God Of War

Year: 2005
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: SCEA
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 5/27/05
Rating: ****

Taking place in ancient Greece and utilizing classic Greek mythology, "God Of War" follows a Spartan warrior named Kratos in his quest to kill Ares, the god of war. For a mere mortal to challenge the gods of Olympus, one must have their help, and Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis all come to his aid bearing magical gifts and powers. The final piece that Kratos needs to take on Ares is the power of Pandora's Box, which is locked safely away in a temple in the Desert Of Lost Souls. It's certainly sketchy why the gods can't take on Ares or retrieve Pandora's box themselves, but I'm sure it has something to do with how the gods are allowed to interfere in the affairs of Man. Starting at sea, Kratos first encounters the fierce Hydra, then sails to Athens which is under attack by Ares. After speaking with the oracle of Athens about Pandora's Box, he heads to Pandora's Temple and the madness that awaits there. After surviving all of the traps and challenges in the temple, Kratos must also fight his way out of Hades itself before challenging Ares in mortal combat.

"God Of War" is a spectacular game, with lush visuals, a superb musical score, excellent voice acting, smooth animation, and slick gameplay. The game clocks in at about twelve hours, which is just about the right length. Unfortunately, about two thirds of the way through, the difficulty ramps up significantly, which forced me to cheat through the rest of the game. Even cheating, the game is challenging and requires precision timing, and as far as I can tell, the end battle against Ares is unwinnable. Basically, you can't let Ares hit you - ever. After about thirty minutes of that, I gave up in disgust. Fortunately, by this point in the game I had stopped caring about the outcome, and already gotten all that I could out of the game, so I wasn't completely infuriated.

As I mentioned before, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The level design is excellent and the environments are wonderful to behold. The architecture is detailed and majestic, and the lighting does an excellent job of setting the mood. Load times are almost non-existent, creating a seamless experience. The only complaint I have with the graphics is that I noticed frequent shearing. Combat is straight forward and delightfully bloody. Weapons can be upgraded with experience, unleashing even more brutal attacks. Certain enemies require fatality moves that play out as short mini-games. While they look awesome, they're difficult to watch because you're so busy concentrating on which buttons to hit. Fortunately, Kratos can handle all but the most severe of falls without sustaining damage, which is something I would love to see in the next "Tomb Raider" game. The only aspect of gameplay that I found annoying is that the user can't manually control the camera to survey Kratos' surroundings. While it's definitely frustrating, the game makes sure that you can always see what you NEED to see. The voice acting brings a lot of depth to the game, featuring excellent performances by T.C. Carson, Linda Hunt, Gwendoline Yeo, and Claudia Black.

With all of the goodness in "God Of War", arguably the most impressive aspect is its stellar soundtrack. Epic in scope, utilizing bold orchestral overtures, moving choral arrangements, and subtle electronic compositions, it is the key element in setting the tone and mood of the game. It's also the one element that I found the most aggravation with. You see, the game manual gives you a coupon to download the entire soundtrack for free, which I got very excited about. Unfortunately, "free" means having to sell your soul to Sony by using their intolerable Connect service. It's basically Sony's approach to DRM (digital rights management) which means you can only download and play music on a single computer using their software. This is utterly worthless to me. I would gladly pay for a CD of the soundtrack, but unlike other music download services, Sony Connect doesn't provide that option. In fact, you can't do ANYTHING without installing their heinous software, which is a nightmare unto itself. First of all, it doesn't support my operating system. When I found a machine that had a supported OS, it failed to install because the C:\ drive didn't have enough disc space and it refused to install to any other drive. After finding a machine that satisfied all of these criteria, I finally installed the software and that's when I realized that it doesn't have any export functions. It does give you the option to burn an audio CD from the files it downloads, but of course this machine didn't have a CD burner and there are no options for creating a disc image that could be moved to another machine. Apparently, their CD burning feature is very flaky and only supports a limited number of burners, and the online forums are full of complaints about it not working properly. I also read that it won't let you make CDs of copyrighted music, which all music is, so what's the point? Additionally, I've read about third party utilities that will actually convert the proprietary OpenMG files into something useable like WAV or MP3, but after all of the pain and anguish I'd suffered so far, it wasn't worth the effort for something that might work. So for now I'll just have to hope and pray that I can get a CD of the soundtrack from some brave soul who has actually succeeded at this Herculean task. Next came the arduous task of uninstalling the software from the computer, which left behind a criminal number of intrusive hooks that needed to be deleted manually. The final insult came when I fired off a customer complaint e-mail to Sony, only to have it get kicked back because I didn't have their software installed. Bastards. Bottom line: SONY CONNECT SUCKS. I can't imagine anyone actually using this service, and I can't see how Sony expects to make money from it. If this is the future of DRM, I want no part of it.

On the plus side, I have to give Prima Games kudos for their excellent strategy guide, which comes with a DVD walkthrough. The DVD is absolutely brilliant, allowing you to watch your favorite parts of the game accompanied by some very clever and amusing narration. (anything that features the word "coitus" is good for a giggle or two) As is often the case with strategy guides, some sections are completely incorrect while others contain little to no detail, but for the most part it's quite good and full of excellent pictures. It's definitely worth the extra $5.00 that it cost, but only if you're someone like me who actually likes to watch video games.