God of War was something of a revelation when it was released in 2005. The tragic tale of vengeance that was based around the Spartan commander Kratos and Ares, the god of war, was a rarity: an epic adventure based on Greek mythology that was as bloody as it was cinematic. A rich combo system was combined with an incredible narration, lush visuals, and tough-as-nails encounters to create a memorable if sometimes frustrating experience. God of War II was released two years later and picked up where the original had left off, utilizing the same upgradeable weapon mechanic, combo system, and platforming elements as the original. The sequelís scope is bigger, its encounters tougher, and its visuals even more impressive. Fans of Greek mythology have rarely had it so good.
In preparation for the upcoming God of War III, Sony has released God of War Collection to whet appetites and get everyone up to speed. Ported by BluePoint Games, the collection consists of both titles, as well as the bonus content from the second (interviews and behind-the-scenes footage), in addition to a download code for the E3 demo of the third - though Iím not sure why the demo just wasnít included on the disc. From Hades to the heavens, you will take Kratos from one quest of vengeance to another as he seeks out the gods themselves. At around 40 hours for both stories, more if you include the challenge missions in part two, youíre looking at a whole lot of hack-and-slash action for $39.99.
Kratos might not be the most likeable character, but his journey is one true to the myths of old. As temperamental and violent as any of the Greek gods, Kratos goes about his journey of retribution with the tenacity of an enraged bull. A speedy and powerful warrior, he is able to quickly evade attacks whenever armed with a lighter weapon as well as attack from a distance with the swords chained to his arms, the Blades of Chaos and Athena. Additional weapons and abilities are found throughout his journeys, including the power of Zeusí lightning and Atlasí quake. He will be tasked with making sacrifices, both of himself and of others, which makes for one of the more memorable moments of the original and is amped up several times over for the sequel. Although, as a would-be god venturing about the Olympiad world filled as it is with cannibalism, incest, and patricide, Kratos fits right in.
I wonít spoil the story of either title, but even if you have a passing interest in Greek mythology, youíre going to get a kick out of seeing the pantheon in all of their glory. The God of War Collection ups the resolution of both titles from 480 to 720 with anti-aliasing and a smooth 60 frames per second, which does wonders for the action and phenomenal rendered cutscenes. (A nice comparison shot, courtesy of Wikipedia.) The game also has a slightly skewed view of the gods, so the characters might not look quite as you expect, or like; however, I found the interpretations fairly close to the source material and always interesting.
As good as the games look, there were a few minor quibbles with the visuals. One issue is the appearance of some blurry textures. They are naturally more prominent in the first game, but to be honest, I never found them to be terribly bothersome. The menus are also stretched too wide, which is pretty noticeable and a bit of an eyesore. I encountered a glitch as well, during my encounter with Typhon in God of War II: when removing Typhonís Bane, the titan disappeared as Kratos went through the sequence of digging into its eye, only to suddenly reappeared right before the sequence repeated. While the problems are unfortunate, most of them are understandable and the improvements overall are quite impressive.
About the only thing I would have altered on the audio side was balance the dialogue better and add subtitles. The dialogue is prone to being drowned out during action sequences, which were the subtitles would have come in handy. Tweaking the music and effect sliders didnít help, and not being able to always properly hear the phenomenal Linda Hunt in all of her forceful etherealness narrating the hell out of both titles is a shame. Not that the music or effects are bad, they are actually really good, but that both titles have been graced by some amazing talent and I want to soak in every bit of the storyís dramatics.
The heart of the game, the combat and platforming, is as it has always been: solid and difficult. Throughout Kratosí journeys he will upgrade his weapons and abilities by the red orbs absorbed by wounded and defeated enemies. Each upgrade will enhance the potency of the item, with additional moves being unlocked for his repertoire when a weapon is upgraded. You will be receiving new items all the way up to the very end, which keeps combat varied and exciting. The light, heavy, and grab attacks can also be chained together for a series of moves that make up defined combos. The combo system is also quite unique for a platforming title in that it is fairly involved; you can certainly spam the same combo or two, but you really need to branch out and try all that the system has to offer to get the most out of the games. The longer your combos, the more red orbs you score whenever the enemy falls. Grabs allow for shorter, and often far more violent (re: ripping in half), deaths, but will garner fewer orbs. In addition, yellow orbs can be gathered to unleash the Rage of the Gods or Titans, which sends a charged Kratos into combat even more crazed and powerful. The series also brought the quick-time event into prominence, and they are all over the place. Quick-time events are minigames engaged whenever certain enemies are weakened, which can just be hitting the triangle to hitting four buttons and whirling the analog stick into half and full circles. God of War is better with them than most games, but Iím still not that big of a fan. In many cases they can be quite lengthy, and when they are prominent during difficult sections they can make encounters feel repetitious and tedious. Give me combos and magic over Simon Says any day.
The platforming portions offer a nice diversion. Many areas require that you solve a rudimentary puzzle that often involves sliding a column or block into a lock mechanism, which are often clever in how their simplicity is masked. The games are filled with ĎOh!í moments as you finally realize just how obvious a puzzleís solution is. Many puzzles also involve story-related items, often ripped away from legendary heroes (i.e. Perseus), as well as timed sequences with gears and levers. The latter can make things frustrating as you will know where to go and what to do, but doing it will drive you nuts Ė you will get oh so close, only to see a gate close or door shut. Many more frustrating moments come about because of the gameís use of a static camera. In an effort to get the cinematic feel, set camera angles are used to get the most dramatic shots. Of course, the most dramatic shot might not be the best shot. The camera system is similar to the one used in the earlier Resident Evil titles and is also prone to the occasional flipped controls and obscured view, though the God of War titles do fare a good bit better with the system.
Moments of confusion often meet in tandem with one of the random difficulty spikes that the series is known for, where unassuming encounters suddenly become hair-pulling undertakings as you find yourself stomped over and over. Bad angles can make it difficult to get a read on the enemy or even where youíre at, resulting in many a load screens. Even if the camera is at a good view, though, the game can still turn on you and have you ready to curse it to the depths of Hades. But that is how the God of War titles are, and they can still keep you coming back for more. I suppose itís not called God of Blithe Interactions for a reason.
The God of War Collection is a fantastic bargain: $39.99 gets you two great games, the secondís bonus materials, and a code for the demo of the upcoming God of War III. Some of the seriesí design might seem a little stiff after the years, in particular the static camera and difficulty spikes, but it provides the kind of satisfying, grueling slugfests that make putting up with quirks worthwhile. Even quick-time events.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)