Lore & gore

May 4, 2005 at 12:00 am

Murder, destruction and mayhem wait at your fingertips. What a wonderful feeling of power. Oh, to be godlike.

Thus, the thematic thread that runs through God of War. Based thoroughly on Greek mythology, it follows the ruthless Spartan warrior, Kratos, through a twisting tale of vengeance. Kratos is a lean, tattooed killing machine, with an attitude so bad he’d make the Incredible Hulk look like a cookie-selling Girl Scout.

Once a fearsome conqueror, Kratos is led astray and then betrayed by Ares, stoking a fire on which the gods of Olympus feed. The story (which is revealed slowly throughout the game in a series of flashbacks) finds Zeus enlisting Kratos to slay the renegade god Ares (the titular God of War), who’s laying siege to Athens and with whom Kratos has his own ax to grind. Of course, no man can slay a god by himself, and so Kratos — armed with sharp-edged axes chained to his arms — is sent to retrieve Pandora’s Box, which grants powers as great as the gods’ own.

Along the way the gods bestow upon Kratos additional powers (lightning bolts, the ability to turn enemies to stone and unleash the souls of the undead), but it’s not like he needs them. The bungee-like arm axes (accurately dubbed the “blades of chaos”) provide enough thrills in and of themselves.

The vivid, almost comic-book graphics accompany a fighting system that is both immensely enjoyable and very forgiving. Stringing together devastating combinations is as easy as randomly mashing the two main attack buttons, but with a little practice, more eye-popping moves can be unlocked. And dig this: You’ll eviscerate entire phalanxes of mythical monsters — you can seize and pound Minotaurs and Medusas to the ground with a Mighty Mouse thud. Stun them, and you can apply finishing moves, which involves rapid button tapping or some other similar manipulation.

The gameplay is, simply, fantastic. But more than simple hack and slash, the game also mixes in clever, intuitive puzzles that break up the action without miring you in endless jumping or intractable dead-ends. Graphically, the game is beautifully rendered with a dark, colorful moodiness that recalls a William Turner painting. While this is a third-person action game, the camera doesn’t hover over your character’s shoulder, but instead moves in and out, depending on where you are.

Full of fast and furious bone-crunching action, God of War is almost the complete antithesis of Full Spectrum Warrior — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Based upon a “training aid” provided for the U.S. Army (who said war is nothing like a video game?), Full Spectrum Warrior isn’t your basic Rambo-esque military shooter. In fact, it’s not even that similar to the popular SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals series, despite that it’s designed around squad-based combat.

Whereas SOCOM allowed you to move your soldiers at will — in singles, pairs, whatever — FSW’s squads must remain in a four-person configuration. Further, FSW does not allow fatalities. If someone dies, you lose. This can mean frequent trips to the medic with wounded soldiers, which becomes integral to the chess-style play of the game. Rather than relying on your ability to aim and fire, FSW forces you into the tactics of street-level warfare.

You’ve been sent to the made-up country of Zekistan — which apparently borders Afghanistan and Pakistan — to clean up a terrorist insurgency. Working at street level, you must always be aware of cover and fire angles. Snipers and enemy combatants are usually best overcome not by direct fire and grenades, but by the careful positioning and outflanking of your enemies through the skillful movement of your two teams.

This makes the game very methodical, and sometimes a bit overbearing. With time, FSW becomes strangely satisfying, though probably only for those more attuned to strategy and tactics. The slow, cautious approach that’s required to negotiate the streets — dashing from one place of cover to another — and the need to protect your squad from any fatalities gives the game real tension, which can be intoxicating. However, if your goal is maximum bloodshed and uncomplicated, unrelenting action — stick with the God of War.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]