swinging, slamming, hooking, and slicing into enemies in smooth, powerful motions. Although they're not the only weapon at Kratos's disposal, they're arguably the game's defining feature, and - no exaggeration - they just might be the coolest, most satisfying weapons to appear in any game, ever.

Throughout the story, the Gods reward Kratos' progress by granting him magical abilities. These include a variety of ranged and other attacks, each of which is equally useful and spectacular. Kratos obtains power-ups, in the form of red orbs, from fallen enemies, chests, and (of course) breakable crates, barrels, and other containers. Red orbs can be applied toward both magic and weapons upgrades. Additional power-ups, including blue and green orbs, replenish and increase Kratos's health and magic meters.

The relative simplicity of the controls, and the sheer variety of Kratos' capabilities, mean that God of War isn't one of those games where you'll find yourself relying on just a few combos that you can remember and pull of reliably. Instead, as you upgrade Kratos's abilities, you'll have an increasingly varied set of attacks at your fingertips. In addition, Kratos has separate, unique sets of attacks specifically for wall climbing and rope hanging sequences that you'll find throughout the game.


God of War features context and enemy-specific combat moves, like those recently introduced by Shenmue and Resident Evil 4. When an enemy is weakened, an icon displaying a controller button will appear over its head. Press the button, and you'll perform a bloody, over-the-top finishing move. Tougher foes require a series of button presses or analog-stick movements. Each enemy can be brought to a uniquely satisfying, gruesome end. While you can generally opt kill your enemies with regular attacks instead, the finishing moves are especially entertaining, and often yield additional magic or health power-ups.

God of War's boss battles are fairly infrequent, which is unfortunate, because they're terrific. For the most part, they involve figuring out and avoiding each boss's special attacks, while weakening them with melee and magic assaults - pretty standard stuff. Do enough damage, though, and you'll initiate a sort of mini-game that, like the finishing moves for lower-level characters, involves a series of carefully timed button presses and stick movements. Follow along, and Kratos will pull off a string of epic, cinematic attacks.

Kratos hacks and slashes his way through some impressive environments, including war-torn Athens, sandstorm-covered deserts, treacherous mazes, and even underwater caverns. Graphically, the game looks remarkable, and boasts a silky-smooth framerate throughout. The ambient sounds and combat effects are also excellent - even the sound of a stone pushed across the floor sounds convincingly real. The classical score is a nice switch from the generic, repetitive heavy-metal guitar riffing that plagues similar action games, and the voice acting, while not stellar, is generally quite good.

God if War's combat is relatively forgiving, and health and magic power-ups are generously scattered throughout the game. There are a few head-scratching puzzles, but most are fairly simple. A handful of balancing and jumping scenarios are frustratingly difficult, especially near the end of the game, but overall, the platforming challenges are pretty lightweight. Frequent save options and well-placed checkpoints ensure that you'll rarely have to cover familiar ground after dying, and the three difficulty levels - easy, medium, and hard - are about what you'd expect. At normal difficulty, the game will probably take most gamers around 12-14 hours to complete. And once you're done, there's a decent batch of unlockable content to enjoy.

God of War borrows heavily from other action-adventure games, most notably Devil May Cry and the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Despite these obvious influences, however, it manages to deliver an incredible, unique experience in its own right. This is largely due to Kratos' compelling persona, an engaging storyline, and the visceral, satisfying combat - it's hard to overstate the thrill involved in unleashing Kratos' spectacular attacks. It's too bad the game isn't longer, though the unlockables hint that there's a sequel in the works - definitely something to look forward to.

- 4tomsm4sher


Damn it, I just had to pay 700$ today and now I'm going to have to get this. I'll be broke before I can go back to work, I wanted a bit of surplus.

Good review. When I see stuff like this I really wish I owned a PS2, it just hasn't reached the critical mass necessary for me to buy one yet.

When I see stuff like this, I wish there were 30 hours in the day. I'd like to play this, but there are so many other worthy games out there begging for my attention. Maybe I should quit my job and get divorced. Yeah-- that seems like a reasonable answer.

Great review Atom, I saw some vids on IGN the other day and I was floored. It's too bad there aren't enough boss battles like you said, the ones I saw looked truly epic.

Must....keep....playing.....the blood, oh, the blood!

Good review. I may not be able to wait for the game to come down in price.

Great review. The man should be doing it for the living (unless he already does so). I increasingly clearly see that GoW is everything that "more mature" PoP2 could be but ended up not being. Makes me also ponder if I should bow down and rent a PS2 at a Blockbuster just to play this game. The blood!!

Nice review The Fly (4tomsm4sher is just too hard for me to type with some bourbon in me. I shall therefore call you The Fly.).

I have resolved to never buy a PS2 for reasons not worth mentioning. I am therefore very very very sad now. This sounds like a hell of a game, and your descriptions are perfect.

Bravo, The Fly.

Yeah, I debated buying a PS2 again for this game.

Thankfully, I'm not that excited about it, and have thus been able to save myself the money.

I do wish I could play this game though.

I got the game as a surprise birthday present and am loving every second of it. Very mature content (nipples!) and brutally fun gameplay.

So what's the deal with menage-a-trois mini game?

So what's the deal with menage-a-trois mini game?

So far I haven't really encountered the mini game. Maybe I missed it or something. The most I saw was just nipples and then Kratos brushed them off.

This game is pretty awesome so far.. its ironic that this is coming so late in the PS2's lifespan..

I'm guessing we'll see a PSP version shortly which I'm hoping is more than a straight port.

I played to the first boss on normal last night and couldn't seem to be able to mash the button fast enough for the finishing moves. For some reason I'm just not dexterous enough to do the 'keep pressing the button as fast as you can' moves and that makes this game very frustrating for me. Not sure if I just need to practice more or work on technique, but I seem to be just lightly too slow at it. I much more enjoy watching my roommate play the game than playing it myself because he's pretty good at it and the game is a treat to watch.

So what's the deal with menage-a-trois mini game?

there's a portion of a map where you can jump into the bed of two topless girls and start a mini game with a button press. the camera moves to the side of the bed where you press buttons to cause the bed to shake and when you finish you get a crapload of XP.

Dr_Awkward" wrote:

Good review. I may not be able to wait for the game to come down in price.

And yet I did. I picked it up for $20 the other day and it's a blast. Six more months and I'll be posting on how much I'll be enjoying Psychonauts.

In all seriousness I post this for any other procrastinators who might have been on the fence about this game only to have it fall off the radar. It is $20 very well spent.

Hey, you know I just bought this too at the new discount (along with Lego Star Wars, also radically reduced).

This is a great time to own a PS2. Still good stuff coming out, and the classics are getting cheaper by the day. The vast pile of $3.99 used games at my local video store is impressive. OK, most if not all of them are crap, but still...

GoW is a great great game.