Few action video game franchises come with more critical and fan love than God of War. With each entry pushing the limits of the hardware it appears on, the bloody adventures of Kratos have left an awesomely gruesome legacy, one we are all eagerly awaiting to see if God of War III could possibly improve upon. Not content to let our bloodlust satiate and dissipate between now and March, Sony Computer Entertainment are taking the reminiscent advertising route with The God of War Collection, a bundle which packs both PS2 entries onto on disc, complete with all their bonus materials. To prime us further for Kratos’ first step into the current generation, both games have received a high-definition overhaul, with textures remodeled and effects re-rendered, all playing out in 60 frames per second. But does this new package add enough sheen to make us take the hike to Mount Olympus again?
It’s no surprise that there hasn’t been a single change to the story in the two included games’ translations. Kratos is still cursed with the ashes of his dead family he destroys during his service to Ares, and he takes his revenge on Ares with a sword through the god’s gut, only later to be betrayed by Zeus, causing him to seek revenge on the entire Greek pantheon. Still the epic tale of vengeance it was years ago, the one deterrent in this translation is that the pre-rendered cinematics of both games were left out of the spiffy graphics treatment, making their appearance jarringly inferior to the gameplay in ways difficult to ignore at times. In-game cinemas, of course, do not share this problem. But Kratos’ facial animation finally feels bombastic enough to make his bellowing dialogue when delivered in-game, giving the character a slight bump into greater bad-assery.
Like the story, both God of War and God of War II remained unchanged when it comes to gameplay. Attack combinations are still executed with the same ferocity, and the platforming is still well-executed in most places, with levels like Hades still posing the aggravating levels of annoyance due to the fixed camera. Gamers who have played the PS2 versions will notice a incremental increase in control, the game’s 60fps pace cutting the time between button execution and on-screen action to near invisibility for most combinations and spells. The wall-crawling segments of both games also ease up a degree thanks to the graphical upgrade, with ledges and handholds simpler to identify, even against the most mottled background. Those that haven’t played the games since their release, or at all, will unfortunately not have the immediate reference needed to notice the small changes. And, as a side note, no graphical upgrade can change the sometimes controller-breaking annoyances of certain quick-time events. Where the true shining resolution gems shine in the blissfully-often pan-outs of the game’s many gigantic locations, making the views as unbelievable now as they were then.
Dancing around the issue long enough, it’s obvious from the beginning that we are here for the pretty colors. Indeed, spells blast off in even more radiance, making most players likely to use them more than previous playthroughs. While animations have not been changed, they still play out with little trouble or hiccup, the smoothed textures giving Kratos movements an added bit of grace. Probably far from gamers’ expectations, blood splatters and gore in general seems to have been muted in the shift. Not lessened to any degree, ripping enemies asunder and keeping them afloat on waves of Blades of Chaos-based agony still come with torrents of delicious vital juices, colors have just been diminished from their vibrant colors on the PS2. Entertaining still by most means, some more stalwart fans may miss the almost comical fruit punch-blood.
The aforementioned bonus features previously unlocked through each game come right along for the Collection, although since no featurette or interview was shot in HD, they come up as rough, pixilated messes on most modern displays. The E3 God of War III demo, however, is the most pleasant addition in the disc, playing out exactly as it did on the show floor. Warning: the structure of the demo is almost too well done, the lack of an ability to progress after such an escalating onslaught may make players as angry as the God of War himself.
The concept is so simple it barely justifies review. Historical pinnacles of action gaming God of War and God of War II have been made available together and in HD for $40, with the God of War III demo packed in for good measure. Sadly, the graphical upgrade does nothing to enhance the core experience for anyone put the most nit-picky gamer, and the puzzling lack of cinematic enhancements make going through the story an often discordant experience. If you are one of the 17 gamers of age who have not yet stabbed a Minotaur through its own maw, the God of War Collection and its reduced price-point gives you literally no excuse. If their two PS2 cases still adorn your shelf, rent it long enough to be amazed at its gorgeousness before going back to watch the “Epic Scale” trailer for the 500th time.