God of War came out at a time when it was ripe to be ignored. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were the worst kept secrets of all time, people were salivating over the next generation game consoles. God of War was a good enough game that it rose above and became a massive success. I even remember playing it at a friend's house back when it came out.
I'm a big fan of beat 'em up types like this, and God of War is a masterpiece of the genre. God of War doesn't reinvent the wheel, instead it perfects it. This is an approach which is often overlooked when creating games, and God of War deserves the highest praise for this.
The game follows the typical strong attack/weak attack/grab layout that is familiar to the genre and adds in magic for special attacks. Your weapons, the Blades of Chaos are pretty graphically impressive for the PlayStation 2 and their sweeping range makes combat a blast. God of War really captures the feeling of being Kratos. You feel empowered with the same rage that Kratos carries with him. The violence is so over the top that it almost borders on humorous at times, especially with the face smashing that Kratos delivers to the Sirens of a later level.
The game plays out in what I consider a pseudo-adventure game format. Areas loop back on themselves, and you do revisit areas but you're essentially in a linear progression broken up into levels. I first noticed this in the 2004 Ninja Gaiden on Xbox. There are puzzles and items collect, but they're compartmentalized and broken up. You won't be looking for items for some kind of end game push, what's in front of you is the only thing that's immediately important.
For the most part, the puzzles do work well. They're never too obscure, but they can be annoying. A large part of the puzzles consists of dragging boxes, which is about as interesting as paint drying for the most part. In fact, I think this is the most recent game I've seen that has an excessive amount of box dragging puzzles. Positioning things right, getting to a higher ledge.. the puzzles are a bit of relic from the N64/PSX level. It's a small black mark on an otherwise fantastic game. In addition, the puzzles can get a bit of excessive towards the end of the game. It can make you long for the full on action from earlier levels.
One other complaint I have is the lack of similar bosses to the early Hydra battle. This was hyped enough that a demo was actually released with this boss battle. After that, you expect to see many more gigantic bosses.. but it doesn't really happen. There are a few, but it's not enough. It's incredibly satisfying taking down the big bads in this game.
I've mentioned that the graphics in this game are pretty nice for a PlayStation 2 title. Kratos' character model is pretty high poly, and he's textured well. The enemies look nice, too. This seems to have been made easier by the game's setting. With its ancient Greece setting, all of the buildings are generally just made of large, plain gray stone blocks. This seems to have saved a lot of space and allowed for nicer textures for key environmental pieces and characters with the PS2's limited RAM. The game supports widescreen as well as 480p and holds up excellently.
The plot is actually quite compelling, and I usually don't get too invested in these sort of ancient time epics. Ares, the god of war, has launched an attack on Athena's city of Athens. Athena asks that Kratos kill the god of war by finding and using pandora's box. Kratos has been serving the gods since he called upon the god of war to kill his enemies when Kratos was faced with defeat. Kratos has a very particular bone to pick with Ares (and a reason for his ashy white skin), but I won't spoil it as it is a bit of a shocker if you're not familiar with the lore of the franchise.
The game's music is also stereotypical of your average ancient epic type of movie. I must note though, that there is some ambient synthesizer music that is absolutely fantastic. It first appears in the later stages of the game when you're close to pandora's box and continues to be used throughout. It almost sounds like Vangelis music, and would be right at home on the Blade Runner soundtrack. It sounds odd, but it really fits with the awe of the environments.
God of War is an excellent game. It's one of my favorite PlayStation 2 games that I've played so far, and I fully understand all of the hype that it has now. This is a game that is worth a play, nearly every second is enjoyable. Ninja Gaiden retains top action game honors in my book, but God of War comes in a very close second.
The Score: 9.5/10