God Of War
Rock me, Atreus
It’s no easy feat, humanising an antihero like Kratos. An unflinching wall of sinew and muscle, he’s as cold as the frost crunching beneath his feet, neither relatable nor likeable, just blunt and a little bit broken, seemingly unmoved even by the soft sobs of his only child.
And it’s strange, seeing our Kratos – that crazed murderer of Gods, hitherto driven by just rage and revenge – so stripped down. To know that he lives a simple existence in a modest single-roomed shack, that this plain, ordinary space is where this terrifying, extraordinary god eats and sleeps, drinks and thinks. Though still every bit the brick you-know-what-house we’ve come to know over the years, Kratos is now aged, his face ashen and lined, his beard flecked with grey, his shoulders stooping with the weight of every soul he’s ever crushed, every heart he’s ever ripped from the safety of its ribcage. He seems hollow now, as cold as the lifeless corpse of his son’s recently deceased mother, his body a roadmap of scars, including those from where he had once strapped Blades of Chaos to his arms.
Throughout this story Kratos occasionally turns and picks up his son, Atreus, to help him down from a steep height. He lifts the child as though just picking a daisy, his hands – those huge, strong, terrifying hands that we’ve seen snap necks like pencils – dwarfing the child’s entire midriff. Sometimes, Atreus clings to his father’s back in a lopsided piggy-back, implicitly trusting his father to get him safely up the mountain side, or across the precipice. But not once does Kratos touch his boy in any way that looks comforting or supportive. There are no moments of affection or connection. And while God of War doesn’t quite deliver the paternal pain of Sony’s other poster child, The Last of Us, every time we watch Atreus try and reach out to Kratos only to be unceremoniously spurned, it hurts a little more.
But this isn’t even Kratos’ story, really. It’s dressed up that way – that’s who you play as, the camera pulled in tight over his mountainous right shoulder – but as you pick your way through the story – a simple tale of a grieving man and child trekking through the snow to fulfil their dearly departed’s dying wishes – you’ll notice things, small things, like the way the bestiary is written from the perspective of an awed child. It’s just window-dressing, a simple vehicle through which God of War’s spectacular set-pieces and legendary hack ‘n’ slash combat are driven.
It’s all a bit flamboyant at first, though. You’ll ooh and aah at the beautiful set-pieces – the frozen vistas, the craggy shorelines, the huge monoliths glittering above dark, still waters; you can’t help but be impressed – but until you get to grips with the game’s unique, if perplexing, world, it’s all a bit clinical and showboaty. Yes, the travel sequences can be overly long, but does Atreus need to cram each silence with unsolicited lore and exposition? It detracts from an otherwise timely opportunity to collect your thoughts and plan your next steps, especially as, most frustrating of all, half of these interruptions end with: “Know what? I’ll finish this story later.”
At first, the latest offering in Kratos’ franchise is a confusing one, your environments stuffed with things you can’t do, reach or interact with and the ‘fast travel’ system is hilariously unhelpful and unuseable for much of the game. And it’s peculiar, how much you can’t do, especially as it’s unclear – beyond the occasional hint from Atreus, although that’s not always a given – if you can’t do something because you don’t yet have the skill or equipment to do so, or if it’s just because you’re… well, a bit crap.
And he’s not a fun chap to be around, that Kratos. Sure, he’s always been something of a mardy bum, but parenthood has done little to sweeten this grumpy fecker up, which means it’s harder than ever to connect with him given he can’t spare a moment to console his grieving son. On a handful of occasions you’ll see Kratos reach out, hand hovering inches from his son’s small shoulders as if to comfort him, only to withdraw it with a weary sigh, but it gets tiresome, those curt, cutting replies to Atreus’ innocent ponderings. Depending upon your viewpoint, you’ll find it a simple shortcut to illustrate a father struggling to communicate meaningfully with his son… or a well-trodden cliche that falls just on the wrong side of contrived.
The narrative beats don’t always match the action in front of you, either. One moment, Atreus is tearfully pleading with you, the next he’s mooching around like a sullen toddler. One second he’s muttering “whatever” under his breath, the next – summoned to your side to translate something, perhaps – he’ll instantly respond with an upbeat “Yes, SIR!”. No, it’s not a hangable offence, but it is jarring, momentarily kicking you out of a story that you might only have a slippery grasp of in the first place. (There was also a strange five minutes when Atreus incessantly screamed: “THE FIRE’S OUT – PORTSIDE!” long after we reached terra firma.
details Publisher sony Developer sie sony santa Monica PSN Price £52.99 Players 1
“Do as I say, not as I do, kiddo. Just because I got this tattoo when I was plastered on a stag do in Benidorm doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to go out and get one, too.”
Yes, that’s a guy melded into a tree. Yes, he has one glowy eye and horns. No, it will not be the strangest thing you see in this game. We’re just thankful he grew moss to cover his most, uh, sensitive areas.