Some of God of War’s greatest moments require archaic video game skills to pull off (such as quickly pressing the button that appears on screen), yet from start to finish, stabbing a minotaur in the back of the throat is just awesome. The developers have clearly tapped into some subtle truth: it does not take complex button strokes to convince a player that he or she is a badass mofo. Not that getting these kills is easy either. It requires a good sense of timing, an excellent sense of hand-eye coordination, and, in some cases, the vaunted ability to mash a button really fast. Perhaps these demanding but simple requirements are what lends the brutal kills their visceral feel. It is also likely a result of carefully-rendered blood spray. The feeling of “I kick ass” is mirrored even in Kratos’ normal moves. The better ones often require button combos, but they rarely rival the complexity of a traditional fighting game’s button presses.
The really significant thing about God of War, aside from the fact that it stands up years after release, it how it starts off with a bang and maintains that level of quality for the rest of the game. Even more significant is that it pulls this off with something like three boss fights. Generally, action games are comprised of mindless fights followed by a tough, compelling boss fight. God of War is comprised of compelling action sprinkled with even better boss fights. It also has puzzles, which, for me, had the same effect as the brutal kills: never so hard that I felt cheated or stumped but still challenging enough that I felt accomplished when I hit that “Aha!” moment. Second subtle truth: clever puzzle design need not hide the obvious answer for the player to feel gratification (I’m talking to you, Silent Hill).
The few exceptions to the rule are notable and horrible, compounded by the fact that my girlfriend tricked me into playing the game through on God mode the first time (which you cannot get out of, no matter how many times you die). The final level, consisting of conveyor belts, archers, and endless harpies, is perhaps one of the worst levels I have played through on any action game in a long time. A sequence during the final boss fight was equally frustrating, until I discovered a way to recharge my super meter (Hint: show some love). So I guess that last one was more or less my own fault.
It may be this high level of quality that masks the fact that you only travel to three locations in the entire game (which I suppose means there is a boss for each area). But then, this is an action game, and when the action is solid and the difficulty is fair, it’s easy to forget you’re still in the same area you were three hours ago. How many games dodge that bullet in game criticism?