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God of War Collection
Score: 97%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
God of War Collection is obviously an attempt to get gamers excited about one of Sony's strongest licenses, just in time for the third game's release, but it's an attempt that clearly works as I found myself wanting to go back and replay the older games as soon as I heard about this collection. Sure, I own both God of War and God of War II on the PS2, but the lure to play a "high definition" version on my PS3 is pretty strong... the question is, is it worth the purchase, especially if you already have the original games on the previous generation system?

Besides the basic ability to actually play these games on a current system, the other benefit to the God of War Collection is the visual upgrade the game undertook. Basically, all of the in-game textures have been cleaned up to be bigger and crisper, meanwhile the game itself now outputs at 720p and claims to hit a steady 60 frames per second (as opposed to getting to that point occasionally). What this means is, simply put, the game looks a lot better now. While I was stunned to see how well God of War and God of War II looked in HD, it still doesn't look as good as other PS3 games... but that is completely understandable. It isn't like the developers completely redid the character models and levels; for the most part, the game just got a presentation upgrade.

Still, I wanted to know what the value was to gamers who already owned the original titles for the PS2. Being lucky enough to have a PS3 that can actually play old PS2 games, I popped in the old GoW games and fiddled with the various graphical settings both in the game and on the PS3 for playing PS2 games. These settings include the game's own widescreen, progressive scan and soften values, as well as the PS3's own Full Screen/Normal selection and Smoothing settings. Like I said, I played around with the various settings, trying different combinations, and while the PS3 version of God of War always looked substantially better than the PS2 one, God of War II never really differed that much across the platforms (at least not when I had all the settings bumped up on the PS2 version). This makes sense though since God of War II was released after the PS3 came out and probably with the intention of PS3 owners being able to play the game on the new system (before that functionality was taken away, of course), so naturally the developers would have done whatever they could at the time to make the game look its best on both platforms.

What is noticeable in both games, though moreso in the earlier title, is the fact that, while the in-game graphics got an upgrade, the cinematics didn't. At the time of both games' original releases, care was taken so that the pre-rendered videos matched the in-game graphics as much as possible in order to keep the transitions between the two from being too jarring. With the upgrade in in-game visuals though, the striking nature is all to apparent. Funnily enough however, while the developers were trying to make the bump up in graphics during cinematics not be too drastic, now the fall in visual quality during those cut-scenes is visible. As for the visual side, these jarring changes between in-game and pre-rendered visuals is the only downside, especially if you either don't have the old PS2 games already, or have them but not a PS3 that can upscale them.


Gameplay:
The God of War Collection has two obvious goals: one is to get long-time fans excited in the series again and get them to re-play the adventure, the other is to try and get newer gamers into the mix and get them hooked on the series. Either way, God of War Collection pretty much hits the mark by providing both games, though there are a couple of aspects I wish this compilation had to make the Collection perfect. One nicety would have been to either have the PSP title, God of War: Chains of Olympus on the disc to download onto the PS3 and then transfer to the PSP (or a download code) in order to truly make the God of War Collection all encompassing. Okay, I know I'm not counting the mobile phone game Betrayal, but I see that as too much to ask for. Since you can download or purchase Chains of Olympus separately and it will completely work on a currently circulated system, I guess I can't blame SCEA too much for that.

The other detail that I would have loved to see and am really disappointed in its absence is the ability to continue or port my current GoW saves into the new game. I was able to beat the original God of War and make a good bit of headway into the more difficult God setting, and while I hadn't beat God of War II yet, I've still made a lot of progress. I would say that this missing feature would also have been forgivable if only backwards compatible PS3s could import PS2 or PS1 saves, but since any PS3 can connect to the old memory cards and import them, there is no reason, at least conceptually, to not bridge the gap and allow those saves to be imported. I guess that feature is more for the existing fan though, and any newcomers to the series wouldn't see much value in that.

As for you newcomers out there, if you aren't familiar with the God of War story, here is a brief rundown. You play a bad-assed Spartan named Kratos, who spent years under the command of Ares, the God of War himself, but when your torment over the many deadly deeds you've done becomes too overwhelming, you plead to the gods to release you from your past. Athena comes down and says she will grant you your wish if you can manage to kill Ares and stop his invasion of the other gods' cities. So your quest begins. God of War takes you to Hades and back (literally) as you seek the power you need in order to kill a god. Along the way, other gods will grant you powers like being able to turn enemies to stone, unleash hades upon your foes (one of my favorites) and even an area electrical attack.

The second game takes place soon after your defeat of Ares and Kratos' rise to be the new God of War. Here, he is betrayed by the gods as they deem him worse than Ares was, so Kratos teams up with the Titans in an attempt to get his revenge and bring down Olympus once and for all. This particular quest has our anti-hero searching out the three fates who could allow him to turn back time and stop Zeus before he destroys the god-killing sword that Ares used previously. This time Kratos will meet Atlas, Prometheus, Gaia and other mythological characters like Icarus and Theseus in his quest for vengeance.

As a nice addition, God of War Collection also comes with the 20+ interviews and video clips included in the God of War II: 2-Disc Set version. Where the PS2 game came packaged with a second DVD for use in any player, these videos can be accessed from the PS3's Cross Bar menu as if it were a movie. This means that the PS3 game disc can also be put in non-PS3 Blu-ray players to watch the videos as well.


Difficulty:
Neither God of War nor God of War II were especially easy games, and since God of War Collection doesn't do anything to change that, you can expect a pair of challenging games in front of you. Both games have different difficulty settings, and both have much harder ones unlockable once you've beaten them once. In both cases, the change in difficulty primarily changes the amount of damage you take with each hit since fights that seem fairly simple in the normal settings are all uphill battles in God (for the first game) or Titan (for the sequel) modes. With the exception of these hardest settings, even though the game isn't a cakewalk, it rarely feels too challenging to beat. There are a few frustrating moments (like climbing a spinning column of bloody spikes or convincing minotaurs to stay still long enough for you to freeze them on a button), but I rarely ever felt frustrated at the games so much that I simply had to put them down for a while. Oh it happened, but they were rare occasions.

Game Mechanics:
The God of War series fits best in the action/adventure hack-n-slash arena as most attacks are simple to pull off, easy to combo and you get more powerful magical abilities as you progress through the story, and all of that comes through loud in clear in God of War Collection since both games hold true to that formula.

Where God of War did stray a little bit from the standard hack-n-slash style was the inclusion of quick-time events. While not the first game to do this (Resident Evil 4 predates the series by only a few months), it definitely helped to bring the style to the forefront of game design as many games following the original GoW title started picking up on the "flash a button and make users hit it" mechanic. Where RE4 primarily used the technique in big boss battles, God of War took the practice to an extreme by providing specialized kills for most opponents to using it to open chests and doors. This aspect combined with its quick fighting sequences and interesting puzzles is what has made the game survive the test of time and be worthy of porting to the PS3.

So is it worth it? Is it worth possibly repurchasing these games if you already own their PS2 versions? Even with the small graphical issues when swapping between in-game and pre-rendered graphics, and even with the in-ability to continue your previous saves, I would most definitely say yes. For those gamers out there even slightly interested in God of War III who haven't picked up the first two yet, then the God of War Collection is a must buy, and for those gamers out there like me who are blessed with a backwards compatible PS3 ... I have to ask "What happens when that breaks down?" Unless you plan on paying the e-bay premium to find another original-line PS3, most likely, you will have to dust off your old PS2 if you want to play these games again. While I do wish there were a couple of added features in this game, I can't fault it too much for what it doesn't have. I just have to say, if the ability to bring in old saves was available, then this game would most likely have gotten a perfect score.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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