One look at the cover of God of War and you know this isn't child's play. A battle-scarred, tattooed warrior stands fight-ready with blood dripping from the massive swords in his hands. It's obvious he can do some serious damage onscreen.
What's less evident is how much damage he can do to gamers.
An Assignment From "Above"
Set in ancient Greece, God of War follows the tormented Kratos on his search to escape a curse placed upon him by Ares, the mythological god of war. Facing sure defeat in battle, the Spartan commander had called on Ares to rout his enemies. But in return, Ares transformed him into a killing machine, sentencing him to a life of ransacking villages, slaughtering women and children, and even murdering his own family.
As the game begins, Kratos is so anguish-ridden that he tries to commit suicide. "By the gods, what have I become?" he cries before jumping off a cliff. But the gods have other plans for him. Ares has gone mad, and Kratos is the only mortal able to kill the war-hungry god. So Kratos is sent on a mission to find Pandora's Box (which will give him god-like power) and defeat his cruel adversary. On the way, he faces lots of mythological and ghoulish enemies: cyclops, minotaurs, sirens, wraiths, gorgons, etc.
These, along with colossal yet intricately detailed surroundings, make for an adventurous and visually stunning journey that has reviewers raving. Play Magazine calls God of War "quite possibly the best action game ever made." Yahoo! Games labels it "one of the most spectacular action titles to grace the PS2," while GameSpot says it "should not be missed."
Ignoring the Mess
Funny—no one seems to be mentioning what you actually do in this "genre-elevating" game. God of War blends the brutishness of the movie Gladiator with the over-the-top gore of Resident Evil. Men are sliced in half. Women are decapitated. Heads explode, get pounded against rocks and are literally ripped from their bodies. Virtually everyone and everything gets impaled. Depictions of such carnage are repeated and up close, while blood gushes, pours, splatters and streams. According to one of the game's artists, director David Jaffe's order was to "get as much blood onscreen as possible."
He got his wish. While playing Kratos, an animalistic antihero (to say the least), blood doesn't just flow from menacing beasts. At times, you're forced to slaughter innocent human civilians to acquire sufficient health points. "I love the fact that part of the gameplay is that you have to be brutal and kill these innocents in order to survive," Jaffe says unapologetically. "The more places we could find where the player pretty much had to do it, the happier I was."
Such warped intentions reach beyond violence, too. During a mini-game, your strength is restored by having sex with two women at once. Though the act is done offscreen, the women make erotic groans (both are shown topless, as are numerous other females throughout the game).
"I'm very glad that there's nudity in the game, and violence and sex," Jaffe says. "I love the idea that we can put games out there that aren't just watered down. Some people are like, ‘Oh, it's just shock value.' Maybe that's true, but it's still stuff that I like. ... Why is appealing to some base level bad? … I think it's kinda cool that the player gets to piggyback on that."
Not So Cool—And Here's Why
Jaffe reasons that this is "a different type of game for a different audience," noting that publisher Sony was completely supportive of God of War's mature content: "They don't look at this stuff for kids; it's M-rated for adults."
As if that makes it OK. The game doesn't just celebrate its twisted violence and corrupt sexuality; it forces you to bury yourself in sludge—with a powerfully numbing effect. It's oddly exhilarating to annihilate a horde of demons and ghouls who surround you. It's strangely invigorating to rip the head off a medusa or impale a three-headed hydra after an intense struggle. But it's those kinds of misplaced, adrenaline-inspired emotions that make you forget that you're forced to sacrifice one of your own warriors to a god or hack away at dozens of fleeing Athenians.
God of War offers a spectacular graphic panorama. Its gameplay quickly becomes intoxicating—both for younger players and adults. And in our 21st-century world, that's more dangerous than a bloodthirsty, half-crazed Spartan.