Announced just over a year ago, but in the works for 3 years, Sony’s Santa Monica Studios God of War has finally appeared for the Playstation 2. Headed by Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe, God of War is a game that combines the head-on action of the Devil May Cry games and the adventure parts of one of my favorite GameCube games, Eternal Darkness. In many ways the story is much like the latter with the backstory being told in little pieces as you go along in your adventure.

God of War has so far gotten pretty high praise from reviewers out there, le’s see if I think the same thing.

Fact is that God of War is an excellent looking game. Along with many of Sony’s first-party action/adventure games, you have the option of progressive scan and widescreen. There is also an option for a soft lens, but I turned that off and the framerate didn’t stutter any.

To say God of War is a brutal, bloody and thoroughly destructive is an understatement. There may not be another game that sheds as much blood as God of War. Kratos, the main character, has no qualms at killing both the instruments of Ares or the innocent peasants and soldiers of Athens. You can literally kill anything that moves in the game and the animations are beautiful, but very bloody.

God of War puts out some cool graphical effects as well. Fire effects, water/swimming effects, the gods, etc. all look fantastic. The end fight between Kratos and Ares (although this is a spoiler, it should not really be a surprise who you fight at the end) is very cool to see. Ares himself is also very well drawn and animated as are the rest of the boss creatures that are in the game. Each boss creature is memorable simply because of the David vs. Goliath feel of them. The first level you face off against the Hydra and it is truly an amazing experience. The Hydra is well animated and when he opens up his mouth and screams you see and feel the fallout from it with graphical effects and your controller vibrating.

The coolest effects are from your base weapons, two blades that are fused to your arms via chains. As you up the level of power in the blades their attack distance increases, meaning you can hit enemies that are far away as well as take care of the ones close to you. As they grow in power the color that surrounds them changse from an orange hue to a more reddish one. With the variety of moves you can pull off (and trust me, there are a lot of moves if you keep buying upgrades), the animations are just spectacular for these weapons.

This game is just well put together graphically and the only thing I can notch it down a bit for is the camera in a few instances. In most cases the camera does a great job in its mostly static representation, but toward the end there is a spot where platform jumping is required and you have to go back and forth between the platforms to open up a door. The camera keeps steady looking towards the door and doesn’t flip around to Kratos’ backside when you try to go back across the platforms and it makes it tough to see what is coming up. This is really the only minus though in this category.

I haven’t heard many games that sound as good as God of War. Let’s start with the music. It is an original orchestrated score and it sets the mood for the game. If you purchase the game you can even get a free download of it off of Sony Connect. There is a code that allows you to get it for free – pretty cool! The music is just excellent and it really goes with the times of the game.

The sounds of the game are also stellar. The voiceovers are well done with Kratos and Ares really standing out. Some of the menial voices are not as good, but for the most part the voiceovers for the main characters, including the different gods that talk, are very well done. As explained above, the boss characters (the few that there are unfortunately) also have great sounds, especially the Hydra and the Harpies that you run into a lot in this game.

Finally the game also has Dolby Pro Logic II support and the soundfield is just wonderful. As Kratos flies through enemies the sounds just rocked my sound system. It is very impressive for a Playstation 2 game.

The controls are also done well. In many ways this game is like the Devil May Cry series with a bit more simplified control than Devil May Cry 3 has. Basically you use X to jump (twice to double-jump), square to swing your weapon, triangle to unleash a major swing (that takes a bit of time to juice versus the square button) and circle to go into little minigames to take out enemies. Circle will appear above the enemy after you have them pooped, you hit the circle key and go into a minigame. Depending on the enemy you could have to do a variety of button presses that come up on the screen in a row to finish them off, some you will be pressing quickly on the square button to jam a blade into their throats and some you will be doing moves on the left analog stick ala Street Fighter, but with visual clues of what you are supposed to do.

The L1 trigger lets you block, the R1 trigger makes you do a shoulder dash, L2 lets you do magic powers, R2 is used to open up crates. Pushing the two analog sticks in will allow you to go into Rage of the Gods mode (You have to have your blades at level 2 to get this power) where you are invincible and more powerful for a short time. Your Rage of the God icon must be totally filled to unleash this Devil Trigger like mechanism, but there are times where going invincible for a little bit helps an awful lot for Kratos.

The d-pad is used to pick which item you want to use as you collect them. Your first one is a thunder power given by Poseidon and you will continue to get 3 other powers from gods as you go through the game. You press the direction the power is placed in the d-pad and you can use that magic.

As you upgrade your weapons you will unlock new moves for Kratos to use. They are all well explained about which button combos to do for the special move. Some of the moves are absolutely devastating and can handle a lot of bad guys at once. As you go through the game you find yourself being more of an unstoppable force the further you get and your combo numbers go higher and higher.  There can literally be a thousand plus hit combo.

The controls are really good on this game, but it would be cool to have more weapons to quick change with ala Devil May Cry 3, but Kratos’ blades and the sword you get eventually are good enough for this game honestly.

This is a very well done game, possibly the best Action/Adventure game in a long time, and I don’t say that lightly. Everything seems to work with this game: it isn’t too hard (until you get to God mode), isn’t too frustrating (yes, there are platform and time-based sections that will frustrate you), has a good story that gives you pieces here and there as you take Kratos through the game. The story is actually well done, although honestly many people can take a shot in the dark of the history behind Kratos’ hatred of Ares. Unfortunately you can also guess at the ending if you think about what would happen if Kratos accomplished his ultimate plan.

The movie cutscenes are absolutely phenomenal in this game and many of them are drawn in a storybook-like setting where the camera moves and stops on a certain section of the picture and you see someone slice and dice people with blood spewing out. The beginning of the game sees Kratos on the top of a peak ready to commit suicide, saying “The gods have abandoned me” and he steps off the cliff to his death. You don’t see the ending of this cutscene until the end of the game, meaning the game takes place in the past.

To say this game is not safe for children is an understatement. The blood and amount of violence is no big surprise, but early on after beating Hydra you see Kratos with two naked women on a boat going toward Athens. When I say naked, I mean that you see full frontal naked breasts and Kratos talking about how all the women in the world will never satisfy his appetite. I mean, the guy has 2 women at once – how rough of a life can he have? I’m surprised he doesn’t decide to rip them apart like he does everyone else in the game. I am also surprised that during the Hydra sequence there is a section where you need to find the captain’s key to free the women and children who are trapped behind a locked door.  Later on you see that he kills the very type of people he seems interest in saving in this section.  From what I understand, this beginning part was one of the last sections finished for the game and may describe why there is such a contrast with Kratos’ thoughts here and what he does later on.

Obviously Kratos is on a singular quest, to kill Ares, the God of War. Ares is currently taking apart Athens when Kratos arrives there. Kratos’ plan is simple: he needs to find Pandora’s box, the only weapon a mortal has that can take down a god. The first part of the game is spent getting through Athens in order to reach the desert where the titan Kronos walks with Pandora’s Temple on his back. Kronos, since he is a titan, is huge and it’s cool how Kratos gets to the top of his back to get into the temple. With Kratos in only one mindset (find Pandora’s box, kill Ares) he obviously is not too worried about any person or thing whether they be an innocent human or an evil being. In fact, Kratos can kill every person or creature he finds along the way and they each fill up his red orb supply that is capable of upgrading his current equipment ala Devil May Cry.

Much fun can be had with the circle button in the game when you weaken an opponent to the point where they have a circle button come up above them. This takes you into a minigame where you can do a variety of things (explained in the Control section of this review). Kratos does such things as rip off the wings of a Harpy and slice them up, jam a blade straight into a minotaur’s throat, etc. Kratos is a killing machine and you can obviously make him enjoy killing everything quite a bit if you want to get into those minigames. I mostly went through the game just killing everything and doing the minigames with the minotaurs mainly because they yielded health if you killed them that way.

Upgrades in the game are very important and you will want to upgrade your blades at least because they are your most important weapons because of their range. I didn’t find the god powers to be all that great or useful in the game, although there are sections where they are very handy; especially toward the end of the game. There are two god powers that are better suited than the other two, but I don’t wish to spoil anything there. As you kill enemies you gain red orbs and then you can go into the start menu and upgrade your weapons and powers.

If there is a minus in the gameplay section it would be that there are not enough boss fights. You do have a few and they actually talk about another boss in the Making of God of War extra that was going to be guarding Pandora’s box in the game, but they dropped it unfortunately. The boss fights that are here are excellent and go above and beyond many boss fights other games have, although Devil May Cry 3 does have some awesome and more numerous boss fights than God of War. More mythological fights would have been awesome in this game, maybe more of what Hercules or Jason went through.

Much like Devil May Cry this game is just fun to play. It isn’t nearly as hard as DMC except when you get into God mode which you unlock after beating the game once. Sony Santa Monica has done a great job on this game.

This game won’t take you too long to beat, anywhere from 8-12 hours. The beauty of the game is that when you beat it you open up extras and the God mode. The extras include such things as a Making of documentary, deleted scenes, an untold story about Kratos’ brother (which may be what the sequel is centered around) and other things. Once you beat God mode more is unlocked, including two secret messages, what happened to the titan Kronos after the events of the game and other things. The only problem with the God mode is that you do not get the weapons you had at the end of the other difficulty level…you start at square one and have to go through the game that way.

Even though the game is short it is obvious that it is well worth it to go through the game again and try to beat God mode, which is not an easy thing to do obviously. I like that they made a lot of extras available to you after you beat the game once, but leave just enough to entice you into beating God mode and unlock the other, even meatier things.