God of War (2005, PS2)

By mothman spirit / February 14, 2013

God of War is a depressing slog of a 3D brawler with boring, button-mashing combat and awful art direction. So of course it had massive "critical" and commercial success, no doubt due to the efforts of Sony’s marketing division. It's supposed to make you feel like you're taking part in this amazing epic, but it never does.
   The biggest reason for this is how boring combat is. You're supposed to be this incredibly powerful warrior chosen by the gods and all that, yet you never go against any foes worthy of that might. Combat devolves into spamming the massively overpowered square, square, triangle combo. It’s stupidly easy and thus boring. You can always tap block to instantly cancel out of any combo, which makes things even easier. There is some potential for coolness in the fighting engine, but that doesn’t really matter if you never have to do anything more than button mash. Even then, Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden have way better engines, and they both have phenomenal graphics and atmosphere as well.

Combat, besides being easy, feels totally limp. When you attack, it doesn’t feel like your avatar is swinging around a sword, it just feels like there’s a vague hitbox in front of you that can damage enemies. It’s the same with blocking and parrying. As long as you kind of, sort of tap the block button before you get hit, the game goes into slow motion while Kratos awkwardly swivels around to face the enemy, then you can follow up with an overpowered parry attack. It’s all sloppy and loose. Then there are dumb contextual attacks and QTEs everywhere. Each one tends to send Kratos flying into an uninteractive rage for ten straight seconds. Not only are you completely invulnerable while performing these moves, but enemies will just watch while you literally tear their friends in half. It makes a complete mockery of the game. The combat is already boring, and it’s even more so with this kind of crap.
   Boss fights are a supposed highlight, but they suck. For example, in the Hydra battle, the first boss in the game, you're supposed to somehow guess that you have to trigger some random hook mechanism to kill it. It's totally counter-intuitive and artificial, as if they wanted to set up this cool, cinematic kill but couldn’t really figure out how to make it feel natural. They’re all completely pattern-based and there aren’t very many of them either. Though they are impressively large in size, it doesn’t matter because of how easy they are to kill and how robotic they act.
   The graphics are terrible. I don’t care how technically impressive they are, how they managed to push so many polygons on the wimpy PS2 or whatever. It doesn’t matter how advanced your lighting engine is if the artists using it have no talent. God of War is a fantasy-themed American game, so of course it looks ugly. See: The Elder Scrolls series and World of Warcraft for some other prominent examples. This completely dulls any impact anything might’ve had. For example, early in the game, you’re looking over a cliff at Ares, this colossal behemoth, ravaging the armies of Greece. He has this tacky, glowing orange beard and hair, his proportions are totally off, and he’s awkwardly animated. He looks like some kid’s ugly cartoon, scrawled in a notebook, rendered with polygons. Rather than thinking how epic this was, the only thing I could notice was how incredibly ugly it looked.
   Environments are the same bland Greek temples and the like over and over again, none of them particularly interesting to look at. There's a part set in a desert, which is supposed to feel huge and threatening, but then you realize you can walk to the edge in a minute or two. It feels like you’re in a big cardboard box instead. There’s also a sewer, which at this point is one of the worst, most cliched environments you could possibly put in your videogame, and one which has always sucked, since sewers tend to be very boring, ugly places!
   There are somewhat puzzly scenes, all of which are stupid, like the part in the beginning where you’re supposed to kick around this crate so you can jump on top of it, then jump up to an out-of-reach platform. If the box breaks, it respawns. Epic! Parts like these remind me of the Zelda games. You can’t really call anything in either of them a puzzle because there’s nothing puzzling about them. They make no sense, aesthetically. Like, Kratos and Link are both supposed to be these warriors of legend, so why do they have to push around crates in vaguely Sokoban-style puzzles? God of War isn’t quite as bad as any of the Zelda games in this regard, but it’s still stupid.
   The only positive is that the game features some scripted scenes, reminiscent of Half-Life, but in a 3D brawler. This is a good idea, since these can greatly increase the awesomeness of a game, but it's been badly executed. Any awesomeness they might’ve had is brought down by how badly everything else sucks, and they aren’t even interactive in any way. They’re really just video clips that play in the background. Compare this to Half-Life, where the scripted scenes are things you actually play. You don't just watch some elevator collapse in the distance, you’re on it! God of War has nothing as cool as that elevator scene.
   Any atmosphere the game tries to build is completely destroyed by the lack of any difficulty and the sheer ugliness of everything. I’ve heard the game defended on the ground that it’s incredibly manly. Like, there’s a mini-game where Kratos has sex with two topless women, exposed breasts and everything, and after you’re done, hundreds of glowing red experience orbs shoot out of the bed, which was pretty funny. The game tries to be intriguing, with Kratos committing suicide for an unexplained reason in the first cutscene, but the game is so boring that the plot just comes across as dumb melodrama. What a stupid game. It’s not EVEN lipstick on a pig. It’s bad aesthetics wrapped around lame mechanics. Fuck Sony and their massive hype machine and fuck them for spending a billion dollars on this crap rather than spending the money on something even slightly decent. Fuck God of War!