God Of War Origins Review
God of War: Origins review (PS3)
Some video game characters destroy forces of antagonism with a cleanly placed bullet. Some by hopping on their heads and squishing them into a fine pancake. Others with spells, swords, and a firm sense of righteousness. Not Kratos. He forgoes passive-aggressive brutality in favor of shoving his blades down his enemies throats, or ripping them in two, or ripping their spines out, or stabbing them in the eye, or tearing their heads off, or slamming them against the wall until they explode into a cloud of gore and orbs, or beating them to death. If someone disagrees with him, tries to dissuade him from his course, or – god forbid – attempts to reason with him, they will die in pain. This refreshing directness is what makes Kratos such a compelling – if idiotic – character.
God of War: Origins delivers in a surprising way. Yes, these games were developed for the PSP, but the scale, scope, brutality, fun, and polished gameplay that the series’ PS2/3 installments are known for remains – shockingly – intact. I did not play Chains of Olympus or Ghost of Sparta in their PSP iterations, and I was consistently floored that these games began life on a handheld.
My favorite part of the GoW series – the supremely entertaining, brainless, brutal gameplay – has carried over brilliantly. While some aspects of the game feel scaled back, I never felt shortchanged in the gameplay department. All the sharp, responsive action doesn’t feel even slightly diminished – and that’s no mean feat; while it may veer to closely to button mashing for some, the GoW series has some of the most exciting combat around. Especially cool is the addition of new weapons – specifically, the Gauntlet of Zeus in CoO and the Spear and Shield in GoS – which offer some unexpected variety.
Unfortunately, Origins’ origin as PSP games does create some issues. Neither game is as long as any GoW console installment. (I beat both games in roughly six hours.) Though the graphics in both games have received a major HD beef up, neither comes close to the unbelievable visuals of GoW III. (Both games do, however, look about as good as the GoW and GoW II collection for the PS3.) And no, sadly, there are no action set pieces that rival, say, the opening level or battle against Cronos from GoW III, nor are any moments as deviously creative as the M.C. Escher-inspired Hera’s Garden puzzle of III, nor as deliriously loony as the battle vs the Colossus of Rhodes from II; so, if, like me, your last GoW experience was the almost unbelievably massive third installment, Origins inevitably feels smaller. Both games, however, get major points for effort in this department.
You take the reigns of Kratos in the city of Attica at the beginning of CoO as he attempts to stop an invasion from the Persian army. This opening drops you in medias res of a massive battle, mere inches from a boss that – you guessed it – you can expect to encounter three or four more times throughout the level. While the gameplay is, as I mentioned, wall-to-wall stellar throughout CoO, it’s undeniably the weaker of the two games. Despite their improvement, the visuals are a bit pasty and flat. The story feels completely piecemeal. I won’t ruin anything, but a handful of barely related antagonists crop up (one of whom is completely unseen), and throughout I felt genuinely perplexed about each character’s motivation (except, of course, Kratos). There was one story moment near the end that got to me, but other than that I really couldn’t have cared less. CoO feels more like an attempt to bring the series’ gameplay, unblemished, to a smaller console – and by those standards it is completely successful.
GoS bests its predecessor in just about every way I can imagine. The visuals receive a massive boost in quality. The already excellent gameplay feels even more refined. There are tons more quicktime events. It’s a little longer and jam-packed with memorable moments. (King Midas, anyone?) Best of all – and to my surprise – it has the best story in the series since the original game. It begins with Kratos following a vision to Atlantis (another epic, exciting opening) and meeting – well, I don’t want to ruin anything. All I’ll say is that the story focuses on Kratos and his brother, and, since the story of this series has jumped the shark and then some long ago, I am very surprised to have found myself somewhat touched by the tale, the ending especially. Again, I’d like to avoid spoilers, but the way that the story and game mechanics come together at the climax is truly excellent.
Game Informer brought up a great point in their review of Origins: it’s absolutely fascinating to watch a developer – in this case Ready at Dawn – grow over two back-to-back games. CoO is a case of developer finding footing, and along the way creating one hell of an action game. GoS is a case of a developer taking what they learned and really applying it to create a legitimately phenomenal game. Neither of these games are write-offs; I consider both legitimate entries in the GoW canon. If you’ve enjoyed any of the console GoWs – and who the hell hasn’t! – purchasing Origins is a no-brainer.