Going into Sony's God of War Collection after so many years, I expected gruesome decapitations, all kinds of God-on-God action and more topless women than I know what to do with. What I wasn't expecting was for the two games in this PS Vita compilation to hold up as well as they do. I had to keep reminding myself God of War is nearly a decade old and originally released on hardware two generations removed. Who knew Kratos would age so gracefully?
Perhaps this shouldn't come as a big surprise. Released near the end of the PlayStation 2's life, the God of War games ushered in a new era of cinematic action that is still being copied to this day. Even at nine years old, nothing about God of War feels outdated. A lot of this is a testament to the fully realized world David Jaffe and Cory Barlog created, complete with enormous bosses, innovative level designs and a sick sense of humor that few other action games have been able to match.
God of War Collection on PS Vita is a port of the similarly titled PlayStation 3 game released all the way back in 2009. Okay, so this isn't the freshest game hitting Sony's handheld this year, but it's still an exciting ride with two of the PlayStation 2's best action games. The titles in question are God of War and God of War II, both featuring upgraded HD graphics that shine on the Vita's screen.
For those who missed out on these games on either of Sony's other two platforms, God of War tells the story of a very angry Spartan warrior named Kratos. This is a guy who, fearing certain death, called out to the Gods and begged them to help him turn the tables on his foes. His cries for help were answered, and Ares (aka the God of War) granted Kratos a second chance. But while the warrior lived to fight another day, he was forever branded with the Blades of Chaos as a reminder of his servitude.
The weapon is a big reason why God of War is so compelling. The Blades of Chaos are more than just swords, they are blades attached to Kratos' arm with long chains. This allows our hero to flail the blades around with surprising range. The glowing blades are mesmerizing in action and there's no better feeling than racking up huge combos using the game's diverse attacks. Best of all, the action is accessible and it's easy to make Kratos pull off cool looking moves.
The game's liberal use of Greek mythology is also a plus, allowing the developers to create an appropriately violent world rich with ferocious monsters and a larger-than-life cast of characters. Not interested in being accurate, God of War plays fast and loose with names you'll probably recognize, including Athena, Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hades, Perseus, Prometheus and more. You'll have to track down Pandora's Box, fly with Icarus' Wings and fight through all kinds of locations you've heard about in books or seen in the movies.
In a world ripped apart by petty Gods and enormous monsters, Kratos is the perfect hero. This is an action star that is as close to a Mortal Kombat character as you can get without winding up in court. Not only does he have a bad attitude, but he yearns for the sweet taste of death. He's sick of being a slave to Ares and wants out. It's no coincidence that we are introduced to our hero during a suicide attempt.
Playing these games again for the first time in close to a decade, I was struck by how tight the pacing is. There's rarely any downtime in God of War; these games are constantly throwing new locations, enemies and challenges at Kratos. The developers were wise to mix things up with light puzzle solving, exploration and varied fights. The gameplay may not be as deep as some of Capcom's Devil May Cry sequels, but you'll never get bored fighting off the hordes of mythological monsters.
Although not radically different, God of War II does a good job adding new elements and improving on the original. The sequel delivers a lot more bosses, including a few that make Kratos look like a tiny insect. You'll also discover new 3D flying stages that see our hero fighting off baddies while riding atop Pegasus. And you will be blown away by some of the level designs Cory Barlog's team was able to come up with. It's astonishing that this was done on a PlayStation 2.
As far as HD ports go, both God of War games look good. Every level is full of detail and a few of the set pieces really stand out. However, there are definitely a few times where the games show their age. The character models are a dead giveaway. While Kratos is amazingly detailed, most of the supporting cast isn't as lucky. It's a little jarring seeing our fully-realized hero talking to blocky characters.
I was also underwhelmed by the game's many cinemas. Although a highlight on the PlayStation 2, these cut scenes look noticeably worse than the in-game action. For one thing, these cinemas are presented with a thick window border. And even then, they don't look as high-res as the rest of the game. It's a shame Sony wasn't able to render these in full HD, especially after seeing the amazing job Square Enix did with Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster.
Sadly, the low-res cinemas aren't my only complaint. Even though I went in expecting quick time events, I was still disappointed by their execution. They are a little better in the second game, but the button timing in the first game is frustratingly unforgiving. Some of the analog prompts were also problematic, leading to a number of very frustrating fights. And whoever thought it was a good idea to use the back touchscreen to open chests and move boxes should get another job.
For those who already own this HD collection on the PlayStation 3, $30 may be a steep asking price for a portable version. This PS Vita port doesn't do anything new, so some gamers may not want to double (or triple) dip. On the other hand, God of War Collection offers 25 hours of giant monsters and locations you rarely see in video games. It's a rollercoaster ride through Greek mythology and two of Sony's best action games. No matter if it's this brand new portable version or on the PlayStation 3, the God of War Collection is worth playing.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.