Anti-heroes have only recently come into gaming fashion. Previously, players were content to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser or save Marion from Shadow Boss. Yet in the last decade a new trend emerged. From Kain to Shao and even Wario and Shadow The Hedgehog, nobody wanted to be Goody Two Shoes any more. The stage was set for God Of War’s protagonist Kratos, truly the king – nay, god – of anti-heroes. We should by our very nature despise his ilk, but by the gods we root for him.
After all, this is a man so evil he exchanged his life, and latterly those of*his wife and children, in return for the opportunity to annihilate his barbarian enemies. Bleak indeed, but God Of War fits seamlessly into its Classical Greek frame – a time of heroes, villains and monsters. Bare breasts, sex, parricide, filicide – this is firmly adult territory, yet it also triumphs on a purely narrative level – a sprawling, tragic saga of ambition, betrayal and revenge any ancient Greek scribe would be proud to call their own.
Standout moments abound, whether it’s impaling the fearsome hydra upon a galley’s mast and then crawling through its blood-stained maw, catching the first glimpse of the colossal enslaved titan Chronos as he crawls across the Desert of Lost Souls, escaping from Hades as the corpses of the damned fall past Kratos’s shoulders or that decisive encounter with tormentor-in-chief, Ares. Truth be told, nearly every moment in this epic tale is unforgettable. Perhaps this is down to the sheer interactivity Sony Santa Monica imbued. You don’t simply press a button to open a door; you pound away at X as Kratos’s swollen sinews heave away at the dead weight. You don’t merely decapitate a deceased architect; you wrench his head from his shoulders by rotating the analogue stick. And as for the infamous way of recharging your health involving two slave girls aboard a Spartan galley…

It becomes apparent from an early stage that Kratos is no ordinary man. For instance, he doesn’t just climb up mountains – he literally jumps up them, launching himself between outcrops like some kind of super-strength simian. The well-worked platforming sections also demonstrate his tigerish litheness; he teeters atop ceiling beams, leaps to avoid traps and dextrously rolls out of the way of enemy attacks with a touch of the right analogue stick. Kratos also wields arguably the most iconic weapon since Cloud Strife’s oversized sword – the Blades of Chaos. Strapped to his seared flesh by chains, he pirouettes through the air with ferocious grace, slicing and dicing until the screen runs red with blood. It’s
all so intuitive, so primitive that you can’t help but become swept away in the über-violent melodrama.
Arguably overshadowed only by Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series, God Of War also boasts epic production values that set new standards in western game design. Every detail – from the bombastic soundtrack, the luscious cinematics or that near-perfect camera, to the inspired design of Kratos himself – scarred white by the ashes of his cremated brood – is painstakingly evoked. The legacy of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monstrosities that haunted many a childhood dream is also instantly recognisable in the enemy design, from the armour-plated undead Minotaur temple guardian to flame-haired Ares himself.
Yet it’s impossible to wax lyrical about God Of War’s impact upon contemporary gaming without mentioning the gore. Positively forcing players to indulge their sadistic sides, the game awards bonus orbs to those willing to perform barbaric fatality manoeuvres (usually in the form of QTEs) upon stunned opponents, ripping undead soldiers in two and forcing swords down the throats of mintoaurs – while chaining combos that soar into the hundreds.

There is no real finesse or unduly classic quality to God Of War’s core gameplay itself; the simplistic combo system pales in comparison to stablemates like Devil May Cry – you merely have to mash buttons at speed to transform Kratos into a whirling dervish of pain.
Yet the combat is so visceral, so intuitive, that its limitations can be forgiven. Not so forgivable are the decisions that lay behind the rotating blade towers (complete with infernal collision detection) which plagued Kratos’ arduous redemptive journey from Hades back to the overworld. Others complained that obtuse puzzles hijacked the otherwise careful pacing, though that criticism is perhaps overly harsh, with the fiendish Temple of Pandora a particular triumph of level design.
Even God Of War’s finale is the stuff of legend – with Kratos unleashing the power of Pandora’s Box to engage Ares in an extended, multilayered battle, before being recruited by Athena to become the new God of War. Striding up the steps towards Mount Olympus, players are subtly presented with the opportunity to smash a statue of the fallen Ares to complete our anti-hero’s vengeance. And, with that, Kratos’s tale seemingly comes full circle. But, as it turns out, his trials have only just begun.
This article was first published in Edge Presents: The 100 Best Videogames in July 2007.
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