Kratos, the lead character in PlayStation 2 action title God of War, is cool. Not sitting in an inner-city bar, sipping Bacardi Breezers type of cool. But unstoppable one-man army, gigantic axes seared into his arms, stare-death-in-the-eyes-and-sneer-type of cool.
From the opening of God of War when Kratos throws himself off a cliff to commit suicide, right through to the end when he squares off with the aforementioned god of war Ares, Kratos will have you glued to your PlayStation 2. Kratos' relentless bad-ass attitude and his (almost absurdly) flashy moves, coupled with outstanding game design and challenging enemies, makes God of War one of the latest must have titles for Sony's console.
Think Devil May Cry where the metal music and leather fixation has been replaced by Greek mythology and you've got God of War. Kratos is the spiritual cousin of Devil May Cry's Dante -- both are capable of dealing tremendous damage in an over-the-top yet undeniably stylish and gratifying way. You'll be awe struck at the impressive moves Kratos can dish out -- hitting an enemy into the air, following them with a series of blows, grabbing them before they fall and slamming them into the ground may look difficult to pull off at first, but you'll be surprised at the ease at which it can be done after a little practice.
The storyline is pure Greek tragedy, and follows tortured Spartan warrior Kratos' convoluted quest for revenge. Kratos, working as a hired assassin of sorts for the Greek gods, is given his biggest task so far when Athena asks him to destroy the rogue god of war, Ares. The storyline takes its time to build up -- you don't really get much of a background on Kratos and why he's the unsmiling brute he is until late in the game, but the action is intense and satisfying enough to carry through any quiet narrative spots.
While God of War does have several puzzle elements throughout, action is where its heart is. Kratos' main weapons are two axes attached to chains which are seared into his arms (although he does receive another weapon later in the game), which he can wield and throw with great effect. Square is for weak attacks, Triangle for heavy, while X is for jump and Circle is to grab enemies. Kratos can pull of an impressive array of moves, all of which flow smoothly and, as mentioned before, can be performed easily after a bit of practice. The Spartan warrior will also receive different magical spells from various gods along the way. These include thunderbolts from Zeus, electrical charges from Poseidon and more. Both weapons and magic spells can be upgraded using orbs collected throughout the game, with each new level adding extra damage and more abilities.
Kratos can also perform special combos on enemies which result in even more satisfying action. After an enemy has been dealt a certain amount of damage, a Circle symbol appears over that enemy's head. In some cases, pressing the Circle button will trigger a special finishing move action, such as Kratos grabbing an undead soldier and snapping him in half. With bigger enemies, pressing Circle will trigger a short mini-game where players have to press a combination of buttons or move the joystick in a certain direction to succeed. With a Cyclops for example, pressing the right button combo will result in Kratos ducking the giant's sword, climbing onto its back, and then delivering a killing blow to the Cyclop's face -- fail to complete the button combo and he'll simply be thrown off the creature's back. It's an extremely satisfying system that rewards your skill and reflexes, as well as adding another layer of visual cool to Kratos.
Speaking of beasties, God of War has an impressive array of enemies taken from Greek mythology that provide a great challenge. Players will face minotaurs, medusas, centaurs, satyrs and more, all of which require special strategies to easily dispel. And just when you think you've got that minotaur's measure, God of War will ramp up the challenge by throwing a few other enemies in at the same time, forcing you to think fast and keeping the adrenalin flowing.
And all of this action is wrapped up in one of the most impressive presentations of any PlayStation 2 game. Graphics in God of War are generally top notch -- Kratos and his enemies move extremely fluidly, while the areas you traverse through will probably inspire awe in all but the most jaded of gamers (I challenge your jaw not to drop when you first see Ares assaulting the city of Athens, or spotting the gigantic Titan Kronos lugging an entire mountain temple of his back). The game's score is also a standout -- it's thrilling and grandiose, and is surely the equal of any big screen movie soundtrack.
God of War does have its faults, however (although it's hard to be too judgmental when the action it serves up is so satisfying). When it comes to the game's puzzle solving elements, God of War can be hit and miss. Some solutions are blatantly obvious, while others require mental leaps that were initially hard for us to fathom.
The game's fixed camera could also sometimes result in awkward views of the action. Like the Devil May Cry series, God of War contains fixed camera angles, with the view changing as players traverse from one area to another. It didn't happen often, but the fixed angles sometimes made it difficult to see where enemies were hitting us from.
And a warning for the squeamish -- God of War is an extremely gory game, with limbs (and heads) being hacked off, creatures impaled and buckets of blood at every turn. It's relentless, but also quite cartoon-like in its over the top scope. There's also a bit of nudity in this as well -- namely bare breasted women -- so parents with very young kids may want to keep them away.
In the end, those are minor quibbles for what is overall an extremely enjoyable game. If you want cool action, a great challenge and an adrenalin rush, then God of War is a must have.
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