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"A Tale of Two Halves"
on 5 January 2012
**Warning: this review contains spoilers**
God of War Collection Volume 2 contains the two titles in the series only previously released for Sony's handheld system, the PSP. For fans of the series without the PSP, Sony has re-released both Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta remastered in HD on one Blu-Ray disc for your entertainment. For those of you who are reading this review and/or have already purchased this, you have more than likely played the previous games in the series and know what Kratos and God of War is all about. I had not, so I thought I'd share my somewhat unique perspective of this collection with you.
I was referred to the series by a friend who had also recently purchased and played the series himself, with his only passing comment that it was really good. Having researched the games themselves prior to playing, I found that Chains of Olympus, the first game of this collection, took place prior to God of War 1 and that Ghost of Sparta took place prior to God of War 2. I therefore felt it appropriate to play the games in chronological order in the hopes that the plot would feel fully fleshed out (where I feared it wouldn't if played out of sequence). As a side note, I am presently working my way through God of War 2 (included along with God of War 1 in the previous title, HD Classics: God of War Collection).
As I have now completed both games in this collection (Volume 2), I felt the need to provide you with my review. (I will of course review both Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta separately.)
- God of War Chains of Olympus
The God of War series is a simplistic "hack-and-slash" action platformer which uses Greek mythology as foundation and a basis for progression. You take control of the permanently-enraged Spartan, Kratos, a man who has lost those close to him as a result of his desire for battle, blood and victory, which, unfortunately, was also his downfall. Kratos, on the verge of death, makes a deal with the titular God of War, Ares that in exchange for his soul he will serve under the command of the Gods, with particular loyalty to Ares himself. I only came into this knowledge upon playing God of War 1 (from HD Classics: God of War Collection) however it is only unfortunate that Chains of Olympus goes to no effort to explain any of this and automatically assumed I had played the first game, which left me in the dark on occasion. I guess this was the downfall of playing in chronological order and not in sequence of how they were released.
Chains of Olympus follows Kratos in his 10 year servitude to the Gods where he initially assists in repelling the Persian King, his pet basilisk and his army from the shores of Attica. This portion of the game is entertaining by all means and unfortunately sets a standard which the remainder does not live up to, especially in relation to oversized boss battles.
The controls are simple, with the Square button causing Kratos to perform quick, "light" attacks, the Triangle button causing him to do far stronger, but alas, slower attacks, with the X button relating to jumping and climbing and the Circle button corresponding with any on screen interaction. Left Stick controls Kratos with Right Stick causing him to roll or dive out of the way of any threats. L1 is block and, if timed correctly, can parry away opponent's attacks. There is a selection of moments when the game requires you to press the buttons in response to command prompts on screen (known as Quick Timer Events or QTEs) but these, cinematically, are few and far between. Generally, the controls work well and I was thoroughly entertained with combat against all varieties of enemies, however, the lack of camera control was missed on occasion.
Following the largely pointless but enjoyable opening chapters, Kratos is presented with the task of locating the missing sun God, Helios and thereafter encounters a decision which, even for the Spartan, is difficult. The mythology is the foundation of the series and I find it a quite interesting and compelling vehicle to drive such a game, however it's certainly underused in any event in Chains of Olympus. There is also a distinct lack of effort on behalf of the game's producers in relation to the plot which I found largely irrelevant and uninformative (especially so after other games in the series) and, whilst the voice acting was good for the most part, Kratos aside, I felt it did little to assist presentation of the weak plot.
I feel there was also wasted potential to delve deeper into Kratos' history in this game, aside from some short lived scenes at the very end, which would have been far more interesting than Kratos' 10 year servitude. This disappointment also applies to the transitions between locations in the game which are poorly constructed and feel like "patchwork" at best.
As in all the God of War games (as I found out), you are presented with a simple yet effective levelling system (accessed via the Start button) which is advanced by using "red orb" points-based gathering. Your primary weapons and "special" moves, which are acquired through progression of the game, can be upgraded to increase strength and allow additional and more interesting attacking combinations to be performed. I found this interesting and it compelled me to progress through the uninteresting plot simply to see what extra moves and attacks I could unlock.
Aside from near-constant attack from all manner of foes (from soldiers to trolls to minotaurs, there is a large variety of combatants most of whom are seen in some form in Greek mythology), the game has several subtle yet straightforward puzzles for you to complete. Generally, these are limited to moving a large stone block around and placing it in the correct location, however, despite my initial worries, I found these weren't as obtrusive as I first thought and eventually became a welcome relief from the primary gameplay.
As the finale loomed (which will take you approximately between 2 to 4 hours to reach depending on the level of difficulty), I found that the graphics presented throughout had been lacklustre, even when considering this game's roots. Many objects and textures were bland, and this was to be found in the game's artistic direction also, with uninspired locales and insipid structures. I appreciate that the game is simply a HD re-master but an injection of clarity and colour was amiss in places.
In conclusion, I was disappointed by the game and, given that this was my first foray into the world of God of War, I was somewhat concerned as to what my opinion and reaction to the other games in the series may be. I was happy to find that my disappointment was soon dismissed after playing Ghost of Sparta and God of War 1 where I discovered why people fell in love with the series in the first place.
+ Entertaining gameplay.
+ As always, interesting mythology and background.
+ Simple yet effective weapons levelling system.
+ Puzzles, whilst straightforward, are a welcome distraction.
- Short game time (between 2 to 4 hours, depending on difficulty settings).
- Despite PSP origins, textures look bland and uninspiring.
- Art direction is lacking the genius of other God of War games.
- The plot is largely irrelevant and uninformative.
- Transitions between locales are poorly constructed and are somewhat patched together.
- Wasted potential to delve deeper into Kratos' history.
- Lacking in oversized boss battles.
- Simplistic animation in places.
- Aside from one, the special moves are forgettable.
- Lack of camera controls is sometimes frustrating.
Score 2 / 5
- God of War Ghost of Sparta
After playing and completing God of War 1, my interest was completely renewed in the franchise and I went into Ghost of Sparta, the second game in this collection, with interest and anticipation.
We catch up with Kratos following his defeat of Ares and whereby he has been granted the title of God of War, despite his mortal status - a first in the series' lore, apparently. A brief vision of Kratos' long thought dead brother, Deimos sets him on an adventure to find his younger sibling and what transpired on that hellish day in their mutual youth. Whilst the prospect of a plot commencing via a vision is generic and overused at best, it continues at a pace that never lets up combining the lead's encounter with a wide range of brutal, crazy and whimsical characters and a sublime artistic direction making this the far superior game in this collection.
As always, the gameplay remains as tight and entertaining as other God of War games, with responsive controls and a wide array of attacking combinations that make it simply a joy to slash, disembowel and decapitate your way through the horde of enemies wishing to test your skill. The controls remain the same as they were in Chains of Olympus, with a new investment in more QTE (Quick Timer Events) that provide for a more intense cinematic experience. The special moves are a lot more useful this time around (with the levelling system working in the same manner and being just as effective), with certain enemies bearing weaknesses for these moves (and strong defences against others) and therefore forcing you to apply a little bit more strategy than normal.
There are far more interesting set pieces and spectacles to keep you entertained that, on occasion, do take your breath away; just look out for the opening boss battle which is divided up across initial chapters, the escape from the core of the very active volcano, the Return to Sparta and receiving a hero's welcome, right up until the amazing final sequences which lead perfectly onto God of War 2.
There is a lot that Ghost of Sparta got right in this instance and I do feel that the producers, largely, learned from the wrongs of Chains of Olympus and applied them here. I have little complaints over Ghost of Sparta aside from the lack of camera control and short game time (I completed this in close to 4 hours) which were of course present in the previous game. Again, this is probably attributable to the games being designed around the PSP (which has a different controller interface and is designed to be played on the go).
I also found that Ghost of Sparta was sparse on the puzzle front, with none that I can recall being particularly memorable - again, the puzzles I can remember were simply pushing a large stone block around to reach a higher position. Whilst the puzzles within Chains of Olympus weren't different; I seem to recall there were more puzzles that had a different variety. Anyhow, whilst the puzzles served as only a minor distraction from the primary gameplay, this is forgivable.
Finally, whilst not a complaint in particular, the "Return to Sparta" chapter was tantalisingly short and only makes me wish the God of War series was more than just a hack-and-slash / action platformer, and expanded on the levelling elements that could turn this into a lengthier and far deeper experience. However, I appreciate the simplicities of a game that revolves around pure pick-up-and-play arcade-like action, so, really, my preference in this regard did not effect the final score.
All that said, Ghost of Sparta was an absolutely amazing experience, despite its short run time and I will certainly be playing it again sometime soon.
+ Entertaining gameplay.
+ As always, interesting mythology and background.
+ Simple yet effective weapons levelling system.
+ Despite PSP origins, the graphics are clear, colourful and beautiful in places.
+ Artistic direction purely sublime, mirroring the genius of God of War 1.
+ Great set pieces and well-designed large boss battles.
+ A more interesting plot sees Kratos tracking down his brother, whom he had long thought dead.
+ Smooth flowing transitions between locations.
+ Interesting supporting characters.
- Short game time.
- Lacking in puzzles.
- Lack of camera controls can be frustrating on occasion.
Score 5 / 5
So, the God of War Collection Volume 2 is a tale of two halves - one subpar and one amazing.
Whilst I was sorely disappointed with Chains of Olympus (even more so considering I had just bought the entire series for the PS3 on a whim...), I was glad that Ghost of Sparta made up for this.
I would recommend purchase of this collection, if only for those God of War fans without a PSP who wish to experience the amazing Ghost of Sparta.
Overall 3.5 / 5