God of War Collection
With God of War 3 still a few months away, Sony has stepped forward to share tales of Kratos's past in the God of War Collection -- a hi-def remastering of the wildly popular hack-n-slash series. Reviews Editor Tae K. Kim tackled this bloody anthology head-on, and came back singing songs of the Ghost of Sparta.
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You might think that the value of the God of War Collection lies in the fact that it packages two classic best-selling games onto one disc, but you'd be wrong. You might also point to the updated visuals, the consistent 60fps presentation and the inclusion of trophies and believe that those are the highlights, but again, you are incorrect. No, the true value of the God of War Collection is that it allows those of us who've already completed the first two titles to sit back and reflect on the Ghost of Sparta's journey to the peak of Mount Olympus, and further anticipate what lies ahead for Kratos in the upcoming God of War 3.
Don't get me wrong, I value convenience just as much as you do, and having two fantastic games on one disc-at an affordable $39.99 price point to boot-is not something I dismiss lightly; Sony's botched backwards compatibility initiative makes it impossible for me to play God of War II on my late-model PS3, as it lacks that capability, and I gave away my copy of the original long ago, so it's nice to have both on one Blu-ray disc. I also appreciated the enhanced visuals as they help the overall presentation, but to be honest, it's a purely cosmetic upgrade. The only tangible effect it has is to bring the game up to modern standards (though oddly enough, the cinematics look as if they haven't been touched at all, making for a jarring transition when you go from the new hi-res gameplay to the rough cutscenes and back). Think about it this way: watching 'The Godfather' in full 1080p makes for a more pleasant experience but it doesn't make the movie any more compelling or interesting. Perhaps you can pick out visual details that you may have missed before or appreciate the set pieces a little more, but the core experience, the thing that made the movie (or in this case the games) so compelling remains relatively untouched.
And just like repeated viewings gives you an opportunity to revisit favorite scenes, the God of War Collection also allows you to replay through the moments that made the first two titles instant classics, such as the opening battle against the Colossus in God of War 2 -- one of one of the greatest opening sequence in modern video game history. Of course, playing through the games again also forces you to once again take inventory of what they got wrong. Without the initial sense of wonder and anticipation to buoy the experience, you begin to notice that there is a fair amount of tedium in the game's long stretches where the action bogs down and you grind towards the next objective in a rinse-lather-repeat cycle. I also haven't managed to figure out how the design team convinced themselves that the tightrope segments actually worked in the context of an action game. Going from a full on rampage to suddenly tip-toeing like a gymnast on a high beam is not only ludicrous but incredibly annoying because you fall off every five seconds. I was also reminded of how frustrating the fixed camera could be, not only because I wanted control over it but because it sometimes led to unnecessary falling deaths. To be fair, it's one of the better fixed cameras I've ever had to deal with and it allows the developers to pull off some interesting cinematic tricks like pans and sweeps, but it was annoying enough for me to take note of it yet again.
And yet, despite these faults, my focus always fell back onto what made the God of War series so impactful: its skillful marriage of an interesting narrative to a brutally visceral form of gameplay. The series wasn't revolutionary by any stretch -- the story is an homage to the countless myths and legends that we read in grade school and the action genre existed long before Kratos came along -- but the original God of War and its sequel opened our eyes not to what an action game could be but rather to what it should be. It was as if we were all living in a world where pain existed but it wasn't until someone came along and kicked us in our collective testicles that we learned the true meaning of the word. That magic is recaptured here in its full glory and, updated visuals aside, the two games still shine after all these years. I say that last part half-jokingly, of course, since it's only been four years since the original released but things move fast in the video game world and the fact that God of War is still relevant today says a lot about the strength of the franchise's formula. I think the word 'visceral' is overused in video game writing (I've already used it twice, for example) but there really is no other way to describe God of War's combat: it's a bloody, meaty mess whose outright brutality belies the delicacy and sophistication of the control scheme that oversees the carnage. The narrative also bears its fair share of the weight and while Kratos' physical antics make him immediately memorable, it's his spiritual plight -- wonderfully narrated by actress Linda Hunt -- that ultimately renders him a noteworthy figure. As I said in the opening, it's because of this aspect that I found the collection truly worthwhile.
Because most of us have already played through the first two games already, revisiting the first two titles back to back allows you to focus on the actual evolution of Kratos as a character, something that many gamers may have overlooked the first time around. He begins the original God of War as a whimpering servant of the Gods and despite his brute strength, he almost comes across as sniveling when he begs them to take away the haunting memories of his past crimes; he's so consumed by these demons and so driven by the desire to rid himself of them that he agrees, without pause or hesitation, to take on a task that seems nigh impossible -- killing Ares, the God of War. This speaks less to Kratos' prowess as a warrior and more to the sense of utter desperation that has settled over him, and it's interesting to watch as that despair slowly transforms over the course of the two games into an all consuming hatred of Zeus. Regardless of whether it's justified or not, his need for revenge then carries him through to the conclusion of God of War 2 where we leave him leading an army of Titans towards the peak of Mount Olympus and what we can presume is a final confrontation with the pantheon that has tormented him so.
This brings me to the main reason why I appreciated the God of War Collection: the timing involved in its release. God of War 3 is still a few months away but in the meantime, I have the chance to study up on the events that have occurred thus far, so I can go into that game with a fresh memory; it's like opening an old wound so that you can reexamine it before you sew it back up again for good. I didn't need to be reminded of the respective greatness of the first two titles in order to enjoy God of War 3 but doing so will no doubt help put the events to come in a better light. The holiday release date definitely has more to do with Sony trying to make up for the fact that God of War 3 wasn't ready for the critical shopping season but they also had to be cognizant of the benefit of getting the franchise name back onto our collective minds heading into 2010.
Regardless of their motivation, the collection has the right effect: As a result of playing through the two previous titles, I'm already starting to think ahead to what God of War 3 will entail. While the countless previews and teaser trailers have been effective in drumming up fan anticipation, actually giving them a chance to relive Kratos' adventures will really stoke the fires. Imagine how much more excited you would have been for 'The Return of the Jedi' if a few months before its release, Lucas Films rereleased 'A New Hope' and 'The Empire Strikes Back' in one easy to digest package. The God of War Collection is exactly like that: in a crowded holiday season full of notable releases, I find myself thinking about Kratos and God of War 3 and that's a definite checkmark in the win column for Sony. The fact that we get access to two classic games in one package is also a win for us, but again, the ability to take a long look back at Kratos' journey is the true reward of this amazing collection.
PROS: Two fantastic games on one disc for a low price; puts you in the right mindset for God of War 3
CONS: Cutscenes aren't improved; minor faults are amplified on repeated playthroughs