On the Ball

On the Ball: Like God of War, But …

Jordan Deam | 17 Mar 2010 21:00
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Just as critical to players' enjoyment is a brawler's camera system. It's something of an Achilles' heel of the genre; plenty of reviewers have fallen in love with a brawler's setting, story and gameplay, only to dock points from the final score because the camera didn't cooperate. God of War's solution is deceptively complex. First, it took control of the camera away from the player. This is something of an "all or nothing" gamble: If players ever want to move the camera to allow them to look in a certain direction but find themselves unable to, the game is effectively broken. But God of War's level design avoided this scenario by perfectly laying out each room in such a way that players rarely even realize there is a camera. It's an incredibly intuitive and, dare I say, cinematic approach to level design, and it even frees up a second analog stick for dodge maneuvers as a bonus.

And finally, there's the setting. After 25 years of aliens and assault rifles, gamers have become a pretty jaded bunch, and an overwhelming feeling of "been there, done that" can set in within minutes if a game isn't careful to distinguish itself. But God of War repurposed Greek mythology so effectively that it really does feel like something wholly distinct from all the other pseudo-historical action games out there. The designers were so committed to this vision of ancient Greece, integrating it into every aspect of its world and enemy design, that the final product feels a bit like the videogame equivalent of a concept album. And perhaps because of the mythologies' built-in mixture of godly power and human drama, the designers found a way of imbuing the game with an epic scale that actually made sense within the confines of the story.

It's conceivable that some other game may, at some point, rise up and take the title belt from Santa Monica Studio - after all, Double Dragon once had a stranglehold on the 8-bit brawler, despite plenty of worthy contenders. But I can't imagine what the game will look like. Will it establish motion control as the de facto input method? Will it feature fully 3-D environments that track with your head movements? Will it place players in a world, holodeck-style, and let them explore it at their whim? I can't speculate what the next 20 years of innovation will bring. In the meantime, however, I'm OK with God of War - and if other games aspire to be "like it, but different," I hope they're satisfied with second place.

Jordan Deam hopes to one day become the archetype for editors on exercise balls everywhere.

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