Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review - God of War Collection

When it comes to certain games, I am a late bloomer. This is true about the much loved – and much hated – God of War franchise. My first Kratos-related quicktime event occurred earlier this year at the Penny Arcade Expo when I tried out the demo for God of War III. I had previously avoided the games for two reasons – the first being that I loved Greek mythology and couldn’t stand seeing it raped by the media. I’d had too many disappointments to think this would be any different. The second reason was that I knew someone who once employed an “anger stick” after each session of the first God of War – meaning he went into the basement and beat the couch with a stick. He also used to order a “car burger” to eat on the way home from fast food restaurants to slake his hunger until he got home, so perhaps I shouldn’t have trusted his word – or that of his terrified wife.

Judgments aside, I’m glad that I waited so long to try the game out, as Sony very recently released the first two games together on one handy blu-ray disc, along with the demo for the third, coming out this March. This was a dream come true for someone as anal retentive as I am – I can’t stand playing games out of order. So I dove right into the remastered God of War and subjected myself to all the fun…and all the frustration.

The story of the first God of War is very simple: Kratos, an ambitious young Spartan general, calls out to Ares for help on the battlefield, and becomes his servant. Kratos soon discovers that being the servant of the God of War lends itself to no end of rape, pillage, and generally unpleasant situations. After years of servitude, Kratos simply wants to be released from his suffering and torment. Athena appeals to him for help when Ares attacks Athens, and Kratos sees a chance to get revenge.

At first, I loved the game – the puzzles, the battles, even the bosses and their wrist-numbing quicktime events – all of it was great. I couldn’t understand why people were frustrated while playing the game. I began to see it as I hit a few bumps in the road, places where the game mechanics were terrible. I painfully started to understand the mythos that surrounded the game.

And then I got to Hades.

Sweet mother of mercy, did I hate Hades. My boyfriend, Mike, had watched a lot of videos about the games after playing them, and he said that even the director, David Jaffe, admitted the horrendous flaws in Hades. That section was added in because they felt the game wasn’t long enough, and it was the only part of the game not strictly quality-controlled…and boy, does it ever show right through the veneer of lava and flames. I crawled my way to the end, determined to just finish it.

I debated whether or not I wanted to start God of War II…ever. Mike convinced me it was worth it, that there was nothing nearly as frustrating as Hades, that there was a great storyline to this game and I was going to love it. (His argument is always that I love Battle of Olympus despite the fact that it’s not true to myth – but taking something I adored as an adolescent based on my favorite Greek myth is totally different than taking all the most famous stories and jumbling them into one convenient delivery system for Kratos – even if they DID get Harry Hamlin, Perseus from Clash of the Titans, to voice Perseus.) Against my better judgment, I stepped into the Titan-fueled waters of God of War II.

I’ll admit to several betters – the game play is vastly improved. The battles flow much more fluidly, and it’s easier to dodge and block out of special moves. There are no horrendously glitchy platforming sections, either. Any time a section of the platforming is less than stellar, it’s because either you haven’t figured out what you’re supposed to do, or what you’re supposed to do initially seems so ridiculous that you can’t wrap your brain around what they’re asking. Fortunately, they’ve also improved this game by giving better hints – that is, giving ANY hints at all. The story is also much better, and while not at all even remotely canonical (can I say canonical about Greek mythology?), it is interesting to see the way they incorporate the characters.

However, these things brought with them inherent flaws. My wrists and elbows are killing me from incessant quicktime events. I hurled a controller for the first time in 22 years – since playing Zelda II: the Adventures of Link as a kid. (Can you guess what part? I’ll give you a hint – it involved the hammer.) The story, while better, lost cohesion, and I frequently found myself asking why I was in a certain place and what exactly I was trying to accomplish. In spite of all of this, the ending is epic, with a plot twist almost ridiculous in its predictability.

There are several bonuses to getting the God of War Collection – it’s remastered, though only in game play. The cut scenes are still in the original rendering, and the transition can be jarring at times. It has two sets of trophies, one for each game, which is a major plus for me. And, of course, the God of War III E3 demo is available on it as well, so that you can play that controversial scene of ripping Helios’ head off over, and over, and over again, right in the privacy of your living room.

Final analysis: worth the buy. I’m hoping my next PSP purchase will be God of War: Chains of Olympus. And now, I’m going to go put my right elbow on ice.

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