Friday, July 21, 2006

God of War

Well, it's Friday and save for an hour long meeting, I've successfully avoided doing any real work. Yay for me.

Last weekend I finished God of War so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the game. We at SuburbanJoe feel it important to keep you up to date on games that came out over a year ago. If not here, then where?

God of War follows the adventures of Kratos, a down on his luck Spartan warrior who just happens to be on a quest to kill Ares, the god of war. With his trusty Blades of Chaos permanently seared to his wrists, his bold, red tattoos and his plucky spirit, Kratos makes his way through lands of Greek myth, happily rolling logs, climbing pillars, swimming through deadly gears and killing whatever he comes across in the most violent and disturbing manner possible.

For all of the hoopla raised about the Grand Theft Auto games, I'm surprised no one makes a peep about God of War. Granted, cyclops don't exist in real life, unlike hookers, but still, any game that has you finishing off a living creature by using your blades to climb up said creature and then reaching in and ripping it's sole eye out should warrant a little criticism. There are games I would not allow my kids to watch, like Call of Duty 2. Then there are games like this one, where I'm uncomfortable having my children in the same room as it, lest it's violent behaviour seep out and taint my innocent offspring. There's even a sex minigame in there, not hidden behind layers of code manipulated only by GameSharks and other foul magiks, but right out in the open for all to see. Well, not all as I missed it, but it is in there.

Combat is interesting and your various weapons and magical powers can be levelled up relatively well with new/stronger combos open unto you when levelled. As in any game with a bunch of combos, you'll find some that work for you and then quickly forget about all of the others. Combat can geta little repetetive as any time you see an open hallway, or large, open room, you can bet that once you get in it, the doors will seal and you'll be faced with undead minions to dispatch. Combat is rarely too difficult, on the medium setting anyways, as the game seems to modify what dead enemies drop to help you get through particularly tough battles. One thing I noticed was that in certain situations, like moving from a hallway to a room, if the hallway was still open when the beasties appeared, they'd follow you to the opening of the hallway, but no farther allowing you to retreat into the hall, and start a combo that finished in the room, smashing your enemies in the process. Hey, it's not running away if they don't follow. Or something.

What does get you killed, and multiple times in this game, is the variety of puzzles placed in Kratos's path, seemingly to get you, the player, up to the same level of apocalyptic rage as the character you're manipulating. Now while I didn't find the game as frustrating as my friend Dennis, who broke his hand in anger during the "climb out of Hades" sequence, and I didn't chuck my controller across the room as I did when fighting Meta-Ridley in Metroid Prime, I did have my fair share of curse words, thrown up hands and visions of me punching David Jaffe in the gut. I enjoy a good puzzle, perhaps of some kittens looking dismayed at the fishy treat denied to them by a glass bowl, or of some horses, congregating at a fence line and broken up into 250 oddly shaped pieces. What I don't like is feeling like I'm making progress only to come to a section where I have to walk across timbers 3 stories in the air and jump rotating saw blade arm thingies. Nothing makes gaming come to a screeching halt quite like doing the same puzzle over and over and over and over. In fact, I was so uninterested in a particular set of puzzles that I didn't play the game for over a month. Granted, I watched Deadwood during that time, but I also did my fair share of rocking out in Guitar Hero, a game who's "puzzles", in contrast, invite, nay, demand your continued attempts at mastery.

That being said, I wouldn't not recommend God of War to folks, as it's production values are superb, it has a good amount of replay value in both an unlockeable new difficulty level and a Challenge of the Gods mode that, when completed, allows you to dress Kratos as a cow using jugs of milk instead of tethered blades. I kid you not. There is also a good number of featurettes explaining how they went about designing the game, the evolution of Kratos, the evolution of the monsters and a gallery of discarded character models. Usually, these peeks behind the curtain require you to pay an extra 10 bucks and buy the Super Extended Collectors' Edition of the game, but those good folks at SCEA have included it all, free of charge. Good on them.

The story is interesting and the cut scenes are top notch, so if you remember a time when your gaming efforts were rewarded with a killer ending movie, you won't be dissappointed. I found Kratos's reason for wanting to kill Ares kind of silly, well not silly, but lacking compared to the level of quality in the rest of the game, but in a game like this, the story is secondary. Hell, I'm happy they had one as developed as they did. There has been some recent hullabaloo, yes hullabaloo, over David Jaffe (the designer of God of War) no longer wanting to make games with stories, wanting instead to focus on the game experience. People were somewhat surprised by this both for what it means for future God of War games and just games in general. First of all, it doesn't mean squat for future God of War games as all they really need to do is just change the story, add some new enemies and perhaps a new combo or two and bam, you have GoW2 and GoW3.

As for the second point, games don't need stories to be good. Tetris doesn't have a story and that game sells in whatever format they put it out in. Sports games don't have stories and they sell like hotcakes. In fact, the only games that need stories to be successful are RPG's and adventure games. That's why the story of all of the Super Mario Bros. games have all been the same, Princess Peach has been kidnapped and Mario must rescue her. I think that the reason for this is that in most games, the gameplay doesn't do anything to tell the story, it's just what you do to get to the next point where more of the story will be told, either by getting to the next geographic part in the game, finding whatever you need to find, or beating whoever you need to beat. The story is then told in cutscenes or conversations or in examining said found item, but I don't remember a time where I obtained a powerful +4 Combo of Plot Revelation.

RPG's and adventure games have conversations as part of their gameplay, so they can move the plot forward with their gameplay, but even that's a bit of a stretch. That's not to say that you can't tell stories, and good ones, with games and even in genres that were traditionally bereft of stories (Hellloooo Half-Life), but Jaffe saying that he doesn't want to do games with stories means just that. It doesn't mean he doesn't want to do good games. God of War had a very specific tone, and takes place in a very specific time period/mythology, so a lot of the gameplay is restricted. It's not like you can throw in a whack-a-mole mini-game or something so I can see why Jaffe might want to cast aside the limitations of story and just focus on gaming. If he can make good games out of it, good for him.

So, to wrap up, God of War has an interesting story, good but slightly repetetive combat, annoying puzzles, superb production values and a level of gore and violence we probably should all be a little ashamed of. At 20 bucks, lower if you score it preowned, it's a pretty good way to spend some time with your PS2. Plus, it has boobs, for whatever that's worth.


Greg said...

Damn, Brandon. Spot-on review. I just finished that game 2 weeks ago after putting it aside for three months when I hit the walk-along-timbers-and-jump-sawblades part. The swimming puzzle stalled me out for a week, but that one was much worse. The pillar-climbing also sucked. The fighting was a lot of fun, but the puzzles were maddeningly hard at times.

You're right about the violence and nudity though - I was surprised to see naked breasts in the game, and I caught the sex-minigame on my second playthrough, although all you see is a couple bowls rattling on a table - not nearly as bad as the (pretty lame) sex minigame in Fahrenheit.

One of the things I liked most about GoW was the minigames you'd need to do in order to defeat the tougher enemies: rotate the stick, press X, triangle, X, etc... It gave the gamemakers the ability to show things like Kratos diving between the enemy's legs or climbing up his back.

You make a good point - games without a story can be very good. But when I think about it, all my very favorite games: Beyond Good and Evil, Fallout, Resident Evil, Indigo Prophecy, even Half-Life 2, all had very good storylines. As did God of War.

suburbanjoe said...

Yeah, the boss/creature minigames were very good. They reminded me of the sequences in Indigo Prophecy / Farenheit. I felt that the sequence fighting the Hydra was extremely well done.

I agree with you, that all of the best games I've played have stories to them and told their stories extremely well for the medium. I was just surprised to see people be so upset at the notion of a game without a story.

Bones said...

I remember the first time I played GoW, I knew instantly that it was destined for greatness (and countless sequels of course). And some guy from Alabama was responsible?! Fantastic stuff, great review, and here's to not having to buy a PS3 to play GoW2! Now, GoW3, that's a different story....