God of War (2005)
for PlayStation 2
Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment America
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment America

The best games for a given console can often be found in the twilight of its lifespan, and God of War, released with PS3 on the horizon, will no doubt go down as one of the PlayStation 2's all-time greats, a spiritual successor to the classic beat-'em-ups of the late 80s/early 90s arcade scene. But this game isn't merely about punching and kicking your way through each level; it's about brutal fucking destruction.

Kratos, the game's bald, chiseled, stark-white anti-hero, is a human embodiment of unbridled rage and torment. He fights not with a sword, but dual blades permanently chained to his forearms, somewhat reminiscent of the Hellraiser movies, with a touch of Castlevania and Bionic Commando. The sheer violence you can let loose with these weapons is staggering. It's not enough to splash some blood around when you kill an enemy; Kratos will pin them to the ground and thrust a blade into their mouths as they struggle to free themselves. He will grab a monster around the neck and violently tear its head from its body. He will sever legs, crush skulls, pierce eyeballs. God of War is the video game equivalent of Faces of Death.

That alone would be a compelling enough reason to play. But the entire package is put together so exceedingly well that it's difficult to find fault with it at all. Combat is a simple matter of button combos, but after you get used to it, you will tear through enemies with such fluidity, it's a murderous ballet. The cinema sequences in between levels glue the game together, and have a distinguished visual style that would work in an R-rated, feature-length animated film. The game itself intertwines intuitive controls and scripted sequences to create a real cinematic feel, as if you are playing through Clash of the Titans directed by John Woo. And the orchestral soundtrack is the perfect complement to a mythological epic.

Epic appropriately describes the scope of the game. It's actually only about 10 hours long, but it has the feel of much more than that. Kratos's quest to assassinate Ares (yes, THE Ares), takes you to places such as a massive temple built on the back of a titan doomed to crawl across the desert, and the depths of Hades, complete with people falling from the sky into the blood-red river Styx. The game takes a liberal interpretation of Greek mythology (and even reality; there is a desert adjacent to Athens?), but that's a fair trade when you get to fight things like a gigantic mechanical minotaur that takes almost 10 minutes to kill. There are also several goodies and new difficulty modes to unlock, extending the life of an otherwise short game.

It's not all just about action and killing, though. There are puzzle elements, in addition to an RPG aspect of leveling up weapons and magical abilities. There is also a certain amount of exploration involved, as there are many hidden niches and treasures to discover.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the visibly nude women Kratos keeps in his bed who you can actually fuck (off screen) in a Simon-says mini-game to get extra experience orbs. So delightfully unnecessary.

This game deserves legions of parents lobbying to get it removed from store shelves, despite its M rating. It's that good.

Review by Appomattox Courthouse