Not so in God of War, which starts big and, well, just keeps getting bigger. From an Athens terrorized by a demonic army of hulking skeletons, gigantic minotaurs and stomping cyclops to a harpie-infested shrine, then across the desert to a giant temple strapped to a titan’s back, the game keeps on upping the ante. The environments get larger and more magnificent, the creatures grow in fearsomeness and stature, and the battles get bigger and ever more bloody. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing through God of War without finding their gob well and truly smacked.
Which makes it a good time to mention the graphics. Like many people, I was beginning to find PlayStation 2 games visually underwhelming in comparison to the delights of this year’s Xbox and Gamecube classics. God of War has comprehensively destroyed that opinion – this isn’t so much a case of an old dog with new tricks as a full-on vintage canine circus. The levels are amazing to behold, with detailed textures, masses of background detail and the best lighting, reflection and water effects I’ve ever seen on Sony’s system. The monsters, meanwhile, mix classic Greek archetypes – the gorgon, the minotaur, the sirens, etc – with the kind of intricate creature design seen in The Lord of The Rings movie trilogy. And amazingly, this is one game where you don’t mind a game-controlled camera. It’s rare to find yourself in a spot where you haven’t got the best view of the action, and the way the viewpoint hovers low on Kratos as he destroys a street full of furious undead warriors, then pulls back to show him dwarfed by two mighty giants is breathtakingly cinematic.
In fact, it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the onscreen shock and awe and the relentless bloodletting, not to mention an orchestral score so bombastic that Holst or Wagner would have been tempted to tone things down a bit, that it’s a while before you even notice what else makes the game so good: the subtleties and details that have gone into the design. For instance, God of War is one of the few games that has a difficulty level for everyone. On the regular setting, it’s tough enough to make the larger monster-mashes a challenge, but not so tough that you ever give up. It’s just a question of finding the right weapon, the right moves, or the right strategy. If you must switch down to easy, you’ll still find it satisfying, while if you want to replay the game at a higher level – and trust me, you will – the hard mode delivers the goods.