Thursday, November 19, 2009

Looking back in time -- GoW Collection Review

Nostalgia is quite the rose tinted lens, and the games I’ve played in my younger years often look better in my mind’s eye than they actually did when I played them. Times change, technology changes, and especially in the case of 3D gaming, it isn’t something that ages well. Indeed, as much as we try and deny it, graphics do matter, and I’ve run into my share of dismay when trying to relive the glory of my past favorites. What looked amazing in my head suddenly doesn’t in front of me on my HDTV. Textures get muddy, animation is stilted instead of smooth, and what used to be sharp was actually a jagged mess. Paradise lost.

Time is much kinder to 2D games.

This logic even applies to my favorite titles. As amazing as I consider the God of War series to be on the whole, even it cannot escape the ever sprinting nature of technology. Even playing the originals on my PS3, smoothed out as they may have been, their hardware pushing nature was evident. The games were large, expansive, busy, lovingly textured, and the animation was excellent, but it came at a price. Resolution was as high as the PS2 could push without any anti-aliasing, the framerate was high, yet unstable, and video sync issues caused the odd torn image every so often. They're concessions we accepted at the time because NOTHING looked like God of War, but now, that just isn't the case. The games themselves have aged well, but their technology hasn't.

Enter Sony's plan to revisit and remaster the two classics, with the promise of eliminating the small technical issues they used to have, and letting us play them EXACTLY as the developers would've wanted.

(Click screenshots to see the original scenes, comparison shots courtesy of Bitmob)

The God of War Collection is finally here, and this means two of the best, genre influencing action games the last gen had to offer are now on display during the HD era. As if having both of these games on a Blu-Ray wasn't enough, they’ve been remastered as well, offering up a new 720p resolution with anti-aliasing, sharper textures, and a perfect framerate to match. To put aside the tech jargon and put it bluntly; they're much better than they were before. Much.

Oddly enough, the sound was left out of the remastering, and while it’s a touch disappointing to not be able to hear the original score in perhaps an uncompressed, dolby digital manner, it’s a small complaint because the sound is still impressive in it’s own right, and the score is still as appropriately epic and dynamic as it's always been.

In case you are somehow unacquainted with the God of War series, (and HOW did you miss it?), you are Kratos, champion of the gods of ancient Greece and all around ruthless soldier who is as mysterious as he is feared for his deeds. The first game has Kratos seeking revenge against Ares, the titular god of war who betrayed him. The second sees Kratos having fulfilled his quest, but due to some story elements I refuse to spoil, see him attempting to reach the Isle of Creation in order to ultimately change his fate. The results of his tenacity aren't pleasant though. Kratos isn't a hero, nor is he even an antihero, and his violent, ruthless methods may be a turnoff for some people. For the rest of us though, it's one hell of a violent, bloody path cut through ancient Greek mythology that takes its liberties where it needs to in the name of an epic story.

I played the originals to death, so my memory of them both, what I felt, I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday. This means it's no small thing when I say that thanks to the remastering, God of War I and II look exactly as I remember them. This is a compliment, because after all, I am talking about two last generation games being blown up way past their original resolution on an HDTV. They were literally the best looking games the PS2 had to offer, but are dated by this point, especially with games like Gears of War 2 and Uncharted 2 running amok. This is to say nothing of the massive setpieces and epic sense of scale for which the series has always been revered, but the fact that the conversion actually helps both titles hold up is a boon. The original game looks just as good as it did on the SDTV I had in 2005, and its sequel actually looks better, dare I say early current gen by comparison.

The only thing that didn’t make a next gen leap were the cutscenes. God of War makes use of three kinds of cinematic, in-game, prerendered, and full CG. While the full CG scenes still look stunning (albeit still in standard definition) the prerendered scenes look atrocious in comparison to the game itself. It’s unfortunate their resolution didn’t get the same upgrade the rest of the game did, because while the transition between the two was near seamless back in 2005, it isn’t now. Players will know exactly what I mean as the game makes the jarring shift from 720p, to a scene rendered in 480p, then back to 720p again.

Gameplay wise, nothing’s changed. The smooth, free flowing combat system is just as deep and visceral as it’s always been, the weapons are just as satisfying to use, and everything feels much more responsive and tight thanks to the improved framerate. Even the game’s platforming elements also feel more responsive because of this, cutting down on much frustration while moving around some of the trickier parts. The seamless integration of button pressing minigames into everything from combat to the puzzles feels just as fresh as it did back then as well, and mashing buttons to escape the jaws of a hydra, or to disarm other foes mid flight (has to be seen to be believed) is still intensely satisfying. Kratos has a no holds barred, visceral style that is as shocking to watch as it is empowering on the player's side, and the fact that the game now feels just as tight control wise as it does visually is excellent.

At the end of the day though, these are still two superb games being brought up to speed for existing fans and newcomers before we’re treated to the close of this trilogy with God of War III come March 2010. While certain bits of the conversion leave a bit to be desired, on a whole, this is essentially the definitive version of two of the best action games ever to grace consoles, budget priced, and with the added bonus of achievements to add a bit of replay value. If you've played through them already, the conversion and added accomplishments are in my opinion, well worth another go, but if you're a complete newcomer to the series, well..

Personally, I couldn’t ask for a better deal myself.

1 comment:

  1. For a minute, I thought you were talking about Gears of War. What the hell man? Don't mislead me!