July 15, 2005

God of Bore

by peterb

A few weeks ago, someone apparently posted a link to my review of Gran Turismo 4 on some Internet forum. This has led to a steady stream of people flooding the comments section of that article and informing me that I'm not any good at the game, I'm homosexual, it's impossible for a popular game to be bad, I probably didn't actually buy it, and I am a moron for saying, publicly, that I didn't enjoy a game.

This led to a conversation among friends about the nature of game reviewing. One person suggested that I'd get the same response if I gave a good review to a game people hated. I disagreed. My friend Nat, who somehow always manages to be the Most Quotable Person In The Room, then observed that for a reason none of us understand, some people take bad reviews as deep personal insults:

I mean, Pete might as well have said "I don't like GT4, plus I banged your mom and she was terrible". He'd get the same response.

That was then. This is now. And now, I have a problem. My problem is that just a few days ago, psu finished (and reviewed) the PS2 beat-em-up God of War. Then he lent it to me, and I played it a bit, and it really wasn't to my taste. Which means that if I speak openly about it, I run the risk of opening yet another can of worms. Since I am reasonably sure I'm going to get hammered for this anyway, I may as well go all out and do something to deserve it. So:

I don't like God of War, plus I banged your mom and she was terrible.

Okay: I exaggerate. To be perfectly fair, one could say that I disliked God of War less than I disliked Gran Turismo 4. I love driving games. I live driving games. I breathe driving games. So for me to not like a driving game is, I think, an indication that the driving game has reached a certain significant level of Suck. On the other hand, I merely tolerate beat-em-up games. God of War is a better beat-em-up than Gran Turismo 4 is a driving game. I just don't like beat-em-ups as much as I like driving games. That's why I'm not doing a full-on detailed review of God of War. I merely want to use it as an excuse to talk about the fanboy experience, and to contrast my (incomplete) evaluation of the game with psu's.

I'm fairly neutral on the mechanics of beat-em-ups (I don't mind pressing "square-square-triangle" for 3 hours on end, but I don't love it either). Therefore, whether or not I like a game of this type has a lot to do with its narrative and setting. Since I am a mythology geek, I was predisposed to like God of War. Spartans! Greek Gods! Athens! The Aegean Sea! How could I not like the game?

It turns out it didn't take much. Who knew?

The first reason I was disappointed is that various reviews led me to expect more. When some people discuss the game, they talk about the combat being innovative. But apart from the "finishing moves," which are indeed gloriously bloody, I don't see anything in the actual combat that distinguishes the game from, for example, the Lord of the Rings games. Or Koei's Dynasty Warriors. If I cared about the "finishing moves" I could see that making a difference, but it turns out I don't.

Secondly, I had to endure a 20 minute Boss battle at the end of the first level. And even after reading the walkthrough on Gamefaqs, it was still a deathmarch. I'll admit that this might be more an indication that I'm old and slow than a reflection of the difficulty level of the game, but I don't care. All I know is that it felt like hours of drudgery and carpal tunnel for a meagre payoff.

Lastly, the mythology geek in me was disappointed. The portrayal of the Gods felt weak, not even up to Clash of the Titans standards. And let's not even mention the girls in Kratos' bed. He's a Spartan. There are girls in his bed. Of course he's depressed.

The bad-assitude of the anti-hero didn't offend me by its violence, but by its predictability. (Come on. Be honest. Did you think for even a second that Kratos wouldn't drop the Captain down the Hydra's gullet?) Also predictably, this is yet another game where the label "mature" indicates "has blood and boobs." I blame the ESRB for that, and not Sony. It just makes me a little sad and tired. I wrote recently in this space about Wrath Unleashed and how its design sensibility reminded me of the movie (and geek stroke magazine) Heavy Metal. God of War makes me think of that too, albeit with higher production values. Can't you just imagine the story of Kratos placed frame for frame in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, circa 1981?

It is not a mature sensibility. It is a sensibility by, of, and for seventeen year old boys. And it bores me to the point of tears. Again: it is not the fact that God of War has this sensibility that I find existentially exhausting. It is the fact that this sensibility is the norm. This, apparently, is what sells. So for every game like Katamari Damacy that brings us something fresh, something different, something that didn't come out of the sketchbook of a stoner in shop class, there are thirty games with pouting, juvenile antiheros who can only relate to women by turning them in to sex toys, or corpses, or both.

None of this makes God of War a "bad game." It just makes it a game I didn't enjoy.

Additional Resources

  • If you want to know more about the ancient Greeks, my favorite resource is Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, Book 1. There you'll find lots of detail on the Spartans in particular ("Our only pleasures are a job well done, a glorious death, and humping little boys!")
Posted by peterb at July 15, 2005 09:56 PM | Bookmark This

its again clear to me that you are continuing to rite unreasonable reviews of games you have bairly played. anyone who doesnt appreceiate the combat in this game is just a slow old gay weakling who is slow and gay. you don't like the gore and the mature content? well boo-hoo for you. i think you should crawl back under youre little rock and maybe go play a weak puzzle platforming game where you fight lame-ass black puffs of smoke in envirements with an astounding and organic consistency and sense of place. there is no reason for u to be whining about a game that everyone else thinks is great and besides, all you present as evidence are little nitpicky details about gods and soldiers. whatever, who cares? only as good as Lord of the Rings? what you do mean by that? i don't believe you. gandalf and frodo are nerdy little freaks compared to kratos.

Posted by psu at July 15, 2005 10:50 PM

I liked God of War for what it was, and I certainly wasn't expecting great literature or anything. Just a big stupid beat'em'up to relieve tension after work, and it was great for that.even though the final boss battle was one of the WORST EVER; I liked the first two, however. Other than Ares, I quite liked the difficulty level -- it was enough to be challenging for me, yet not frustrating. That seems so rare these days, with most games either being far too easy or, much worse, Ninja Gaiden. I applaud the creators for finding the perfect challenge level for me.

The sensibilities/art style/stupidity didn't bother me, since they were exactly what I was expecting the game to be. It's like picking movies...sometimes I'm in the mood for Werner Herzog, other times Michael Bay. I'd have been pissed off if I bought GoW thinking that it was anything other than the equivalent of a big, dumb action movie. I mean the dude even looks like Vin Diesel.

I'm not trying to change your mind or anything, although I do wish you would stop insulting boobs. Who says they're only for seventeen year olds?

P.S. - Any further thoughts on Forza Motorsports? I'm still kind of curious about that game, though I suspect it doesn't have enough crashes, explosions, or carjacking for me.

Posted by Adam Rixey at July 15, 2005 11:46 PM

Whoo; given the current hullabaloo over the the GTA:SA patch, I'm trying to imagine what the reaction to "God of War: Now With Catamites!" would be.

Posted by Mike Collins at July 16, 2005 01:34 AM

On the whole reviewing thing, I've been criticized for giving a game only 4 stars out of 5 because I thought that the graphics were blurry at certain zoom settings. Apparently, this made me a graphics whore or something. And I've been criticized for being part of some grand subconscious media conspiracy to hype Darwinia undeservedly because I gave it 5 stars. So good reviews can get grief if you like a game too much or if you merely don't like it enough.

But by and large, the really hostile comments come when a widely accepted "good game" or highly anticipated title gets slammed. I'm all for people criticizing my reviews and giving me stuff to think about - reasoned discourse about a game is fine. But the fanboys who, above all, think that calling you gay and stupid is the height of erudition, are the most fun.

Posted by Troy Goodfellow at July 16, 2005 05:14 PM

While I don't always agree with Tea Leaves' opinions on games, and especially not what appears to be your preference in terms of difficulty, I stand with you in most parts of this review.

What I especially hated was the combat. The only thing worse than a button-masher is one that weakly tries to make you feel good about mashing buttons by exclaiming BRUTAL! SAVAGE! and having impressive finishing moves (which, btw, suffer horribly from the FFVIII repetition disease). I'd rather spend my time playing a much finer 3D-action game like Devil May Cry 1, which required skill but wasn't cheap (the camera was horrible though).

Posted by mobit_man at July 16, 2005 09:42 PM

Heh. While I enjoyed the game a lot (see my comment on psu's review),
I agree with you on every point. Aside from the combat, which I found
pleasant enough, even that boss battle you disliked.

(Possibly I have become immune to stupid reviewers, or rather the
hyperbole of stupid reviewers. I don't remember going into it
expecting brilliant combat innovations.)

If you want to see Greek mythology done *really* wrong, play _Rygar_,
a PS2 game from several years ago. Well, don't, because you won't
enjoy it either. But I was awed at the interpretation of Greek myth as
seen through the filter of Japanese demon-fighting game/anime tropes.
And by "filter", I mean "brick wall".

"And then Aristotle drank the blood of a demon, so that he could live
forever and continue to learn science, but it corrupted him and he
turned into a demon named Icarus..." You wish I was kidding.

Posted by Andrew Plotkin at July 17, 2005 07:13 PM

Quite frankly, I don't particularly care about God of War...

But the Cartoon History of the Universe books are awesome! Some of the funniest books I've ever read, with the fact that they are really informative and interest you in vast swathes of history is almost incidental. Highly recommended, with the version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in vol 2 my particular favourite.

Posted by Joe McDonnell at July 18, 2005 08:24 AM

Is there something wrong with your archives? They all seem to cut off toward the end of the page, making finishing certain "blogs" impossible.

Posted by arlo at July 18, 2005 02:24 PM

The ones I spot-checked look OK. Could you give me an example of one that's broken?

Posted by peterb at July 18, 2005 05:00 PM

For what it's worth, I mostly agree with you. The boss battles in GoW are horrible and a prime example why "boss battles" should be banned by the Geneva Convention. (I did have to read the walkthrough for the first one two, so I'm relieved to see I'm not the only one..)

However, taken as a five-minute entertainment to let off steam, the game is quite nice. And it was interesting in that it at least didn't completely mutilate greek mythology. I take it as a sign that there's hope - at least it was a rip-off of a non-Tolkien mythology...

On a completely unrelated note: Have you considered typekey instead of "guess-the-numbers" to prevent comment spam?

Posted by Robert 'Groby' Blum at July 19, 2005 11:44 AM

Re: cut off pages

Though the individual blogs are viewable, some pages with multiple days' worth of text do get cut-off in mid-blog. (I'm using IE 6.0)



Hope this helps. :)

Posted by me at July 19, 2005 08:22 PM

The guy proves he's a genre snob, he told us like three times he loves driving games, well dont play other games if you know you'd rather be driving. Next he forgets the laws of diminishing return, you can only play games of a similar genre so often before you start hitting diminishing returns on your enjoyment of the game, this happens in all games, even our favorite genres.

I mean seriously, if you dont like games with particular combat mechanics, stay away from them!
That's your beef with god of war because 90% of the games out there revolve around violence and combat, how you can go on complaining about the combat with its variety of moves is pretty lame, especially since there is only so many ways you can implement combat in a game thats fun for the people playing it. There is only a finite amount of ways to implement moves inside a real-time combat game.

Combat mechanics is exactly the reason I wont play any MMO RPG, because the computer plays the friggin game for you, its great for newbies and people who have the reflexes of an epileptic retard, but for anyone who wants to participate in the game and be in full realtime control, its a snorefest because you're so passive in every MMO out there and not an active participant, some games are becoming games you watch rather then play, sorry but I'm the type of gamer that likes deriving my enjoyment from control and interactivity, rather then passivity that currently passes for gaming in some circles.

Posted by JoeBob at July 30, 2005 10:00 PM

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