God of War is back after a several year absence from the gaming landscape and with it’s return, a wave of critical praise. In fact the praise critics lauded the game with bordered on the absurd – crossing into near hysterics and a level of hyperbole I’ve not seen in some time. This weirdly had a chilling effect on me. Where as before I was looking forward to playing the game, mostly curious to see their take on Norse gods, this over the top praise made me take a closer look at what was actually being pitched, and what the latest God of War seemed to be was yet another Sad Dad, with a Sad Child, and their sad journey together – punctuated by bouts of over the top gore.
Basically, The Last of Us – Viking Edition.
Which isn’t bad, but it’s also not revolutionary, and at this point it’s not even novel. The thought of playing another mopey game that tries to have it’s ‘adult themes’, wrapped around the adolescent fetishization of violence and gore, and I became exhausted. To have the gaming press proclaiming this as some kind of new watershed moment for gaming was infuriating.
But the problem with the modern reviews is that they are largely limited in what they can say, both by what the publishers who provide the game will LET them say, and by our cultures weird obsession with spoilers. It makes any meaningful discussion around a game before it’s released basically useless. I can’t tell if the game is actually as rote as it seems, because the reviews can’t mention anything beyond what is publicly known, so you are left with the impression that what you see is what you are going to get – but that it’s also so much better than that. Instead of actual discussion, there is a lot of small nods towards things like the camera never cutting to another shot, giving the impression of the game being one long continuous take, or how the ‘feel’ of throwing and recalling Kratos’ axe is ‘good’. Nothing to really call attention to ‘WHY’ this game deserves such high praise when it looks so painfully like the Sad Dad routine but with Kratos this time around.
So, despite being completely turned off from the game at this, I still felt I needed to play it. Not because I thought the praise was wrong, or that I was off in my initial views – but to have an informed opinion on it all.
I keep hoping that I’ll get to the point where the game goes from being Sad Dad Now With More Norse, to something special. But it’s really been pretty straight forward at this point. Some neat mechanics with the game adopting a more open world approach after you put a few hours in, and some of the new tools/abilities you acquire give the game an almost Metroidvania-lite vibe that I wasn’t expecting – but there is still an awful lot of Sad Dad with Sad Boy and their Woeful Errand (with fits of over the top gore).
Perhaps most deflating is looking back at all the praise heaped on the game’s ‘continuous camera shot’, which in practice comes no where near close to actually delivering. Yes, the game largely does play out as one continuous camera shot, but that’s if you never pause the game – or need to go into one of the 8 (!) menus – or die – or hell, not play it in one sitting. Video games are not movies, and the effect is neat when you manage to play for 20-30 minutes without any of those things happening, but more often the illusion is broken repeatedly because this is a game and game mechanics need menus and breaks and a way to account for death and so on. It’s neat, but not something I’d be singing hosannas about.
Which is a nice summation of the game so far. It’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be at this point, with some smaller mechanics that are neat and make it not entirely a chore to play through.