I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.
— Joseph Campbell
This is the game I’ve been waiting for. As a lover of Zelda-style puzzle/adventure games and a lover of ancient myths, God of War is the game I imagined I’d play as an adult. And make no mistake — this is an adult’s game.
With enough gore, sex, and amoral brutality to make Frank Miller pause, God of War earns its Mature rating. The game asks players to not only butcher the monsters of ancient myth, but to torture, kill, and betray innocent mortals as well. The game offers players a chance to indulge their baser desires with a diverse area of enemy-specific fatalities and the chance to earn experience through collateral damage in cities, and even turns sex into a minigame.
The story by creator David Jaffe of Twisted Metal fame, follows the Spartan Kratos as he challenges the god Ares after the corruption of his soul. With the feel of a Greek tragedy, the game begins with Kratos’ suicide and allows players to learn what brought him to that point. Like all epic heroes, the “Ghost of Sparta” is far from perfect. He kills without mercy, and even when seeking redemption he offers no quarter to the suffering. Admittedly, such a premise might seem too bleak for modern audiences that need that reassurance of a happy ending, but the story provides enough visual and emotional depth to keep even video game spectators (like my girlfriend more often than not) interested.
The legends that inspired the game are given their proper respect. It accurately portrays Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades as near-equals in the divisions of heaven and earth, and includes a mention of Amphitrite (one of Poseidon’s lovers). These are aspects of Greek myth forgotten by popular culture. Other aspects are changed or ignored. Kronos, for example, is referred to as a Titan punished by Zeus, but no mention is made of the fact that he is the thunder god’s father. A key plot device in the game, Pandora’s Box, is said to have never been found by a mortal before, but that would negate the legend of Pandora as the first human woman, and the one who opened said box to unleash the world’s sins leaving only the spirit of hope behind. In the game, Pandora’s Box is a MacGuffin of ill-defined power, rather than a container for conceptual spirits. Still, Greek myth is not Lord of the Rings, so there is no definitive version that fans can look to and point out inconsistencies. Greek (and later Roman) legends were told again and again, each time with something different. One more version doesn’t hurt the mythology.
God of War is also a cinematic feast, with cutscenes blending together to provide a complete story even without a game, and with top-notch voice work. Kratos is voiced by Terrence Carson, a veteran voice actor with a very Keith David-like sound, and Linda Hunt makes for a hauntingly powerful narrator. This might make a good movie, certainly an appropriate Vin Diesel vehicle.
It’s not perfect of course, nothing ever is. The storyline has a few potholes (If Zeus told the gods not to interfere, why does he give Kratos the most valuable weapons? If Ares can kill people by stepping on them, why does he let Kratos get everything he needs to defeat him? What’s the gravedigger’s deal?), and the art pushes the now-six-year-old system to its limits (causing the occasional frozen game). And while some powers are upgradeable and necessary to complete the game, others are almost inconsequential and very well might never be used again in favor of Kratos’ more powerful weapons, the Blades of Chaos.
Because God of War is a “cinematic feast” and helps to blur the line between video games and Hollywood, it’s only fitting that the disc includes many DVD-like features such as a “making of” featurette, trailers, deleted scenes, unused character designs, a preview for a potential sequel, even in-game Easter eggs that only the keen-eyed and tenacious will find. And while the secrets to unlocking these extras can be found elsewhere on the web, as Jaffe warns, “If you got the secret from the net or a magazine, then actually you kind of suck.”
In terms of gameplay, God of War is what 2002’s Rygar was trying to be, Maximo was pretending to be, and is more complete than 2004’s Fable. It is very much an adult version of The Legend of Zelda in that it lets players gain new weapons and techniques while solving intricate puzzles. The game also allows a healthy amount of exploration. Its not as open-ended as Grand Theft Auto, but it does allow players to investigate every nook and cranny of ancient Greece before moving on. Add Kill Bill-style blood and the occasional topless woman (or she-beast), and you have a fun, mature-themed game that will surely get some politicians panties in a bunch.