Friday, December 12, 2008

From the vault: "God of War"

Enough with the old TCJ reviews. Here's a video game review I did for the Patriot-News back in 2005, before I started this blog.

When the "Prince of Persia: Warrior Within" came out a few months ago, I decried the developers' decision to fill the artful, stylish franchise with over-the-top blood and gore, Goth trappings and needless sexism.

Now comes Sony's new action title "God of War," from the folks who brought "Twisted Metal Black" and "War of the Monsters." If anything, it's got more gore and Goth -- not to mention outright nudity -- than "Warrior Within."

It goes without saying, of course, that I absolutely love this game.

How is such a thing possible? How can I decry one game for its crass trappings and praise another that has virtually similar qualities? Should I just turn in my official game critics card and be done with it?

Well, to quote the old horse, it's not what you do that counts, it's how you do it. And the fact is, "God of War" is such a flawless, epic exercise that one can forgive its excesses.

In "Warrior Within," the violence and scantily-clad ladies seemed like a marketing afterthought designed to draw in puerile gamers, but "God Of War's" level of violence and other "adult" content all serve to aid the game's dark, brooding tone.

Set in ancient Greece, "War" centers on Kratos, a pasty-white warrior who rather unwisely makes one of those"be-careful-what-you-wish-for" deals with the war god Ares. Justifiably burned, Kratos sets off for revenge, helped along the way by Zeus and the rest of the Greek pantheon, who have apparently had their fill of Ares' behavior and aren't above using Kratos as
their pawn.

Most of Kratos' back story is revealed in bits and pieces as you play, but what you learn doesn't necessarily add much to your initial opinion of him. Even from the start, Kratos seems a bit, well, psychotic, and perhaps one of the only serious flaws in the game is that it's hard to feel anything for him as a character.

The game doesn't slavishly adhere to the classic Greek myths so much as take what it sees fit and adapt it to its own means. For example, I didn't know there was a desert right outside Athens, did you? Pandora's box, Minotaurs, Cyclopses and Medusa all show up here, but in a considerably altered fashion. This is Greek mythology filtered through a Nine Inch Nails video.

And yet, it works. The developers did a terrific job of creating a striking, beautifully designed world that seems immense without ever getting lost or being unable to figure out what to do next. It's also probably one of the best-looking games you'll ever see on a PlayStation 2.

But graphics are nothing next to solid gameplay, and it's here that "God of War" really shines. Kratos' main method of attack is a pair of swords on long chains which are in turn seared to his flesh. Kratos can whip these things around like a string of paper clips, and it's a real visual treat to see him fling them around into a horde of undead soldiers. The various attack combos available might be a bit simplified for hard-core action fans, but I found them easy to learn and utilize and the ability to upgrade ensured that I would never grow bored with the system.

In addition, Kratos gains magical abilities such as flinging thunderbolts or turning enemies into stone. And once you've got an enemy close to defeat, you can enact a minigame of sorts that allows you to perform a gruesome finish through some timely button pressing. Each type of enemy has a different minigame and utilizing them adds a needed level of variety.

Like a lot of current action games, "God of War" also has puzzle solving. Unlike a lot of current action games, these segments never seem tacked on or too complicated or confusing to solve.

And perhaps that's the real magic behind "God of War." Most games might focus on one element, say combat, to the detriment of others, but "War" never sacrifices one component of the game for another. Each piece feels like a part of the whole, so that what you are left with is a fluid, enthralling world with no sore thumbs sticking out.

"God of War" isn't perfect. There aren't very many boss battles to speak of and not much variety in terms of different types of enemies (which tend to come upon you in maddening wave after wave). It isn't particularly innovative and doesn't advance the art of videogames. And no doubt there will be those who will be turned off by the huge amount of blood and occasional bare breast.

What "God of War" does is polish the genre to such a sheen that it sets a benchmark in terms of the action genre. To pass it up solely because of its adult content is to deny yourself a massively good time.

Copyright The Patriot-News 2005

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8 Comments:

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