Monday, June 23, 2014

REVIEW - The God of War Collection on Vita.

The Vita's God of War Collection offers up-ports of God of War (2005) and God of War II (2007), which catapulted developer Sony Santa Monica to industry fame.  They're adventure-brawlers, entirely, with the occasional rare bit of puzzle-solving to wade through before you're back to cracking skulls and taking names.

There's a famous quote from (God of War director) David Jaffe, that goes like this.  When he pitched the game - a blatant Devil May Cry ripoff - to Sony executives, they told him "there's nothing innovative about this at all," to which Jaffe replied, “I don’t care about innovation. I care about fun. I think we can execute this better than anybody.”

And they did.

It's worth noting that almost a decade has passed, since then - these games have aged - but it's equally worth noting that when God of War II appeared, it put games appearing on the then-new-generation Xbox 360 in their place, and - rather like The Last of Us did in 2013 - blew people's minds with what the aged hardware was capable of.  God of War doesn't look bad, per se, but it's not as lovely as any vita-native game would be.  God of War II, for the most part, continues to look pretty damned incredible thanks largely to Santa Monica's exemplary design and art direction.

As brawlers, the God of War titles have never exactly been in competition with the Devil May Crys and Bayonettas of the world - this is not a frame-specific infinitely-deep ultra-brawler - but in the same way a good, mouth-filling pizza can often satisfy in a way a four-star meal cannot, God of War's comfortable accessibility and mean challenge permits it combat a tactile thrill, throughout.

It's worth noting that, since God of War, many action games have gone on to revel in ultra-violence - but God of War was the first mainstream title to blow our minds with the savagery of its hero.  I still remember the first time I snatched a harpy out of its air, stomped a foot on its torso and heaved back on its wings until they tore free - it was revelatory.  Like the first time you saw Ninja Scroll as a kid, God of War broke down barriers, and set standards that its peers have emulated to this day.

Okay, enough about God of War's hallowed legacy.  Are they worth playing on Vita?

The easy answer is, if you're a fan of these two games, the Vita versions are console-perfect ports.  They look far superior to their original PS2 versions, with generous upscaling from their native sub-HD resolutions to the Vita's 960x544 screen.  Framerate never stutters, all effects are lushly intact, and it looks... well, perfect.

The only caveat are the game's cutscenes, which were pre-rendered for the PS2 titles and have not been recreated, here.  What you get are the original cutscenes, exactly as they appeared, and filling up far fewer pixels and being far blurrier than the game that surrounds them.

If you've never experienced a God of War game, but enjoy brawlers as a general rule?  Yes, these games are worth picking up, as God of War II holds up beautifully over time and continues to offer a soaring, far-bigger-than-life adventure that most modern brawlers can't quite reach.

Beyond graphics that were remarkable for their time, God of War and its sequel are textbook examples of video game pacing and design.  They just clip along beautifully (the Hades sequence in God of War not withstanding), veering from a beautiful, quiet set piece to a colossal, blood-soaked brawl and back again, never pushing too hard, and always letting up when it's time for a breather - it's hard not to get swept up in Kratos's insane quest for revenge on the deities who wronged him.

God of War Collection on Vita is an excellent port of some excellent games.  The mechanics are smoothe and comfortable, the design is excellent, and the graphics are a bit dated - plus, you get to rip the wings off harpies.  And Icarus.

That's always a good time.

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