God of War1(1)

Genre: Action Adventure / Hack n’ Slash
Year: 2005
Developed by: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PS2
Feeling Like: Demigod

How far this series has come.

How often is it that the fourth iteration of anything is clearly the best? Generally quality diminishes with sequels, but we’ve lately seen a bucking of that trend in iconic franchises – The Fast and the Furious and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be sure, but 2018’s God of War was such a stark contrast to the first three that it’s hard to believe the same studio was responsible. The deepening characterization of Kratos, the cinematic feel, the emphasis on story, the over-the-shoulder camera, the lack of loading screens, the voice acting and the violence all felt earned, supremely crafted and a clear notch above other action games. If that’s the mature adult of the franchise, then the original God of War is the angsty teen.

I’m convinced this wouldn’t have worked on inferior hardware. Part of the charm of the God of War series is the visceral action, the adrenaline pumping battles and ripping various body parts off ancient Greek mythological figures. If you’re dodging dozens of enemies while pulling off frantic combos and sprinting to avoid a giant sea serpent, you better make sure the framerate holds up and the camera doesn’t become another enemy to fight.

I will give God of War credits where it’s deserved – the visual design of Kratos is amazing. Just look at the box art above – blades bloodied, chains painfully wrapped around his arms, the Spartan war paint and a singular focus towards taking down everything. It’s pretty wild and one of my favorites in terms of game packaging.

God of War1(3)
Less impressive here, but you get the gist

The camerawork is terrific and I don’t think it gets enough praise. Every corner I turned, every new location I visited meant a cinematic pull out or close up to highlight some impossibly large Greek god wreaking havoc in the distance, or to display their eternal suffering.

Normally if I can’t recall a specific melody, I don’t give much thought to the soundtrack, but that’s not the case with God of War. The music here is insane, every fight was punctuated by a choir singing their goddamn hearts out. It’s quite a thrill to have your very own personal wrestling theme every time you chain combos, or relieve a harpy of her wings in aggressive fashion.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the puzzles; Kratos and the rest of the game is so stylistic and exciting that this felt like meandering in the waiting room. Eh, not an unnecessary respite from the rest of the hacking and slashing. I’ll allow it.

God of War1(2)
This is within the first 10 minutes of the game

The setting is incredible. The suffering of the common mortals, the gargantuan beasts, the temples, the storms and the gods themselves. It’s as if they ripped dozens of pages from a mythology textbook, soaked them in energy drinks and punted them in your face. Everything here is macho and big and overblown. If you think there’s room for any kind of subtlety in this world, you’re playing the wrong game. Kratos’ tale slots in perfectly beside all the legendary accolades of Zeus, Hera, Ares and the rest.

I rarely had time to breathe – each encounter consisted of dodging, slicing, pressing the corresponding button during the quicktime events and trying to remember the combinations that would let me clear rooms with my magic chain swords or summoning ghost spartan warriors. You know, maybe those puzzle rooms WERE a good idea.

A few blemishes – the terrible climbing stage near the end killed me more times than anything else. If I’m going to be killed in a God of War game, let Apollo run me through with a sword or something, don’t cut me down by slowly moving blades up a stupid wall.

The studio knew they were onto something and so did the rest of the gaming world. Sequels were on the way, with massive improvements and more bloodshed than ever. I was eager for it.

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