Tag Archives: Action

Review – God of War Saga

Amongst all the games revealed and available to play at Sony’s Playstation Experience event in Las Vegas, many of which looked incredibly promising, was a small confirmation that there will be another entry in the lauded God of War franchise. Considering there are already two trilogies and a comic book miniseries, this news could come off as very exciting, or smell like the curdled funk of a publisher milking a successful property. Nothing can ever have finality in the videogame industry. Regardless of your outlook, what better reason to look back on the titles that have built the story of Kratos (and his need to put a sword through anything moving on screen), into one of the premier videogames available on Sony’s console. I’ll be looking at the Complete PS3 Collection for the purposes of this review, as well as in chronological order. (*included at the bottom are some trailer links for the unfamiliar)

God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008)

Coming second chronologically in the series, Chains of Olympus did exactly what it needed to do as a portable entry in the series, but not much more. The gameplay revolves around mixing the two attack buttons together to create combos and juggle the variety of mythology-inspired enemies until you can press the O button, alternatively titled the “Be the most brutal badass in the room” button. It has the fast-paced, hack-and-slash style of combat, the brutal finishing moves, and upgradeable magic attacks and weapons that are cornerstones of the franchise. However, in retrospect, this outing comes off as the weakest in the series. This isn’t due to it being bad or having any particularly obvious flaws (nothing is fixed that wasn’t broken), but it’s clear that this one is the lite beer of God of War games. The story mode doesn’t take very long to reach the end (about 6 hours), the fights don’t reach the same “Epic!” level of all the others, and the game doesn’t really have that much replay value. The plot starts off with Kratos having to don his Sherlock hat in order to uncover who or what incapacitated the sun god, Helios, and ultimately return the deity to the sky. It’s only within the last hour or so where things get really interesting, story-wise. Kratos is  loses sight of his original objective and is forced to make tough decisions. Following the final boss fight, a tie-in occurs with a character from God of War 2. Some highlight moments like the monster fake-out at the beginning, a brutal boss kill including a chest full of treasure, and going toe-to-toe with Charon on the River Styx, are entertaining and help the game stand out. But for the most part, it is a simplified God of War game. The gameplay is fun on the whole, but this one is easy to go one-and-done with.

8/10

God of War (2005)

The original game still holds up incredibly well. Many of the recurring motifs found in every other game all started here: Epic first levels/boss fights, getting into a scrap with a sea monster, taking a trip to the Underworld, Quick Time Event sex minigames, collecting phoenix feathers and gorgon eyes, the spiral staircase downward camera shot, and bumping a bitchin’ soundtrack whilst putting deities in the ground. The chainblades which became the distinctive staple of Kratos’s combat repertoire still feel incredibly satisfying. They are easy to figure out how to use, but the game has some punishing higher levels of difficulty for those looking to be challenged. (The final boss on God mode still gives me war flashbacks) The game also allows the player to cast four different magic abilities upon acquisition. Poseidon’s power is given within the first level and players can look forward to receiving those of Zeus, Hades, and Medusa. Separate from those is a Rage of the Gods berserker mode, as well as a secondary weapon in the Blade of Artemis (which is so comically large that its only competition is with Cloud’s Buster Sword). There are only three bosses in God of War, but the journey is peppered with iconic beasts to mame and murder. Cerberus mongrels, minotaurs, cyclopes and satyrs will contest you all the way up to the final showdown with Ares. The game mixes in some puzzles and platforming sections for good measure, but to mixed results. Puzzles are generally decent breaks from the action, but platforming is a different story. Anytime Kratos has to carefully maneuver around spikes (found in the Hades portions of the game), it is an absolute nightmare of game design. It’s during those parts when you realize how much Kratos is NOT Jak and Daxter, regardless of the fact that he can double jump. Also, the Desert of Lost Souls level, which has the player wandering around a screen obscured with sand until you find and kill 3 moving Sirens, is the definition of tedium. Fortunately, these problem areas are few and far between. They don’t bring down the otherwise amazing game, but do require the player to grit their teeth and push on to get back to the good stuff.

9/10

God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010)

Kratos’s life has never come even remotely close to something that can be called cheery, (seeing Kratos smile would be like hearing Kate Upton fart) but beginning with the Ghost of Sparta, everything starts to tumble even further downhill for the cursed warrior. Visually, the game is the best of the titles not initially made for the PS3. ReadyAtDawn studios took the “leftover” ideas from Sony Santa Monica, and constructed a truly awesome side story for the newly-crowned god. (The Atlantis and Sparta levels, as well as many of the story elements, originally started as either unlockable bonus videos from God of War 1 or content that didn’t make it past the cutting room floor of God of War 2) No longer wielding the Blades of Chaos, Kratos now uses the golden, yet functionally-identical Blades of Athena to carve his path through Atlantis and the realm of death in order to find his long lost brother, Deimos. For the most part, everything’s still working as you would expect. Notably however, the Rage of the Gods system, which previously worked upon collection of red experience orbs from slain enemies and acted as a one-time burst of invincibility and enhanced moves, is replaced with Thera’s Bane. The new ability imbues the twin blades with flames and allows Kratos to do more damage and break through certain armors which are otherwise unaffected by his normal attacks. It’s not as flashy or cool, but it’s good to see new ideas being tried out. Likewise, the secondary weapon, Kratos’s old spear and shield, can function as both melee and projectile attacks. Like Thera’s Bane, it’s neither offensive nor showstopping, but works to make GoS unique in the series. Kratos has always been a belligerent antihero, dangerously mixing emotional instability (bordering on bipolar disorder) with dogged hubris and unstoppable willpower, but the character’s descent starts to become noticeable with this entry. Kratos really stops giving a f*** about anything he does or who he offends on Olympus. A pot on the brink of boiling over is the perfect material for a pre-sequel. It should be noted that Ghost of Sparta has what may be the most utterly depressing ending in the series, On the positive side, the sex minigame is the best of the series. How can one not be amused by somehow managing to bed an entire, goddamn brothel? Exactly, it’s impossible.

9.25/10

God of War II (2007)

If there were ever the case being made that Kratos was an ass, God of War 2 would be exhibit A thru Z. Beginning once again in appropriately epic fashion, Kratos fights an animated Colossus of Rhodes statue hundreds of times his own size. Soon after, Zeus reveals he doesn’t really like the arrogant mortal-become-god, and swiftly shanks Kratos. Things begin to go off the rails once time travel is introduced into the plot. Because of course, in order to get revenge on Zeus, Kratos is told to seek the Sisters of Fate and change his own destiny. Upon the initial playthrough, it’s pretty easy to be enamored by the Rogue’s gallery of Greek figures the game brings to the table, and never pay too much mind to the logic at play. Because this game has holes like swiss cheese when you start to put even a modicum of thought into it. So Kratos is set out on another journey to a place from which no mortal survives, fraught with terrors abound, and the god of gods hates him. It’s an uphill battle to say the least, but overcoming the adversity (which in his case includes Greek heroes like Perseus and Theseus), and watching the final cutscene, feels exceptionally victorious. Bust out a Kleenex box, because the twists at the end, to say nothing of the epic cliff hanger of all cliff hangers ending, will have you crying tears of awesomeness. (Like when Batman climbed out of that hole in DKR) You love/hate Kratos for what he’s doing. On one hand, it’s incredibly selfish and destructive, yet on the other hand, you have to give him his props for standing up to literally GODS and seeing his vendetta through. When the guy puts his head to something, get out of his damn way. GoW2 is nice and varied with its level structure. I enjoyed fighting Euryale (Medusa’s sister who loved cheese puffs and lard, apparently) and the Kraken. Riding Pegasus and fighting off griffins was also a pleasant addition, but weirdly, he just sort of disappears from the game. Oh, and the three alternate weapons are a disappointing lot. The cumbersome Barbarian Hammer is too slow to be effective, the Spear of Destiny moves too quickly for its own good, and the Blade of Olympus can only be used in minor instances at the start and end of the game. Dabble with them for a fight or two, if only just to realize how much better the blades feel to control.
8.75/10

God of War III (2010)

The crescendo finally reaches its ultimate climax in God of War 3. (You know it’s serious business when there are James Bond-style opening credits) The only one of these five games to have been developed for the PS3 truly embraces the larger-than-life reputation set forth by its predecessors, as Kratos is flung from one jaw-dropping moment after another. GoW 3 is as impressive as it is ambitious. Part of that is because of the immense scale many of these levels/bosses are capable of realizing due to the increased console power. (PC elitists can go crazy now) Things that simply couldn’t happen on the PS2 happen and happen often in Kratos’s PS3 debut. Fitting, since the plot revolves around the assault and subsequent devastation of Olympus itself. Like how the last game saw the death of so many Grecian figures, so too does this one, however on a heavenly level. Hades, Hercules, Poseidon, Cronos, and the 4-part Zeus battle, are all memorable boss fights. Each one harkens on different mechanics to highlight each Olympian’s unique traits. As well as incredible visuals and technical prowess on display, the story and gameplay are also very strong, outside of some minor nit-pickings. The main theme of GoW 3, that hope can overcome all obstacles, courses through the story framework pretty harmlessly up until you meet the Pandora character, who is just two conversations away from being gratingly annoying. Seriously, the end of the game hammers the word “Hope” into your head almost as much as Kratos hammers his fists into Hercules’s face. Oh, and remember how I said that Ghost of Sparta had the most depressing ending, well… that was a lie. After building a strong connection to Kratos, spending so many hours living out his doomed life (assuming one has played all the games to this point), the ending could leave you feeling wrecked for an hour or more. It’s a good ending, to be sure. Honestly, it’s the only one that would fit thematically and realistically. But, it has the strong potential to leave some devastated (and fortunately not in the Mass Effect 3 way). Up until that point though, Kratos gets to go ham with four different types of chain blade weapons. Ditching the chainblade+something you might not like combo of previous titles, GoW3 allows the player to get familiar with all the weapons as they all play similarly but simply in different styles. The only time one might find themselves going “wtf…,” gameplay wise, is when one of the “puzzles” in the game is actually Lute Hero and has the actual PS button icons IN the game. Aside from that trivial quibble, it’s one of the most memorable action games ever put out by Playstation and is a definitely a must-play for owners of the system.

9.75/10

Obligatory Number at the End for the entire series (so far): 9/10

Jak II Review

2000 words on my most nostalgic game:

If there’s one thing Naughty Dog knows how to do, it’s making games that truly earn the right to be called a sequel. Jak II is a monumental leap forward from the previous game, both in scope and technical achievement. Jak II uses the basic mythos, characters, and gameplay elements of the first game and expands on them so much further. The game mixes more sci-fi and drama with the fantasy elements developed in the original game, but in a way that feels completely natural. If the previous game did a good job of removing elves from their typical Warcraft/Elder Scrolls fantasy lore stereotype, then this second iteration in the trilogy will make it easy to completely forget that there are foot-long ears jutting out of the sides of everyone’s heads.

The most glaring and obvious change in Jak II from The Precursor Legacy is in the drastic tonal shift. The way in which the game’s mood turns on a dime within the first cutscene is almost comical. Just in the first 5 minutes of pressing “New Game,” the staple cast of TPL (Jak, Daxter, Kiera, and Samos) is literally sucked through the rift gate they discovered at the end of the first game, and are all completely displaced in a dystopian, totalitarian, police state. Then, if that weren’t enough, Jak gets captured, imprisoned, and subsequently subjected to 2 years of torturous Dark Eco experimentation under the dictator, Baron Praxis’s, orders. The perfect game for the kiddies!

Fortunately, on the eve of Jak’s execution, Daxter manages to find our downtrodden hero. Apparently after all that time, Jak learned how to use his voice. His first words to Daxter: “I’m going to kill Praxis,” pretty much embody his general attitude towards authority for the remainder of the game. It turns out Jak’s a man of few words, and he’s pretty mad about the situation he’s in, often speaking with a cross tone as if to instigate a fight with literally everyone he sees (sometimes succeeding in doing so). So… he’s a bit different than he was in the first game. There’s still some light-hearted moments and humor to be found in the game, despite this. This is due in part to Daxter serving a well done comic-relief role once again, piercing through everyone else’s serious demeanors. Always the wise-cracking weasel, the T rating does allow more adult jokes than the first game, including his getting drunk and the occasional sexual innuendo. How scandalous.

Without spoiling too much of the plot for this 10 year old game (you never know), Jak’s freedom allows him to enact a campaign of vengeance against the Baron, and on the way, he gets involved with a plot revolving around the ancient Precursors and a child heir fabled to be a savior to the city. The story is guided along by a much more fleshed out supporting cast of characters, each with distinct, memorable personalities. More developed mission handlers like Krew, (morbidly obese crime boss) replace the talking heads from the first game. Aside from the final boss, who is rather two-dimensional by contrast (a deceptive and despicable villain who’s only character trait is the embodiment of evil), the writing and characters establish a nice sense of connection to the game world. The twists at the end are pretty goddamn cray-cray, but because the story was treated as such an integral aspect of the game, they are relatively impactful, (as opposed to the slap of an elderly woman with osteoporosis had they been weaker).

The game is set in the futuristic metropolis, Haven City. Jak II’s new open world layout serves as one, large central hub. Similar to other open-world games, areas of the map are unlocked via story progression, but it happens pretty quickly. One gripe that rises out of this new approach to the world is the fact that the city ends up being just an elongated way of getting from Point A to Point B. And, with no interesting soundtrack (unless you’re into somber, ambient music), it gets tedious flying around all the damn time on hover vehicles (which Jak has no qualms about hijacking). Nevertheless, the objective content of the game is where Jak II shines. Missions differ from GTA and the like, in that most do not typically occur within the city. Instead, like the first game, unique locations exist as pockets budding from the main map. These locations are where the majority of the “action” takes place. Puzzles, platforming, and punching things all return. Levels are no longer littered with scout flies, power cells, and precursor orbs abound. (Precursor orbs return, but they are more akin to recent videogame collectibles in that there is a small, well-hidden amount which players are rewarded upon collection with in-game cheats.) Levels themselves follow the tried-and-true videogame rule of three. You’ll be going back to certain environments multiple times, but often, there will be a newly accessible path as well as a different goal than the first time around.

Gameplay in Jak II varies wildly mission-to-mission. It’s as if Naughty Dog drew its structure for the game from a hat full of disparate activities from other games. Racing missions, various mini-games, and getting to play as Daxter are interspersed well with the already deep well of platforming and combat-based tasks. Jet Board integration is one of the more impactful changes that the game has taken on for itself. This rip from Tony Hawk is faster and more convenient than running. Plus, Jak is also apparently a prodigy or some sort of gifted autistic, as he can perform several complicated tricks from the get-go. The ability to grind, go up ramps, and float on water adds new ways of platforming for several specially designed missions that require the board. The Titan Suit (mech) is used only a few times in certain levels, but is one of the many methods in which Naughty Dog widens the description of its game.

As well as the Baron’s forces, Jak encounters a much more terrible scourge of horrible enemies referred to as Metal Heads. Metal Heads take the place of the Lurker grunts and then some. These monstrosities are fiercer and put up a much tougher fight than those in the first game. They will take on many forms and use different tactics based on their class. Some use ranged weapons. Some charge the player in large numbers. Some are giant centipede beasts that will have the player hectically jumping from platform to platform, hoping they don’t get eaten alive. This means Jak can’t go bopping things on the head anymore. In The Precursor Legacy, Jak interacted with Eco energy to enhance his capabilities. Eco does return, but the myriad assortments and their characteristics have become the 4 gun mods Jak now has to fight his new adversaries. For instance, where Blue Eco made him faster in the first game, it now is used as ammunition for a rapid-fire Gatling gun. Same goes for Red and Yellow, which have become a shotgun and rifle respectively. The fourth gun, the Peacemaker, is capable of destroying multiple enemies and vehicles with one destructive, chain-lightning shot. The aiming is sometimes problematic, so playing aggressively and wildly is recommended over attempting to play with precision.

Another of the new combat features is the inclusion of the Dark Jak trigger ability. Like in Jak 1, this is tied to collecting little blips of eco, which can be found in crates or dropped by dead Metal Heads. Once the player has collected enough they have the option to release the energy in the Jak and Daxter equivalent of Hulking out, albeit very briefly. This alternate Jak starts out as being just an incredibly quick and bestial fighter, but also gains special powers such as invincibility and the ability to unleash devastating area-of-effect attacks. The Dark Jak system is an intriguing one, and does allow one to clear a room like an absolute bad ass (literally, in slow-motion), however there are some niggling limitations. The fact that the ability takes such a large amount of eco means that a) it is not often utilized, and b) it can have first time players frustrated since they will use it only to realize that the next group of enemies was bigger, or that there was a boss fight around the corner they should have saved it for. Also, the only method of upgrading your abilities is collecting Metal Head skull gems, which is just unnecessary collecting for the sake of collection, as there is nothing inherently special about them at all. All in all,  it serves for a fleeting, eye-catching break in fights, but it’s extremely limited usability and method of implementation hold it back from being a real tactical element in a player’s strategy.

Now just for some other miscellaneous grievances with Jak II. Let’s start with how hard this game is. This game doesn’t hold your hand. In fact, with no compass or arrow icon in the HUD to lead the players, traversing missions requires intuition and exploration on the part of the gamers (bright glowing lights and a spot with a group of enemies are generally good leads) A map is included in the start menu, but no one would blame you for looking at it like, “wtf?” Gamers who’ve grown accustomed to the game design of “press x to win,” are going to struggle a bit the first time around. The difficulty and frustrations that might have some rage quitting are related to the fact that the game is going to unapologetically expect the player to have some well-developed gaming chops. Getting swarmed with waves of Krimson Guard patrols is going to take some skill in order to get out alive. As some missions do not have health crates (a much welcomed addition over having to pick up 50 pieces of green eco in order to get one more hit point) in them, players will be at the mercy of the checkpoint system, which is about as generous as King Joffrey from Game of Thrones. You will die a lot. And it’ll more than likely send you to the beginning of a mission regardless of where you were and how long it took to get there. Many will welcome this level of challenge in their game, and some will think it’s not that bad at all. But others might end up putting the game down in favor of something more painless, like plucking all their bodily hairs out. Also, what the hell with the inverted camera being the default? Praise be to Morgan Freeman this did not live on past the PS2. Oh, and unfortunately, Naughty Dog does throw in a few escort missions in there, deserving only one response: “Blech, blech, (dry heave) blech. WHY?” That is all.

Jak II is a like a Frankenstein assembled from Jak 1’s chopped up parts, GTA’s brain, and random bits and bobs from every other game. The game makes sure that you will always have something new to do and makes doing so meaningful by propping it all up with a well written story to keep players invested. The evolved combat adds another layer of depth to the game despite the missed opportunity with the Dark Jak power. The game is tough, but is still manageable and a fun ride that rewards its players throughout. This entry in particular has led to divisiveness amongst fans of Jak and Daxter. Some won’t like the fact that the game is basically the videogame equivalent of someone who’s suddenly adopted wearing a lot of black and smoking cigarettes. Others won’t get why the original wasn’t this in the first place. If the inclusion of firearms, mild language, and a more melancholic world are things that don’t jive your turkey, then just stick to the original. However, there’s so much that this game has on offer that it’s at least worth trying Naughty Dog’s darker outing in the series.

Obligatory Number Rating: 8.5