I should not be a fan of the God of War games.
On paper, an alternate take on Greek mythology involving an antihero protagonist who seeks revenge on the gods of Olympus for making him their puppet sounds like a story full of clichés better suited to a Michael Bay film than a video game. Playing through the narrative, this becomes more obvious with each subsequent release. Kratos indiscriminately kills humans, creatures and gods. He stops only to have sex once every game, the only time any remote amount of humor is exhibited in the tale.
Woe was I to pick up the first game on the Playstation 2 and enjoy every second of it. God of War is a prime example of a system-seller: an exclusive that is so undeniably fun to play that if you have an unbridled passion for video games, you cannot help but invest in a console for one game. Metal Gear Solid 4 did that for me to get a PS3, but there are just as many people out there who followed Kratos from one Sony generation to the next without fail.
Kratos is that damned good, and I’ll show you just how.
In a column I published several months ago, I brought up David Jaffe and his eloquent use of the English language to toss around insults you would hear in your headset during a Call of Duty multiplayer session. While the man is not known for his scholarly attitude, he has more than proven himself in the world of game design. Jaffe was responsible for the creation of Twisted Metal and the most-loved games in the series, TM: Black and the new PS3-exclusive released this year. In creating God of War, Jaffe wanted to take “Clash of the Titans and [merge] it with Heavy Metal magazine.”
On the subject of clichés, God of War took the word “epic” and made it shiny and glossy once again. The first battle against the Hydra in the opening of the first game left you exhausted, wondering how in the hell they could possibly top it…only to have your question answered with each successive boss fight. As technology and developer knowledge at Sony’s Santa Monica studios increased, so too did the size and scope of each massive foe that stood and dared block your path of destruction.
God of War also gave us prominent use of the infamous quick time events in an action game. The concept itself was not new (I can remember the incessant beeping and prompting in Shenmue for the Dreamcast), but it had never been implemented into boss battles so seamlessly before it let you slay a Greek monster twenty times your size with a few correctly-timed taps of a button.
Eight years later, QTEs are one of the most “borrowed” features in video gaming. Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia – series that ironically existed long before God of War did now shamelessly insert think-fast-or-die button presses into what used to be normal cut scenes. It is a rare day when you can actually set the controller down anymore while playing a game, and we have Kratos to thank for that. Instantaneous prompts of each button and analog stick acted as executions, battering rams or making Aphrodite orgasm.
I typically prefer brand new games over sequels, and in the case of God of War, which was practically built with a sequel in mind, another aspect I should be lamenting is the fact that nothing really has changed that much. With each new game comes the exact same concept: Kratos is pissed off and tears a lot of people a lot of new assholes. These people vary in size and scope, from the small screen of the PSP all the way to the incredible Titan battles on the PS3. In another series and out of the hands of Santa Monica Studios, these would begin to feel tired and aging. Not here. I have never been bored playing a God of War game, and after just starting the Origins Collection that includes Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, I remember why.
There is something viscerally exciting about tearing into a horde of enemies with the Blades of Chaos and seeing just how many hits you will get in your combo and how many red orbs you will earn for it. Granted, these skirmishes in Chains of Olympus feel a little toned down compared to God of War 3, but comparing the hardware of the PSP against the PS3 is not very fair. Slashing, blocking, rolling and evading are all there, not losing a step in the transition to a handheld system. Upgrading your weapons is as simple as hitting the Start button and holding X. Your lust for blood will rival Kratos himself as you realize you only need a few more kills to unlock the next level for whatever weapon it is you are fine-tuning.
If, after all this time, you have yet to check out God of War, Sony has just the deal for you. All five games released up to this point will be included in the God of War Saga, due out August 28, with two Blu-Ray discs housing the home console entries and download vouchers granting you access to the HD versions of the PSP games. This, of course, is supposed to hold us over until God of War: Ascension, the prequel to the whole series due out in March of next year. The addition of multiplayer has me skeptical, as five games of tearing through armies by myself has me wondering how this sort of gameplay will lend itself to 4 vs. 4 battles.
Of course, I have had the same skeptical attitude about God of War from the very beginning on several occasions, and I have been proven wrong every single time. I imagine Kratos is going to do the same thing next year.