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Wow, this is so cool! Nice job!
Andrey Podshibyakin was kind to share some of his thoughts on the recent release from Sony Santa Monica.
I remember first God of War like Kendrick remembers syrup sandwiches and crime allowances. I was 25 at the time, a father of a new-born daughter, trying to figure out how to make sense of this whole new level of responsibilities and this whole new life where I was not a center of my own universe anymore. What I desperately needed was an escapism, a way to pause an endless mental cage match with myself at least for several hours.
And oh boy, did God of War delivered.
It was not a revolutionary game by any means – it just took all the mechanics, tricks and tropes that were popular in AAA games at the time, dialed them to eleven and imbued with a whole new level of macho bravado. Kratos did not just kill – he shredded. Head-stomping through increasingly ridiculous set-pieces of remixed Ancient Greece mythology, QTE-pummeling, surrounded by fireworks of red, blue and green orbs, Kratos emphasized video games circa the mid-2000s. Insane combos? Check. The camera that automatically picks up the best possible angle? Check. Alternative weapon for different play style (and, hopefully, a second walkthrough)? Check and check. The plot was laughable, but no one cared – at the time, everybody still remembered apocrypha on Quake storyline that was apparently slapped on the back of the box at last moment by Carmack. Even that infamous QTE-powered in-game threesome with pixellated twins was somehow archetypal for the times when Guitar Hero reigned supreme in NPD charts. God of War was like the coolest and craziest kid from your dorm – the one you always secretly wanted to be but realized that you never will.
Then this happened: industry started to move forward in leaps and bounds, and not only in terms of teraflops and resolutions but in themes and mechanics as well. In 2007, when God of War II (more sturm und drang) came out, Bioshock and Mass Effect were released. In 2010, when God of War III (even more sturm und drang in higher resolution and with a lot of titan climbing) came out, Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption were released. Kratos did not become irrelevant, no. It’s just his personal brand of testosterone-fueled fury and rage had become slightly tiresome. That cool kid from your dorm that’s been refusing to grow up? At some point in your life you kind of start to hide his posts on Facebook. But you’d definitely love to hang out sometime, sure. Maybe next week. Oh, wait, next week you are a bit busy.
Now, fast forward thirteen years, to present day. God of War is here again, and… It turned out to be a grown-up game for grown-ups. Wait a minute. How did they do that?!
Again, it’s the “Absolute Best Of” album of hottest AAA video game mechanics, 2018 edition. There is crafting, resource gathering, leveling up, side-quests that you definitely do not want to omit, carefully curated progression within (semi-)open world. There is a bit of Metroidvania in there, along with required back-tracking. There is insanely satisfying tactical-focused combat. There are three separate skill trees. There is not, thankfully, a trace of QTE – with exception of several button prompts that are, to be honest, completely unnecessary within the bounds of new God of War’s flawless game design.
But there is so much more.
See, modern video games are quite adept at creating believable emotional father-daughter mechanics. That boundless love, that absolute selfishness of father regarding his daughter’s safety, that, yes, feeling that father is not a center of his own universe anymore – The Last of Us handled that perfectly (I know she wasn’t technically related to him, but come on guys), and Bioshock… I honestly cried by the time final titles started to roll. Weirdly, however, there’s nothing similar on father-son dynamics in video games. The only thing that comes to mind is Gears of War 4 with its’ extremely ham-fisted JD and Marcus reunion, and the less being said about Fallout 4 major plot device, the better.
And God of War absolutely (and unexpectedly) shines here. Kratos is grumpy and reluctant to openly express his love for his son, but he’s got enough reasons for it – or he thinks he’s got. He shields himself from these emotions; most of the time he even calls his son Atreus just “Boy”. And he’s noticeably frustrated when Atreus mentions his late mother – to the point that this can easily be interpreted as a divorce metaphor. He loves and cares, of course; and it’s visible – especially when the boy mentions that Kratos seems worried a bit much for a superhuman half-titan killing machine. Wicked or weakness, huh? Kratos obviously wants his son to grow up a warrior – that, after all, is the only thing he knows himself. At the same time, Kratos is disillusioned in this game, he seems fed up with his old ways of life – and it’s not his fault that these ways keep chasing and provoking him. Who in the right mind will want the same fate for his son? That’s an ages-old dilemma of fatherhood that’s been explored in American novels like Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full” and in Great Dead Russians’ novels like Ivan Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons’, but never before in video games.
And that’s the most important thing about new God of War. Until very recently, video games industry was largely perceived as a young (and often juvenile; “Press X to pay respects”, anyone?) medium. It’s certainly producing an increasingly steady flow of grown-up AAA games, but never before new God of War it had demonstrated such an ability and willingness to evolve and to mature along with the audience. Remember that cool guy from your dorm? He finally grew up, he is still cool and you actually want to hang out with him next week. If he’ll find the time, that is.
So yeah, this Kratos guy. Paraphrasing Kendrick, if he quit this season, he still be the greatest, huh. He’s not fighting for the thrill of a fight itself – he does it to protect his son. His beard is graying, but his triceps are god-like. No matter what his journey throws at him, he will persevere. I’m 38 now, my daughter is a teenager who is way too much into Justin Bieber music, and Kratos still resonates with me – on a whole new different level.