God of War

I worked my way to the end of this game last night. Action/Platform games usually are not my thing, but this one received nearly unanimous effusive praise both from the gaming press and sources you can actually trust (ha ha). I think the title is similar to Resident Evil 4 in that the core gameplay is really fun, but that core is brought down by a mindless adherence to annoying game design conventions that make the game less fun than it could be.

**Note: **This review contains minor spoilers.

**The Good **

The combat in this game is, in a word, awesome. The controls are tight and responsive, and every hit is solid and well-defined. Combos easy to pull off, and the most useful combos can be created from natural sequences of button presses. Different attacks are animated beautifully, especially the ones that involve grabbing enemies and breaking them into pieces. When you find a good rhythm playing this game, you turn the main character into a nearly invincible whirling cyclone of bloody death. I wish the combat in Jade Empire had been half this good.

The game also provides an interesting twist on finishing moves via a little mini-game mechanism. These are more of a mixed bag for me, because the timing required to both initiate and continue the mini-game is hit or miss, especially the moves involving the analog stick. Of course, the fact that I can’t pull them off is more of an indication that I am old and slow, I suppose.

The magic system is somewhat less interesting, and in practice is more of a safety valve, to be used only when you would otherwise be overwhelmed.

God of War is at its bloody best when hordes of enemies surround you and force you to dance and weave and cut them to pieces. Luckily, you get to do this a lot.

The Bad

Unfortunately, you don’t get to spend all your time in the good parts of the game. Mixed into the combat are platforming levels that range from reasonably fun to so frustrating that you feel your very soul being sucked away through your eyeballs. The most insulting part of this is when, after you’ve missed the jump for the tenth time, the game asks you if you want to switch to easy mode. This is especially insulting because the easy mode does not make the jumping easier. In the entire game, I can only think of perhaps one occasion where I died enough to want easier combat. Meanwhile, the record for the number of tries I needed to clear some of the more hateful jumping puzzles was greater than thirty.

I put the blame for the hateful quality of the platforming on the decision to give me a camera I cannot control, and to put this camera in places that make the jumping puzzles harder rather than easier. For example, if I’m inching across a thin wooden beam and jumping over rotating blades, and any hit from any object and any missed jump makes me die instantly, the last place I want the camera is on top of my head where I can’t see my feet. It’s hard for me to believe that a design team that can create such an incredible fighting engine could be so stupid about the camera. This is especially mystifying because it is clear that they know how to place the camera well. Throughout most of the rest of the game the camera does not get in your way. I conclude that they have done this sort of thing on purpose and therefore they hate me.

My two other complaints about the game are the same two complaints I have about most games: stupid save points, and stupid bosses.

The Bosses in God of War are classic old school weird puzzle Bosses. The fact that the combat is fun almost makes them not boring. But not quite. The savepoints in this game are too far apart. The checkpointing system helps, but not if you need to stop playing and come back to the game later. Also, while checkpoints are usually well placed, there are some mistakes. Save-anywhere would have been better.

The Ugly

The final Boss in this game is a classic example of Bad Boss Design. Make sure you have a good hour set aside before you start, because the fight is a three stage deathmarch with no saves between the stages. I will again claim that this is because the game designers hate me. The first stage also has a bug where the mini-game trigger fails because it first asks you to mash Circle, but to transition to the next phase, you have to instantly know when to stop mashing and hit a different button. This means you spend twenty minutes completely mystified about why the mini-game is not working.

The final insult is that when you get to the last stage, the gameplay is completely changed. Instead of the fluid, visceral combat that you get in the rest of the game, the last battle is nothing but a boring dodge and hack-fest. The only saving grace is that after you die a few times the game finally asks you to go to easy mode, which gives you a way to escape the brain-sucking hell that the game has become by that point.

The Rest

The game looks good, especially for a PS2 game. In general they avoided the normal PS2 “looks-like-ass” filter, although the in-engine Kratos doesn’t look so good from the front.

The game is short. This is good. The game feels about the right length. I’ve played it for a couple of weeks and got to the end before I was completely burnt out. I could use nice leisurely turn based game now though.

Some of the monsters all make the same noise. That’s a bit boring.

The game has some puzzles that are easy without being stupid. If that makes any sense.

After beating the game, you get to watch all the movies. I like this feature. The cut-scenes are pretty.

The story is reasonably interesting, though nothing great. The game re- interprets Greek mythology in the same way that Oliver Stone re-interprets American history in the late 20th century.

Overall, I think the fighting engine more than lives up to the hype, but the rest of the game drags it down. It’s demoralizing to pulverize an army of enemies only to fall to your death over and over again because you can’t jump from one perpetual motion machine to another or because the game decides to throw a mind-numbing Boss in your way. God of War is good, but not great. It’s certainly not good enough to play twice, except maybe in Easy mode.