With the award season right around the corner, Bonus Accessory will be taking a look at some of the top games of the past year, and examine why each game deserves the title of Game of the Year. This is part one of our five part series entitled ‘In Defense of’, and we are starting off with Sony Santa Monica’s God of War.
Sony Santa Monica Studio’s God of War is what every narrative driven game should aim to be; thought-provoking, emotional, light-hearted when appropriate, atmospheric, cinematic, and the list goes on and on. What Cory Barlog and his incredibly talented team did with a franchise that in most instances was (metaphorically) more icing than cake at times, in terms of narrative depth, should be considered an achievement in modern storytelling in general, and is only a portion of what made this game the critical and commercial success it is.
The mainline God of War series has never suffered from gameplay issues. Every entry in the series has been mechanically tight, responsive and most importantly, fun; but in the current era of gaming, where games are slowly becoming viewed more as experiences, gameplay does have a finite end. Now, that’s not saying that a game doesn’t need to have responsive controls, but when games such as Uncharted 4, the Last of Us, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Red Dead Redemption 2 are finding huge critical and commercial success, it’s easy to see how important narrative depth is to gamers this generation. Take Red Dead Redemption 2 for example; for all of the accolades it has received since its launch, every major criticism the game receives revolves around its controls. Clunky, out-dated, unresponsive at time; all adjectives that could be applied to Rockstar’s tragic tale depicting the deterioration of the wild west in the late 19th century. Yet, ask anyone who has either played the game and more time than not, they will shower the game with unanimous praise, with some even go as far to say it is a genre defining experience. By no means am I saying their assessment of the game is wrong, but how can a game that seems so abrasive in the way it plays, be regarded so highly by so many? Simple: it’s narrative is too compelling to make you care about how the game plays.
In terms of God of War though, the best part is, there is no compromising either end. What you get out of the box is something that blends a complex, beautiful and at time poignant narrative with addictive gameplay that is rewarding, deep but very approachable. From the moment you begin your quest of closure with Kratos to the moment the credits begin to roll, you are completely incapsulated by the story Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Matt Sophos, and Cory Barlog have penned for the player. With so much emphasis put on player immersion in gaming, Sony Santa Monica molded an experience that never truly broke that immersion. The player is shown everything that Kratos and his son Atreus experience from the moment you begin their emotional journey, by never breaking a single camera shot. Everything you experience in God of War is one continuous camera shot. Rarely in film is this feat achievable, let alone done in a way that audiences usually find positive. Finding a way to make the narrative of Kratos’s adventure flow comfortably for the player and feel natural always seemed to be the biggest hurdle the game had against it, when word started spreading that Sony Santa Monica chose to go this route; but without a doubt, they were able to completely knock it out of the park. Loading screen are invisible to the naked eye, and never break the plot or gameplay up for the player.
Optimization of the game provides players on all generations of PlayStation 4 hardware to experience the beauty of the game, without compromising anything for those with older variations of the system. PlayStation 4 Pro owners are presented with an even greater amount of performance options, including the ability to favor resolution for 4K gaming and greater detail at 30 fps (frames per second), along with a performance mode that focuses on giving the player a buttery-smooth 60 fps experience. No corner ever feels cut when playing through God of War. Every detail, ever nook and cranny, every iota of this game feels like it has been personally attended to and given exclusive attention.
The creation of this world and those who inhabit it, is that of a master craft gift to the medium. Lead by Rafael Grassetti, the art department at Sony Santa Monica grasped the feel of a mythological world, using a diverse mixture of colors and styles to give players the feeling of traveling across a vast universe. From beautifully painted pastel skies, to the deepest hues of blue and grey while deep within the world’s crust, every inch of the game aesthetically screams beauty. Musically, the game wraps your in melodies that metaphorically range from a heroic conquest against evil, to the downfall of all hope in the world. Bear McCreary, who composed the game’s soundtrack, takes the player on an epic journey filled with emotional highs and lows told through the largely orchestral track list with choir chanting and ominous drums. Normally, I don’t find myself going out of my way to listen to soundtracks to most movies, shows or games; but God of War‘s is so impactful, that I have it saved on my Spotify account and play it in a pretty regular fashion. So many artistic aspects of this game provide players a blueprint of the narrative without actually telling them, which even with the emphasis set on narrative strength in single player experiences today, is rare.
But what I think is the most rewarding for players is the complete transformation of Kratos’s character from the original trilogy of God of War titles to 2018’s entry. Kratos was a character that I rarely connected with in previous titles; he was brash, bullheaded and to be quite honest, not overly complex in terms of his ideology. Sometimes, simplicity in storytelling is great (look at 2018’s A Quiet Place). There’s no need to overcomplicate a character or plot if it is not a valid reason to, but Kratos didn’t fall into that spectrum. He was, for all intents and purposes, bland (to me, at least). Fast forward to 2018, and the Kratos that first emerges from his secluded lifestyle is one that carries a burden on his back; not of his current life, but of his past. Since relocating to the heard of ancient Norway, in the realm of Midgard, he has grown as a character. He remarried to a ‘Norse’ woman names Faye, and donned the cowl of fatherhood again, by providing life to a son named Atreus. He tries to become a man that no longer needs regret and anger to control his being, but as he tries to escape his past, he begins to be pulled back into the very pits of rage he has tried to leave. Sure, he still dons his familiar tattoos and ‘ash grey’ completion, but beneath the flesh and bone lays a soul that yearns for closure and acceptance. The narrative may surrounds Kratos and Atreus’s journey to spread his since deceased wife’s ashes at the highest peak in all the realms, but it truly cuts deeper than what’s at the surface; it’s the story of Kratos truly shedding his past demons, and evolving into the man he wants to be for his son. Depth, is truly the greatest reward the player will find in terms of the characters who inhabit this game, and specifically with its main protagonist.
God of War has cemented its place as one of, if not the, premiere titles in the PlayStation 4’s expansive library of games. No other games offers a package as complete as the epic tale Sony Santa Monica produced in 2018. From story, to gameplay, to the fluidity of presentation, God of War is a game that not only will stand tall during award season in 2018, but will continue to be the standard-bearer for narratively driven experience for years to come.
For more upcoming entries into the ‘In Defense of’ series, along with updates on the gaming industry’s award seas, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and keep it locked in on Bonus Accessory.