Review – God of War

I hate making film to videogame comparisons, but in this case it seems appropriate. Back in the day, whenever a movie ended explicitly detailing that a sequel would be made, it always bugged me. Who the hell did those guys think they are? Were they really that confident in their production, or were they just cocky? It always seemed to be in bad taste to just assume people were going to buy in to your product.

Nowadays, the sequel hint is a common practice. Not only do we generally accept it, but sometimes we downright expect it (as in the case with something like Spiderman). After all, if it is good, then why not create even more of that good for us to enjoy?

The same logic seems to have carried over into gaming-land. Regardless of whether it hints at a sequel, if a game is good, we expect to see more of it. And not just one sequel mind you – few of us are phased when it grows into an entire franchise stretched over every platform. The companies make money, and gamers get more of what they love. Who doesn’t win in that situation?

Shenmue – shirt + blood – boring = God of War

There’s a critical difference in the way both industries carry out this practice that makes the comparison ineffective. In film, the movies getting the sequel treatment are the moneymakers, the popular fluff that we all love to watch. I don’t care if Batman doesn’t win the Oscar; I had a lot of fun watching it, and I want to see more. Speaking of Oscars however, there are the big time actors and directors that are still going out and making brilliant, singular films that blow minds and win trophies. Many of these guys also rake in the dough, and even if they don’t, they still earn the respect of their peers and plenty of opportunities to work again.

In gaming, these two facets are one. The big, fluffy games that are pushing units and spawning sequels are also the ones winning the awards. Gears of War wiped the industry awards clean in 2006, and its guaranteed that we’ll see more of it sooner or later. Gamers don’t blink an eye. If Scorese announced a followup to The Departed, even the Hollywood gossip rags would wonder what the hell is wrong with him. And when something creative and powerful does come out, its either whored out for all it’s worth (ie Katamari Damacy, you know more sequels will be coming), or left to linger and die (Ico, Rez). In film, there’s room for everything. Meanwhile, we gamers don’t seem to have much attention for anything that doesn’t sell half a million.

It is a situation that has made “art” and “innovation” some of the most popular catchphrases of the day, while these same things are also stifled (or in the case of artistic gaming, not always getting the point). It is an industry where the gaming equivalent to “Spiderman” is both the biggest blockbuster and the Oscar winner, and no one is sure if this is a good thing or not. If games like God of War are any indication, then I would say our standards are far too low for anyone to take us seriously.

Let’s be honest here, folks. God of War’s combat is Ninja Gaiden with a better camera. It is easily broken by air combos and interrupting enemy attacks. The platforming is out of place and poorly executed (this one isn’t debatable, not after the Prince of Persia trilogy). The story is a bastardization of Greek mythology (ok with), cleverly told (more than ok with me), and almost exclusively shown through sepia toned cutscenes where paper cutout-looking characters gush blood (which are just plain retarded).

The real god of war.

Kratos special finishing moves are the most clever thing the game does, but rather than discussing their strategic advantage (doing these dish out different colored orbs), all I ever read is about how cool it is to rip a harpy’s wings off even after you’ve done it sixty times (which is just not true). It is the kind of game you play to feel like a manly man, or at least fool yourself into thinking that, since it’s hard to feel manly when you kill twenty skeletons and then perish thanks to a bad platforming section. But really that’s all it is; a big, burly action game for guys who might find Devil May Cry to be gay or God Hand to be archaic. I’m quite fine with that, as it has a definite place in the ladder of gaming.

But how is this brilliant? How is it mature? Are we that easily swayed by buckets of blood and women with nipples bigger than your mouth? There are some clever things in God of War, just as there are a lot of cracks in the set pieces. More often than not, both seem glossed over. The culprit? Polish. Polish is a blessing and a curse to this industry. In a game like Half Life 2 or Gears of War, polish helps them go from great to classic. But said games have also been meticulously crafted, where every corner of every level has been scrutinized until it is perfect. Every gameplay device is used to achieve maximum entertainment. But as GoW shows, you can put far less care into these little things, slap a bunch of basic ideas together and glue it all up with some “polish”. HL2 answers the crate pushing puzzle by giving you the gravity gun. GoW makes you push crates under a hail of flaming arrows. Which one is more obvious?

If God of War did anything, it made me interested in its sequel. It made me want to spend more money on David Jaffe games and Sony products. From the commercial side, it is a success. But unlike so many others, I simply cannot place this one at the top of the PS2 heap, and from a creative standpoint I worry that so many feel that way. This simply cannot be our epitome of the genre if anyone is going to hear “games are art!” and not laugh out loud.

Success commercially. Ho-hum achievement creatively. Mission accomplished?

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17 years ago

Thank you, finally someone agrees with me on this. I’ve been known around the office as the guy that says God of War is horribly overrated, and I stand by that notion. It did a few things right, but to think those few things make it Game of the Year, and the best PS2 Game Ever (IGN) annoys the poop out of me. Did everyone forget Shadow of the Colossus? Ninja Gaiden? Viewtiful Joe? Devil May Cry? God of War has shown me nothing to put it at the top. Nothing. Horribly overrated.