God of Bore

A few weeks ago, someone apparently posted a link to my review of Gran Turismo 4 on some Internet forum. This has led to a steady stream of people flooding the comments section of that article and informing me that I’m not any good at the game, I’m homosexual, it’s impossible for a popular game to be bad, I probably didn’t actually buy it, and I am a moron for saying, publicly, that I didn’t enjoy a game.

This led to a conversation among friends about the nature of game reviewing. One person suggested that I’d get the same response if I gave a good review to a game people hated. I disagreed. My friend Nat, who somehow always manages to be the Most Quotable Person In The Room, then observed that for a reason none of us understand, some people take bad reviews as deep personal insults:

I mean, Pete might as well have said “I don’t like GT4, plus I banged your mom and she was terrible”. He’d get the same response.

That was then. This is now. And now, I have a problem. My problem is that just a few days ago, psu finished (and reviewed) the PS2 beat- em-up God of War. Then he lent it to me, and I played it a bit, and it really wasn’t to my taste. Which means that if I speak openly about it, I run the risk of opening yet another can of worms. Since I am reasonably sure I’m going to get hammered for this anyway, I may as well go all out and do something to deserve it. So:

I don’t like God of War, plus I banged your mom and she was terrible.

Okay: I exaggerate. To be perfectly fair, one could say that I disliked God of War less than I disliked Gran Turismo 4. I love driving games. I live driving games. I breathe driving games. So for me to not like a driving game is, I think, an indication that the driving game has reached a certain significant level of Suck. On the other hand, I merely tolerate beat-em-up games. God of War is a better beat-em-up than Gran Turismo 4 is a driving game. I just don’t like beat-em-ups as much as I like driving games. That’s why I’m not doing a full-on detailed review of God of War. I merely want to use it as an excuse to talk about the fanboy experience, and to contrast my (incomplete) evaluation of the game with psu’s.

I’m fairly neutral on the mechanics of beat-em-ups (I don’t mind pressing “square-square-triangle” for 3 hours on end, but I don’t love it either). Therefore, whether or not I like a game of this type has a lot to do with its narrative and setting. Since I am a mythology geek, I was predisposed to like God of War. Spartans! Greek Gods! Athens! The Aegean Sea! How could I not like the game?

It turns out it didn’t take much. Who knew?

The first reason I was disappointed is that various reviews led me to expect more. When some people discuss the game, they talk about the combat being innovative. But apart from the “finishing moves,” which are indeed gloriously bloody, I don’t see anything in the actual combat that distinguishes the game from, for example, the Lord of the Rings games. Or Koei’s Dynasty Warriors. If I cared about the “finishing moves” I could see that making a difference, but it turns out I don’t.

Secondly, I had to endure a 20 minute Boss battle at the end of the first level. And even after reading the walkthrough on Gamefaqs, it was still a deathmarch. I’ll admit that this might be more an indication that I’m old and slow than a reflection of the difficulty level of the game, but I don’t care. All I know is that it felt like hours of drudgery and carpal tunnel for a meagre payoff.

Lastly, the mythology geek in me was disappointed. The portrayal of the Gods felt weak, not even up to Clash of the Titans standards. And let’s not even mention the girls in Kratos’ bed. He’s a Spartan. There are girls in his bed. Of course he’s depressed.

The bad-assitude of the anti-hero didn’t offend me by its violence, but by its predictability. (Come on. Be honest. Did you think for even a second that Kratos wouldn’t drop the Captain down the Hydra’s gullet?) Also predictably, this is yet another game where the label “mature” indicates “has blood and boobs.” I blame the ESRB for that, and not Sony. It just makes me a little sad and tired. I wrote recently in this space about Wrath Unleashed and how its design sensibility reminded me of the movie (and geek stroke magazine) Heavy Metal. God of War makes me think of that too, albeit with higher production values. Can’t you just imagine the story of Kratos placed frame for frame in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, circa 1981?

It is not a mature sensibility. It is a sensibility by, of, and for seventeen year old boys. And it bores me to the point of tears. Again: it is not the fact that God of War has this sensibility that I find existentially exhausting. It is the fact that this sensibility is the norm. This, apparently, is what sells. So for every game like Katamari Damacy that brings us something fresh, something different, something that didn’t come out of the sketchbook of a stoner in shop class, there are thirty games with pouting, juvenile antiheros who can only relate to women by turning them in to sex toys, or corpses, or both.

None of this makes God of War a “bad game.” It just makes it a game I didn’t enjoy.

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