Also available on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Vita
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/02/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Disclaimer first – I used the PS2 box art because it’s part of HD collections on PS3, and I couldn’t find a good PS3 box art that was just God of War. Anyway, God of War is a series that had been on my “hey, you need to play this” list since I first got my PS2 back in 2009 (late to the game, I know; I was a Nintendo fanboy). For whatever reason, though, I just kept putting it off. With the new God of War (I’ve seen the subtitle Ragnarök used a lot online, but as far as I can tell, Sony has yet to confirm a title officially) coming out this year, though, I figured it was a good time to marathon the whole series. That meant I could either dust off the PS3 or excavate the PS2 from its cocoon of dust. Given that the PS3 remasters have trophy support, and I’m a slut for meaningless dopamine rushes, I dusted off the PS3.
The premise of God of War is that you play as Kratos, a Spartan military commander who, facing defeat at the hands of barbarians from some unnamed land to the east of Greece, trades his soul to Ares in exchange for victory. Kratos snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and goes on to conquer for Sparta up until Ares tricks him in an attempt to remove the last of his weaknesses and make him the ultimate warrior. This earns Ares the undying rage of Kratos who then teams up with Athena to slay Ares as he lays siege to the city of Athens. I had always heard how cool the story in God of War is, and I have to admit that I was pretty underwhelmed by the first game. Friends assure me that the story becomes more of a focus in the later games, but outside of cutscenes which weren’t particularly frequent, there didn’t seem to be a big focus on the narrative, at least not compared to what I’d been expecting. I don’t know if I’d say it was disappointing, per se, but I had definitely expected there to be more story focus.
At its core, this is a hack and slash game the type of which we saw a lot on the PS2 from Capcom with Onimusha and Devil May Cry. With the remaster’s bump from 480i to 1080p on PS3, the game looks fantastic. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been any work done to the cutscenes which look absolutely dreadful. If the story underwhelmed me, the cutscenes outright shocked me. You go from this truly pretty game in 1080p to these god awful disgusting looking cutscenes that are clearly still being rendered at 480i. I don’t know a lot about the inner workings of these HD remasters, but I’ve read that the cutscenes are basically stores as movie files, not something the game renders in real-time, so to remaster those, they’d basically have to be remade, leading most studios doing these HD remasters to just…not. Good god, though, it looks terrible. The transition from gorgeous gameplay to grotesque cutscene is so jarring that it almost gives you a headache. The juxtaposition really does a number on the otherwise great presentation here, and it’s really a shame that they look so ugly considering that’s where almost all of the storytelling takes place.
As for the sound design, it’s solid. It’s not amazing, but it’s solid. The voice acting is alright and certainly better than the average for the time period, and the background music is very well done with a tone definitely reminiscent of Greece but not obtrusive and distracting from gameplay. Where the sound design suffers is balance. There’s no option to enable subtitles, and the balance between music, sound effects, and dialogue isn’t very well done, leading to a number of instances where the music and background sound effects kind of drown out some of the dialogue. At the very least, it requires a lot of focus to make out parts of the dialogue from the rest of the cacophony. Thankfully, most cut scenes are fine in this regard, but there’s definitely some left to be desired in the sound balance on a few of those scenes.
All things considered, God of War is a good game, but it’s not an amazing game. The gameplay and level design have not, in my opinion, aged particularly well. Imprecise platforming, no camera control whatsoever, and a bizarre reliance on timer-based obstacles throughout the game come together to create a game that can be as frustrating as it is fun. I absolutely still recommend giving it a playthrough especially for PlayStation fans as it’s a core game in the brand’s pedigree, but by 2005, I just can’t understand why the developers opted to omit any way to shift the camera. Even Super Mario 64 which came out nine years and a console generation earlier had camera control options. For most of the game, it’s not a big deal, but for the platforming sections, it quickly becomes a pretty big annoyance. I can definitely see why it was such a popular game back in the day, and it’s definitely earned its spot of veneration in the Sony wheelhouse, but it’s got a lot more flaws than I’d realized.