17 Feb

Recent titles like Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno, and, to some extent, Bayonetta, have reinvigorated the use of the phrase ‘God of War clone.’  In fact, ever since Kratos’ first outing in 2005 on the PS2, it seems that not a year goes by when we don’t see a GoW clone or two.  But I have to askis it necessarily a bad thing?

First; what is God of War?  Aside from being an incredibly fun and immensely popular franchise, it’s best described as the combat of Devil May Cry, the puzzles of Legend of Zelda, and the quick-time events of Shenmue.  It did for the 3rd person action/adventure hack & slash genre what Halo: Combat Evolved did for the console FPS.

The way it did this was by having a fluid set of controls that have remained the norm ever since with little variation.  But those controls didn’t just come out of the blue.  They were the natural result of decades of hack & slash titles.  A similar thing happened with Halo, a game that made dual-analog control in FPSes the standard.  But you don’t hear people calling modern FPSes ‘Halo clones’ even though the rebounding health meter, control scheme, and many other elements found their roots in the title.

When I first played God of War, I was blown away, as were many others.  Everything was so polished and flowed so smoothly and I can guarantee that I wasn’t the only one who, at the time, wished that more games were like it.  5 years later, that wish has come true and ‘God of War clones’ are ridiculed and often reviled.  What a fickle bunch we gamers are.

Are our standards so high that we can find fault in a game because its controls are good?  Because the developers wisely chose to implement what’s been proven to work and be fun rather than attempt innovation?  The fact is that innovation in gameplay will become increasingly rare until we either get more buttons or motion controls become the norm.

Games like the aforementioned three can all be classified as ‘God of War clones’:  One button for light attacks, one button for heavy attacks, dodging with the right analog stick, quick-time events abound, etc.  Bayonetta is subject to fewer accusations because the protagonist is female and the style of the game is a far cry from God of War, but Darksiders and Dante’s Inferno are doomed to play second fiddle to the upcoming God of War III.

The funny thing is that the games would’ve received just as much if not more criticism had they changed their control schemes just to be different.  And fixing what isn’t broken is never a wise idea.  There’s no need for games to reinvent the wheel and indeed the responsibility of gameplay innovation should fall on the shoulders of the existing franchises rather than the new IP’s.

The hack & slash control scheme has pretty much been perfected in terms of the standard gamepad and I can guarantee that if there are any major changes to it in later games, they’ll have only been made to avoid the dreaded ‘God of War clone’ label.  And while I will admit that the similarities between Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno, and God of War do go beyond controls alone, closer examination of all three will reveal intricacies and details unique to each.

I just wonder why there’s a double standard.  No one bats an eyelash when another FPS comes out that uses the standard control scheme, so why all the fuss about the hack & slasher?  I didn’t much like Darksiders but my review speaks for itself about Dante’s Inferno (spoiler: I loved it).  But I have to ask: how would you have made Dante’s Inferno?  It might have lent itself to an RPG, but anyone can tell you that a story about a man venturing through the 9 Circles of Hell has ‘hack & slash’ written all over it.

So I ask you–what could’ve been changed to make it less like God of War and still be a fun game?  As far as my thinking takes me, there could have been no substantial changes made that wouldn’t have affected its quality and that any other changes would’ve been purely cosmetic.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Eliot Hagen.

31 thoughts on “Attack of the Clones”

  1. I can’t help but disagree with many of your statements. If you are going to copy something, make sure you can do it better. Bayonetta is a copy of DMC, but it does it better. Darksiders comes close to copying GOW, but it mixed in elements of Zelda for a different feel. Dante’s Inferno on the other hand, tried to confront the beast head on… and in most eyes, failed. Dante’s Inferno doesn’t feel any better than GOW, and it doesn’t try to do anything different from GOW, which makes it seem like a bad clone.

    Now we look at Halo CE. While its controls and mechanics pop up in numerous games nowadays, nothing quite feels like Halo (other than Halo). Games borrow from it, but they don’t try to steal its identity, which is where the difference lies.

    Remember, most gamers don’t want the same thing, but they also don’t want something completely different. They want tweaks to a familiar formula that makes it feel fresh and new.

    1. Well I feel that Dante’s Inferno did enough to ‘tweak’ GoW’s gameplay. For instance, the analog sticks, if pulled in opposite directions, would rip an enemy in half. The blocking was also much more challenging than in God of War.

      In God of War, you hold down the block button and you’re blocking. In Dante’s Inferno, you have to press block at the exact second–it requires even more precise timing than dodging in Bayonetta.

      Also, Dante’s Inferno had some cool chaining of your melee attacks, magic spells, and your cross projectile.

      I think that people are more inclined to see Dante’s Inferno as a God of War clone because of the general tone of the game but the fact is the gameplay is fun and the art design is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

      But as I said, I don’t think there’s any way to improve upon God of War’s controls. At all. Dante’s Inferno tweaked it a bit–about as much as it could be tweaked without resorting to gimmicks.

      The only area in which it lacked (in terms of combat) is that a few combos felt like the game ‘took control’ from you for a second. Like once you started the combo you couldn’t interrupt it until the end. God of War had this to a lesser extent.

      My main gripe is with the assumption that a ‘God of War clone’ is inherently bad when I think it’s closer to the opposite. While Darksiders & Dante’s Inferno might not be as good as the God of War series, they’re not horrible games and they did their job in filling the void until God of War 3 comes out.

      But even after God of War 3 releases, both Darksiders and Dante’s Inferno will have legs of their own to stand on (Darksiders less so than DI.) Darksiders will always appeal to Joe Mad fans and Dante’s Inferno will always stand out for its astonishing art design.

      The point I’m working up to is that it’s foolish to dismiss a title just because it tries to be like something else. Sometimes standing on the shoulders of giants is a wise move.

      1. I’m not dismissing DI because it is a clone of GOW… in fact, I had really high hopes… but as is, I find it less enjoyable than the first GOW. And sure, the game had a few tweaks (not always good, stupid button pressing to get health), but the tweaks were tiny (I did like the Moral leveling system… but at the end of the day, I don’t care for Good/Evil choices in games).

        DI is good, but like I said before, if you are copying a formula, make sure you do it better. DI just didn’t do it for me.

        On another note… whats Joe Mad? I did enjoy Darksiders a little more than DI (even though it comes close to shamelessly copying Zelda, so they threw in GOW and Portal into the mix).

    2. I’m with you. There aren’t many shooters like Halo and if they were, they’d probably get some hate.

      And i think Eliot’s wrong with the comparison. I don’t think it’s wrong with them using GoW’s controls, but copying GoW’s way of opening chests (both kinds) was just unnecesary. If one game’s done QTE right, it’s GoW, but it’s still QTE and it still sucks.

      I don’t think it’s entirely wrong to copy what works, but if Halo and KOTOR have proved anything, it’s ultimately for the much worst.

      1. This is what I’m talking about–a ‘God of War clone’ is put under a microscope and people find ways to gripe about chest opening.

        Tapping a button, not tapping a button–either way you’re still opening the chest and I fail to see how it being similar or different from God of War does anything to increase or decrease the quality of the game.

        Opening chests serve a functional purpose and there’s only so many ways you can do it. I’d rather have some button tapping (which makes it challenging if there are enemies nearby) than some asinine mini-game. Yes, I’d also like to be able to just click one button to open it, but then it’d be too easy.

        And I didn’t think the QTE’s were done incorrectly in DI. They were done exactly like all other QTE’s–and I’m convinced that the only game that improved upon it would be Heavy Rain where there’s some wiggle room.

        But Heavenly Sword, God of War, Bayonetta, Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno, Resident Evil 4–the QTE’s in all of them are flawed because not all of them can be reasonably pulled off the first time.

        Yes, it would’ve been better for Visceral Games to improve the QTE’s over God of War’s, but as I said in the article, it shouldn’t be their responsibility–they’re already fighting an uphill battle by releasing a game like this so close to God of War 3 and, what’s more, it’s a new IP–based on an epic poem and being marketed to an audience largely unaware of Dante’s writings.

        1. The only reason I didn’t enjoy DI to its fullest is probably because I felt like I had already done it before. It didn’t feel fresh at all, and I wanted a little bit of different. Luckily, Darksiders gave me a bit of “different”, even though all of the gameplay mechanics were plucked from other games.

    3. I found Dante’s Inferno to be INIFNITELY more satisfying than God of War 2. I play DI in the afternoon one day and then in the evening went and finished GoW2 for the first time(yes, the first time – I missed it in the PS2 era and only now played it with the GoW collection) and while the story is slightly more satisfying in GoW2, the combat leaves MUCH to be desired for me. Which leads me to believe that people who say GoW2 was better are using nostalgia more than direct comparison.

      The complete lack of a reusable ranged weapon(ie. not requiring a finite resource) made the combat get stale over time for me – an innovation that I loved in Dante’s Inferno, the Cross really made me feel a lot more free to fight how I wish rather than being constrained as I was in GoW2. I’m definitely looking forward to GoW3, but I honestly think that DI has elevated the bar and that GoW3 has big shoes to fill if it doesn’t want to live on just nostalgia.

      1. I actually think GOW 1 is the best of the 3… and I end up re-playing it every other year. I just didn’t see much different from GOW2 to DI.

        1. GoW1 and 2 have very similar combat I noticed… but GoW2’s combat felt a bit more strained I have to agree. I just really liked the freedom DI allowed me with having a ranged attack that isn’t constrained by mana and having more variety in special moves.(On my DI playthrough I’m focusing more on holy… and I’m really liking some of the specials I get for it)

      1. Yeah, I know. That is because people only like to say a game is a “clone” of the most popular game, not the one that started the whole damn thing. It is annoying, and contradictory.

  2. On a completely separate note… THQ has announced what the secret code that comes with Darksiders will do. It is a redeemable code for a digital artbook and a free copy of Red Faction Guerrilla…

    that’s right, they are giving away free copies of Red Faction! Check out the Darksiders website for more info.

  3. The reason people don’t complain about shooters being halo clones is that they’re so used to shooters all being clones of each other. Really, they’d be better called Doom clones. BEcause lets face it, the mechanics haven’t really changed much in the past 20 years.

    1. All Platformers are Mario Clones
      All Racers are GT clones (this is a hard topic to generalize)
      All Adventure games are Zelda or Golden Axe clones
      All Survival Horror games are Alone in the Dark/Silent Hill/Resident Evil clones

      and the list can go on…

        1. IN Some instances, YES. FPS games fit that mold. Since there are so damn many of them, it is crowding the market. Oh and Band games, there are too many of them, same stuff every year, with little innovation, each game is just full priced DLC.

        2. Rather, I think the question is… were these genres improved over the years. I say yes to all genres (even point and click adventures).

      1. Most genres have seen a much greater degree of innovation in them than shooters have, which is the point of the statement. There is definitely a formula, but the level of innovation has been greater in most genres than it has in shooters over the past 20 years.

  4. How quick we forget. Remember how revolutionary Medal of Honor Frontline was? The storming of Normandy on D-Day, an unforgettable moment in gaming history for its time in 2002. In fact MOH Frontline was considered THE console shooter outside of Halo at its time. The overwhelming praise from OPM, EGM, gamepro, etc. In fact the issue of Official Playstation Magazine with the Frontline demo disc was the highest selling issue in OPM’s history. What happened to Frontline’s fame? You will now NEVER see Frontline on a “best fps” list just like you will never see the what once was revolutionary Red Faction. Instead they are replaced by somewhat other lacking games such as Black. But why? Other games ousted them popularity.

    What am I getting at? Reading through this article I see praise for mechanics and games that surly aren’t praise worthy for their specific title. Again we quickly forget. Remember the “first person shooter wars” of 2000-2001? Developers were flocking the market with wave after wave of FPS titles in hopes to capitalize on the success of titles such as Goldeneye and Perfect dark on consoles. The early years of the PS2 then saw several fps titles such as Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, Timesplitters, Half Life, Red Faction etc. each hoping to become the quintessential shooter for the system. While RF held the title for a few months, every shooter would become forgotten once Halo reared around the corner on the shinny new super hyped Xbox system. However one thing these fps titles all had in common before Halo was released, they all featured “dual analog controls.” No, Halo did not revolutionize this mechanic. Otherwise the hundreds of thousands of copies sold to make titles such as Timesplitters and Red Faction a “greatest hit” were all for not. Just a stepping stone for Halo I guess?

    Likewise, I see an over amount of praise for God of War where praise is not due. I was ecstatic to see DMC featured in GT’s top 10 games of the decade award. Rightfully so. The slasher genre was revolutionized, re-imagined, and just plain awesome with the release of DMC. Every single slasher that would follow would all be tested in DMC’s shadow. Yes, the term “Devil May Cry clone” was used and used often. God of War was once judged as such believe it or not. As was Spawn, Chaos Legion, Nightmare Before Christmas (the last two developed by capcom anyway), Otogi, Ninja Gaiden, even shinobi along with several others. Hardly any of these games played similarly mechanic wise.

    Devil May Cry broke several new grounds. OPM labeled Dante the Playstation’s badass. Constant praise for Dante poured out in nearly every issue of PSM and Gamepro to follow. The uproar when DMC2 was released… The praise to follow with the release of DMC3. Then, just when Dante was receiving a Lara Craft like level of iconic status, God of War came out. At first the game was heavily criticized by DMC fans for lacking in the combat department, however critics still agreed it was impressive. It took a while, but word of mouth spread, game of the year awards followed, and soon enough god of War was achieving popular status. Now due to popularity, the slashers that follow are being called a GoW clone instead. However God of War did NOT revolutionize the slasher genre in the same way that devil may cry did. And I applaud GT’s top 10 games of the decade list in acknowledging this.

    I don’t mind when others compare the new age slashers (outside of bayonetta) as a GoW clone, because quite frankly its all about popularity. Silent Hill was labeled a Resident Evil clone instead of an Alone in the dark clone. Cover shooting mechanics are being labeled as gears of war clones instead of killswitch/Time Crisis clones. Nevertheless Silent Hill played very differently from RE/AITD. Shooters today play very differently from the dual analog starters of the early PS2 days. Heavenly Sword, despite featuring two blades similar to Kratos, played very differently to God of War. Splinter Cell played differently from MGS. etc.

    Dante’s Inferno however is another story. The word ____ clone is thrown around constantly. I agree with the way 1up described it in their review. Dante’s Inferno is not a clone, its a full blown rip off of God of War right down to every gameplay mechanic. Subtle differences like the timing of guarding/blocking means nothing compared to the overall package. The combat, controls, camera, QTE, evasive maneuvers, magic, finishers, “controlling enemies”, etc. absolutely everything. I’ve only played the demo so take that for what you will. However the demo gave me enough insight to comprehend DI’s formula, and it was nothing more than GoW with a scythe. Heavenly Sword did something different. Much different. Dante’s Inferno is the exact same game.

    I don’t believe Dante’ Inferno is aimed at “an audience largely unaware of Dante’s writings.” The game is rated M for mature, and at least the high school I graduated from featured Dante’s Inferno as required reading.

    On topic, No, I do not want more of the same when it comes to games. I never have. If a game plays similarly to one i enjoy, hey I’ll check it out maybe, but only if it does something new. If the game is more of the same, then no thanks. Ironically GoW3 will more than likely be “more of the same god of War formula” with some improvements, but thats why its a sequel to that specific title. I will be buying God of War 3, because I love and enjoy God of War. However Dante’s Inferno IS God of War, but for a completely different franchise the exact same formula is not a welcome formula. I will not buy something that has already been perfected and better implemented through a new fresh formula. The copycat is no longer fresh. Although after the trilogy is complete you will more than likely hear many people asking for new mechanics to the GoW formula.

    End ADHD rant/

    1. You admitted it yourself, you haven’t played more than the demo.

      The game is not a ‘complete ripoff’. In fact, the game has a number of differing features that really, for my money, make it the FAR superior game to GoW2. They took *my* problems with GoW’s formula and fixed them. And I am thankful for it.

      In fact, I am quite willing to say that DI will PROBABLY be more fun for me than GoW3. Yep, I said it.

      GoW is lacking in a few areas… one of them is very heavily combat related. The lack of any reasonable method of standoff combat is a MAJOR flaw to my eyes and one that is almost damning. Another is the lack of any real good variety among spells. Having no defensive option, and no way of restoring health/mana on your own really limits it as well in my eyes; and the addition of a meaningful form of character customization that does NOT exist in GoW2(there really is ‘one true path’ of progression that everyone follows). But this isn’t a discussion of GoW’s flaws, rather one of discussing games that take the formula and modify it to suit their needs.
      I personally see absolutely no problem iwth someone taking a formula for a good game and using it to produce a new experience. If nobody did that, the mediocre but innovative games would mean nothing. A lot of the really good games we play are based off of innovations made in less exceptionnal games that someone played, saw the innovation, and went ‘hmm, that will work for what I am doing in this way’.

      Dante’s Inferno has taken a formula that worked well to produce the tasty, but by now a little stale, cake that was GoW and added some cherries and chocolate sprinkles, and made the cake chocolate so that more people can enjoy it! I’m all for that.

      1. I’m not arguing over whether or not DI is a better game, rather its the exact same game. Heavenly Sword was obviously inspired by God of War, but Heavenly sword did something different. Whereas Heavenly Sword was similar style-wise, DI was similar formula-wise.

        *Constant square attacks for light attacks
        *Constant Triangle attacks for heavy attacks
        *Combine Square and Triangle for different attack formations
        *Hold Triangle to juggle an enemy, and follow them into the air
        *Hold L2 to block, followed by holding L2+ either square, triangle, circle, X for an additional attack. These same button commands can forms aerial attacks as well while used in the air.
        *Holding L2 will immediately cancel any animation directly into blocking
        *Press L2 at the exact point of impact and press either square or triangle to counter
        *Press L2 at the exact point of impact of a projectile and press square to throw it back
        * Press L1 and R1 to go into “Super mode” or whatever.
        * Magic attacks, switched about with a four button system.
        * Controlling enemies
        * Grabbing enemies, choosing how to execute them.

        All gameplay formulas were shamelessly ripped out of god of war, button for button, angle for angle, animation for animation. The animations, camera angles, controls, combat mechanics, all of it. Even the level design, where you have to kill a handful of enemies before being squashed by a rolling wheel, was ever so strikingly similar to an event in GoW. I have never played a game that has riped every aspect from a popular formula like Dante’s Inferno has. I’d expect this from a budget title like say, Ghost Rider, but for a completely new franchise? I was shocked. I’m sure there are numerous subtle differences like you mentioned but from the way I see it its like comparing the subtle differences between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. Numerous subtle differences, but still the same game.

        Of course, again, this was only the handful of gameplay elements I could see from the demo so again there is probably a lot more to it. Although according to GT, 1up, and other sources, its basically what I see it as. I’m not saying it isn’t a good game. I’m sure its great, afterall it copies, bone for bone, a rather successful formula. However the theme of this article is “is cloning really a bad thing? Shouldn’t we ask for more of the same?” My answer is yes, cloning (From the DI perspective) is a bad thing. And god no, I do not want more of it. Making more of the same is a terrible terrible idea. Variety is the spice of life, and innovation is the key to success.

        1. Thats just it though… in today’s day and age… innovation is NOT the key to success in game design. Innovative games, as a general rule, see terrible sales and often drive companies out of business. Because people don’T PLAY innovative games. They play the games that rip off the innovative games, but not the innovative games themselves.

          And DI is innovative in a number of small ways. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a better car.

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