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Editorial

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #11—God of War

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.

Without further ado, let us dive deep into a relatively recent action series, one that nevertheless has seen acclaim and radical reinvention accrue over its lifetime.

God of War 1

#11. GOD OF WAR, BY MITCHELL AKHURST

THE JOURNEY OF A (GENRE’S) LIFETIME

From conception in 2002 through to its reinvention in 2018, the God of War series charts the history of spectacle-fighter games with incredible proximity, beaten only by the franchise that invented the genre, Devil May Cry. Of course, the idea of ‘spectacle-fighter’ as its own genre is as debatable as the God of War franchise is often divisive.

Originally coined by Yahtzee, of The Escapist’s Zero Punctuation, the term refers to the stylish and mechanically deep action games that Devil May Cry spawned: a type of hack-and-slash game that usually has fixed camera angles and makes use of cool combos against a variety of interesting enemies.

From this perspective, the first cycle of God of War games were viewed as the more ‘simplistic’ side of the genre, especially debuting in the same year as Devil May Cry 3, which is often held as the best of the spectacle-fighters. Combos were relatively easy to pull off, enemies were not as punishing, and the games had fewer mechanical choices necessary to progress through the linear story of the game. These complaints still dog the series, even with the radical changes of 2018’s God of War.

God of War 2

THE BLOODY BEGINNING

In establishing the series’s tone and visual style, director David Jaffe and the team at Sony Santa Monica borrowed from Heavy Metal magazine and the creature effects of Ray Harryhausen, combined with some of the best technical presentation on the PlayStation 2. Upon release, 2005’s God of War was rewarded with millions in sales and universal praise.

More than a reskin of the Devil May Cry formula, God of War followed a fast-paced cinematic style reminiscent of Prince of Persia or Half-Life. Instead of complex platforming, the stylish combat was broken up with puzzles and light exploration that hearkened back to Tomb Raider or the 3D Zelda games. Still, at this point Jaffe was careful to avoid pure ‘adventure’ elements, to keep up the pace.

Unlike Ocarina of Time, for example, the game had no fetch quests or specially delineated dungeons. Each chapter of the game flows seamlessly onto the next; a structural conceit that presaged the following generation’s obsession with seamlessness and hidden loading times, in games such as Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. God of War also helped (along with its contemporary, Resident Evil 4) to popularise the quick-time-event as a way of increasing interaction during cutscenes.

The linearity that makes God of War so neatly trimmed and pacey would never fully escape criticism over the course of the sequels made in this style. As the Zelda and Tomb Raider connection might suggest, the gaming audience was (and still is) unprepared for action-adventure games—particularly fantastical ones—that have the straightforwardness of a first person shooter. On the other hand, the linearity of Japanese spectacle-fighters such as Bayonetta is never criticised quite so harshly, so the problem might be cultural rather than with the genre itself.

THE PEAK

For 2007’s God of War II, new director Cory Barlog took much of what worked with the first game and re-arranged it into an even greater achievement. Even though the PlayStation 3 had been on the market for several months, GoW II saw massive sales success on the PS2, and was also as critically acclaimed as its predecessor.

Everything about God of War had been polished to mirror-sheen with this sequel, the only downside being the same vexatious inclination to trilogy-building as The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean. That is, put bluntly, GoW II is excellent and fantastic until it is not; with the ‘decisive showdown’ between Zeus and wayward son Kratos proving far from decisive—and the game ends on a cliffhanger whose sole purpose was to advertise the eventual God of War III.

God of War 3

Still, the game is more than the sum of its unfinished story threads. Longer, deeper and broader in scope than the first, GoW II transforms the franchise’s vision of ancient mythology from a grab bag of erudite nerdy influences into its own brand that would only grow more distinctive and weird from this point on. The most notable of these God of War trademarks were the otherworldly locations and the deliberately anti-Disneyified characters.

The former came from GoW II‘s more diverse levels: though the first game has plenty of variety, a large percentage of it takes place in Cronos’s Temple, a level that would not look out of place in Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, or yes, the 1981 Clash of the Titans. On the other hand, the gleaming palaces and sophisticated machinery on GoW II’s Island of Creation could hardly be mistaken for anything but God of War.

As for the franchise’s approach to mythological characters, God of War II cements the idea that history (or mythology in this case) is dictated by the best PR team and not necessarily right and wrong. ‘Villains’ may find themselves to be strange bedfellows with humanity, and the ‘good guys’ are really just the ones with the most power. Unfortunately, this creative interpretation of mythology does not redeem Kratos himself, who has another compelling story of loss but, as a personality, is quickly reduced to a vengeance-obsessed cypher.

This characterisation would only devolve further as the series went on, leading to a stagnation during the PlayStation 3 years.

God of War Ghost of Sparta

THE SLUMP

The latter three games of the ‘first cycle’ of God of WarGoW III, Ghost of Sparta, and Ascension—each have their own pros and cons.

GoW III was a spectacle of new-generation horsepower in its day, ending the console trilogy with a bang, but its story offered little-to-no redeeming value in its characters. Ghost of Sparta was the better of the two PSP entries in the series and filled important gaps regarding Kratos’s brother Deimos, but did not quite break away from the ‘bite-size’ structure of PSP games. Finally, 2013’s Ascension felt a bit too arbitrary, being a prequel to Chains of Olympus, which was already a prequel to the original God of War.

Of these games, GoW III represents the highest accomplishment, and for many fans, neither of the others are a chore to play, but by 2013 the formula had well and truly ran its course. Another entry like this would probably have led to the death of the franchise.

God of War 2018

THE RETURN

Luckily for everyone, Cory Barlog returned and, for the second time, took what worked in the prior games and built God of War into something new. For an excellent critical look at why 2018’s GoW is a must-play, check out the review from OnlySP’s Ben Newman from earlier in the year.

Impressively, despite entirely different locations, themes, characters and game mechanics, the new GoW hews closely to the two important God of War staples: the franchise’s visual flair and its approach to mythological figures. Though the Norse and Greek settings are skilfully distinguished from the outset—showing Kratos chopping a tree in a snowy forest—the sleek machinery, ancient temples and abandoned settlements overrun by magical beasties are all well represented.

Even more overtly than with the arrogant gods of Olympus, the new GoW drives home the adage that power corrupts. Like the Marvel comics that themselves cribbed from Norse mythology, GoW is interested in telling nuanced superhuman stories with emotionally rich characters who still kick ass when necessary.

Despite his leaving Santa Monica Studio, David Jaffe always had his own hopes for what a sequel might be like. For example, he wanted Kratos to cross to other realms of myth, away from Greece, and he wanted to take the game in a more Zelda-inspired direction. 2018’s GoW does both, without sacrificing the connections to its franchise’s past.

Thanks for joining us for a look at Sony’s current crown jewel. Leave a comment with your own favourite spectacle-fighter game, or your impressions of the new God of War, and keep an eye out for Chris’s article later this week on how God of War’s character-action connects to fighting games.

Next week, we take a look at one of Bioware’s biggest games of the last ten years.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in May 2019

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May

May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.

RAGE 2

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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