Revisiting God of War

One of my favorite games for the PS2 was God of War. I certainly had a few issues with it, but overall it was a great game and far beyond its hack-n-slash adventure game competition. Indeed, it’s become my gold standard for these type of games, and most games I’ve played since don’t even come close. Sony recently re-released the first two God of War games (with updated graphics) for the PS3. Since I’d never played the sequel, and since the God of War: Collection was reasonably priced, I figured it was worth a shot (and would help prepare for the upcoming and long awaited God of War III). Some thoughts on the games:

  • The games look great. They’ve been upgraded to HD, though you can kinda tell that it’s a previous generation game that’s been upgraded. So while it’s not a showoff game, it’s a significant improvement over the PS2 version of the game. Of course, the character and level design were great to start with, and so this treatment only makes things better. As near as I can tell, everything else is pretty much the same as the PS2 version.
  • Unfortunately, there are some things that worked in the PS2 version, but which annoy me now. Most notably, the save points. Now, don’t get me wrong, the save points are reasonably well spaced and there are even checkpoints between savepoints that make things less frustrating. However, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve become spoiled by current generation console games and computer games that have automatic save systems and checkpoints. I have to give the GoW Collection a pass on this because it is based on a last generation game, but if GoW III has the same save system, I’m going to be royally pissed. David Wong perfectly encapsulates why this type of thing sucks:

    This is a throwback to the arcade/NES days when physical limitations in the system wouldn’t allow you to save your progress just anywhere. There is no reason for this now. None. We’re busy. We’ve got work, appointments, phone calls. We shouldn’t tolerate an inability to save our progress in any piece of software.

    Half Life 2 did this perfectly–it auto-saved every few minutes, behind the scenes. You didn’t have to worry about it and you didn’t have to re-fight enemies you had already defeated.

    There are people who say that preventing saves adds to the “tension” of the game. Sure, in the sense that the fact that your 360 could catch on fire at any moment also adds to the tension. Face it, if the only way you can think of to add suspense to your game is to disable a feature of the hardware, then you suck at making games.

    Now, again, God of War isn’t that bad when it comes to save points. It’s a lot better than even some current gen games (I’m looking at you Metroid!), but it grates on me. Again, I really hope God of War III will feature a more seamless checkpoint system.

  • Ares was much more difficult this time around! I must have inadvertently switched to easy mode or something when I played the game last because Ares kicked my arse this time around. Of course, I eventually beat him and won the game, so there’s that. Interestingly, the battle with Zeus in GoW II was a lot easier, if a little tedious (more on this in a moment)…
  • Conversely, the Hades level didn’t give me nearly as many problems this time around. The last time I played, this was a major complaint, and I nearly quit the game because I hated this level so much. I wasn’t especially looking forward to it and it’s still not fun, but I got through it amazingly quick this time. The platforming in the game is still the worst part (especially given the way the camera moves at times), and I was happy that GoW II mostly did away with the platforming, or took an approach more appropriate for a 3D game (there’s a lot more climbing)
  • One of the things that God of War does well is quick time events. QTEs are somewhat of a bane in other games, but God of War always got it right. For the uninitiated, QTEs are basically a series of buttons you need to press during a cut-scene or cinematic. So you’re fighting a Minotaur and a little circle appears above the Minotaur’s head. Press the circle button and you see Kratos leap up and do some crazy maneuver to kill the Minotaur. There are often multiple steps to the process, in effect creating a mini-game. God of War was always pretty good about this. For the most part, if you failed to press the buttons fast enough, you would be given another chance to do so. In some cases, you don’t need to use them at all. Some bosses do require you to complete the sequence though. But again, if you fail the sequence, you can just try again (you might lose some health in the process). A lot of other games are not as forgiving. In many cases, failing to execute the QTE will result in instant death. In such cases, QTEs cease being a fun mini-game and become an exercise in “Press this button to not die.” which is kinda silly. And quite frustrating. One game I’ve played recently that did this poorly was the first Uncharted. That game was terrible at hinting that a QTE was even coming, and when they did happen, they were almost always of the instant-death variety. One of the things I loved about God of War was that they handled QTEs well… right up until the end of GoW II. For some weird reason, the final stage of the Zeus battle is an instant-death QTE. It only took me a couple of times to get it right, but it was annoying, even moreso because the series had always gotten QTEs right.
  • God of War II is still a pretty solid game. There are a bunch of new weapons and mechanics at work, but the game never gets too unwieldy and the primary gameplay is the same familiar hack-n-slash adventure stuff. The new weapons are fine, but the Blades of Chaos are still probably your best bet (also, I miss the Blade of Arcturus from the first game, but even that wasn’t that well handled). This time around, there seem to be more in the way of environmental puzzles, all of which are pretty great (and none of which seemed to trip me up as much as a couple of puzzles in the first game). There are also a lot of mini-bosses. Some of these are great fun. Others are a bit lacking, but still pretty good. Ultimately, I don’t think the game flows as well as the original, but that’s kinda expected in a sequel. I’m already familiar with the things that make the game work, so there is less that feels new about the game. With the exception of a couple small control scheme changes, you could play the second game without knowing that it’s even really a sequel (i.e. it seems like a single game… albeit one where you lose all your powers halfway through)… Apparently the series was planned as a trilogy (aren’t they always), and so the middle installment ends on a bit of a cliffhanger (hehe, pun intended). Storywise, things are fine this time around. Kratos is less likeable this time around, and his end goal is a bit odd (destroy Zeus?), but by the end, it begins to make more sense. I’m looking forward to the conclusion in the third game…
  • This is completely irrelevant, but both games have PS3 trophies, and a lot of them are rather easy to get. I played through the first game and got 77% of the trophies without even really trying. I only got 60% in the second game (perhaps because I hadn’t already played that one before). Still, if you’re looking to build up your trophies (even though, uh, there’s not actually a reason to do so), these games are probably a good candidate (if I played through again, I bet I could even get the Platinum trophy relatively easily).

Well, that wraps up God of War for now. More to come when part III comes out next month.