God Of War

Rock me, Atreus

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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.

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