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God of War
Score: 100%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Since playing the God of War demo a few weeks back, I've been pretty jazzed about getting my hands on the final game. Back then I said not to dismiss it as just another action game and even indulged my inner fanboy by declaring "God of War owns on every level imaginable". After playing the final version that statement still holds true, making it not only one of the best action games available today, but one of the year's best games.

Production values really push God of War above most other action games on the market and show what the PS2 can do when it's in the right hands. Every world you come across is alive with all kinds of detail and holds a look that is classically Greek, but at the same time original to the game's world. All of the mythical beings you'll come across fit within what we've pictured them to be, but have a nice styling all their own.

Story elements are told through a mix of in-game and CGI. The graphical quality for the in-game stuff is so good that it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between them. Story elements also show off an artistic side. Backstory elements are given through a very neat system. As you tread through Kratos' past, elements show up as a multi-planed 2D still image. During scenes, some elements will come to life in 3D, giving life to what would otherwise be just another CGI scene.

A fixed camera is used throughout the game. Though I'm sure that statement has garnered the collective groan from a few people, SCEA Santa Monica has managed to build a system that gives you angles that not only give you the best playing angle, but also look really cool. The style also adds a little more challenge to some of the game's platform elements, transforming them from simple jump puzzles to thrilling movie-style action sequences.

Great voice acting complements the game’s excellent script. I was particularly impressed with the narrator, who gives off the feeling of a wizened storyteller sitting in the front of a fire. I was also impressed by the game's soundtrack, but only when in the context of the game. In a move that I wish other developers would adopt, the God of War soundtrack is available for download by using a special code on the back of the instruction book. After downloading the soundtrack and listening to it without the game, I still enjoyed it but it didn't have quite the impact or charm.

God of War begins with what should be its end; the suicide of its main character, Kratos. While I'm sure the idea of a suicide game has been kicked around by at least one or two would-be developers, a game that consists of a 40-foot death plunge doesn't seem like it would be that fun or engaging. Instead, the game's story retells the events that led up to our hero's tragic end. Steeped in Greek mythology, God of War revolves around a Spartan Warrior named Kratos who has become dissatisfied with his agreement with the god of war, Ares. This leads Kratos to search out Pandora's Box, the only thing that can destroy a god. Even though action is what really makes God of War worth playing, the story is just as captivating. Elements from some of the best-known Greek myths, and even a few lesser known ones, show up all over the place. Without giving away too much, expect to run across a number of gods and monsters during your adventure.

Combat is God of War's focal point. Kratos' main weapons are his chain blades; two swords that are literally attached to his arms by long chains. These allow him to pull off all kinds of combat maneuvers like juggling and spin attacks. Even before powering up the blades, the basic move set is deep enough to make you feel like a real instrument of destruction. As your power increases, so does that of the blades, granting even more moves to work into even more devastating combos. A handy hit meter even lets you keep tabs on the amount of damage being dished out. Kill enough enemies and Kratos will be able to unleash the Fury of the Gods; allowing him to double his damage output and making him invincible for a short time.

Kratos isn't limited to just using his blades. Although Zeus has decreed that no gods may openly enter combat with Ares, nothing bars them from helping out Kratos. Each god you come across will grant Kratos some sort of ability, be it magic or even a new weapon. These include the ability to use Zeus' lightning bolts, or even have the souls of Hades march to your aide. Upgraded magic produces stronger results. Magic isn't just a combat aide, but also plays a role in some problem solving, such as using Medusa's power to turn enemies to stone in order to hold down switches.

God of War clocks in at about 10 - 12 hours long, but that's not the end of your adventure. Completing the game unlocks a number of goodies that will interest casual fans and will have some hardcore guys foaming at the mouth. In addition to the usual art collections, you can also watch some behind-the-scenes movies as well as look at a museum of discarded character designs and pre-production levels from the game. You'll also get to see a teaser for what might just be the next chapter of Kratos' story. A harder difficulty mode, dubbed God Mode, is also unlocked on completion. Finishing God Mode unlocks even more backstory to the game and other goodies. If that isn't enough, you can also compete in the Challenges from the Gods to unlock new costumes.

The more brutal Kratos' attacks, the more orbs he'll earn. Orbs are used for nearly everything in the game, from powering up weapons and magic to even solving some puzzle elements. You'll want to earn as many orbs as possible since upgrades are pricey. Maxing out all, or nearly all, of your powers shouldn't be too hard considering the number of enemies that are thrown at you at any given time. This was one of the few aggravations I found within the game. Attacks are so unrelenting at times that you barely have time to breathe between waves. Why fight one minotaur when you could fight four? Moments like these provide real moments of Zen. They'll push you to the point where you're contemplating death threats and all manner of curses on the SCEA Santa Monica staff only to fill you with a peaceful calm once you pass them.

Puzzle-solving also comes into play during the game. While most go a step beyond simple box pushing, you'll still push your fair share of boxes or other items. I've never been a fan of these types of puzzles, but seeing as how well they work within the game's story and setting, I didn't find them as that much of a letdown. A number of other puzzles require passing obstacles in the environment and lend a Prince of Persia-like element.

Game Mechanics:
As you deal out damage to enemies, they will eventually enter a state where you can really pull out some flashy combos, causing combat to take on a new twist. When an enemy is worn down, symbols will appear above their head. Pressing the button that relates to the symbol kicks off a devastating attack. The bigger the creature, the more complex the button presses become. The brutality of these moves puts God of War on another level. Normally, you'd kill a flying pest by just knocking it down. God of War handles the situation in a more creative manner. First you grab the flying pest, then you pull off its wings and proceed to pummel the thing to death. Using specialized kills against certain enemies will also produce side effects, such as granting life or magic orbs to heal Kratos.

Timed button presses are also used for other events in the game, like boss fights (lending more cinematic flair to the game) and another ...umh, lay activity Kratos (and two friends) take part in early in the game. Again, not to go into too many details, but God of War really pushes the boundaries of it's Mature rating; perhaps more than the GTA series in some areas.

Really high scores are a rarity from me; perfect scores even rarer. From start to finish, God of War is a true gaming experience that, at least in my opinion, really captures why we play games in the first place. The story is engaging and the action is non-stop. Although some areas will push your frustration level to its limits, even that won't keep you from coming back for more, even after unlocking all its secrets.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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