Like great books or great films, the 'God of War' games beg to be re-experienced

What's Hot: Two fantastic games, both up-rezzed to 720p.

What's Not: Some sections of the first game look hinky on a 42-inch HDTV; Jumping is still not Kratos' strength; General feeling that something is missing from the overall package; Do two games technically qualify as a "collection"?

Crispy Gamer Says: Try

One of the greatest pleasures I've experienced since being at Crispy Gamer has been watching Managing Editor Elise Vogel grow as a gamer. As a greenhorn to the medium, one of Elise's first actions during her early days at the company was to use a screenshot of "BioShock" -- in particular, of a Big Daddy -- as her PC's desktop picture. I believe it's still her desktop backdrop even today.

It was symbolic of her openness, of her willingness to learn, and of her commitment to this nutty little Web site.

Two years later, Elise is chewing through "Fallout 3" and racking up Achievement points. She's certainly a quick study. Yet her first love, long before she became a salty denizen of the Wasteland, was Kratos.

Oh, Kratos.

During my first weeks at CG, Elise decided to play "God of War," mostly because the PS2 was the only gaming system she owned at the time. I strongly supported her choice. She said that her intention was to finish the game. I encouraged her, but privately I wasn't sure she was going to make it.

I stopped by the office each day and listened as she recounted her previous evening's doings with Kratos.

And then one day, it was over. She'd finished the game.

A big smile opened across her face.

I didn't fully realize it at the time, but what I was witnessing over those days, in a very tangible way, was Elise's transformation. The veil had been lifted. After this experience, maybe Elise wasn't exactly "one of us" just yet. But she'd certainly taken a big step toward one-of-us status.

Having replayed both games in Sony's repackaged God of War Collection, I sat here in my apartment, jaw-hanging open for hours at a time, as I revisited the first and second games' magnificence. I wondered: How had I forgotten how utterly brilliant both of these games are? How had I forgotten that these are the kinds of games that aren't merely games; they're objects so powerful that they can transform non-gamers into gamers in the span of a mere week?

Like great books or great films, the "God of War" games are media that beg to be re-experienced annually. As I defeated the Hydra for the umpteenth time, I thought, (and I realize this sounds totally crazy): Why don't I make it a family tradition that my brother and I play through "God of War" each year at Christmas? We could drink beer in his basement while the Upstate New York winter howled outside, trading the controller back and forth, leaving a trail of headless Medusa corpses in our wake (and a trail of empty beer bottles around us).

This will never happen. My brother has a 4-year-old now. He gets up at 5 a.m. for work every day, and typically falls asleep on the couch during late-night airings of "SportsCenter" whenever I visit. But the point I'm trying to make here is that these games, as all the best media do, inspire exactly that kind of dreamy romanticism.

I don't think director David Jaffe and, perhaps to an even greater degree, Cory Barlog (who directed the second game and had a shit-ton of pressure on him to deliver something spectacular -- which he did) get enough credit for their achievements.

The second game, aside from a few ill-conceived flying levels, is arguably better than the first. Both games start off with bombastic, blow-you-away spectacles that leave me, quite literally, shuddering with satisfaction every time.

Trust me: You have forgotten what marvels both openings are.

You have.

Beyond the openings, there are countless seminal moments in both games. Remember the first time you see the gigantic Ares off in the distance, and you think, Now how the heck am I supposed to fight that giant guy? Remember climbing your way out of Hades while a hundred skeletal arms pull at you? Remember the cruel and unusual butt-kicking that Zeus personally flies down from Olympus to deliver to Kratos? (Only making the beat down that, later in the game -- well, you'll see.)

Do you remember? I mean, really, truly remember?

On the technical side, both games have been remastered in high-definition. For the most part it looks great, but some of the cut scenes, especially in the original game, get murky on occasion. The frame rates for both games, according to the box cover, now run at a speedy 60 frames-per-second (though I don't recall any choppiness or slowdown in the PlayStation 2 versions). And the games cough up Trophies early and often, if that's your thing. Trophies, for me, still feel meaningless. I'm not sure what they're worth or why I'm even unlocking most of them.

OK, let's take a break from the superlatives. The real question here is, if you already own those aforementioned PS2 versions, should you buy this? The answer is: No, you shouldn't.

If only Sony had sweetened the deal here somehow. If only there was just one more completely unexpected element to make this Collection feel more complete. Then I'd be able to recommend it without hesitation. As it stands, this "collection" feels like something is missing. Sony no doubt hopes that you, too, will feel unsatisfied; it hopes that you'll think that the missing element is "God of War III" (due out early next year).

I, however, think that missing element is "God of War: Chains of Olympus." I have no idea how labor-intensive and costly it would be to up-rez a PlayStation Portable game. But think about it: How satisfying would it be to see that marvelous little game -- it's not as good as the PS2 games, but it's still a great experience -- on the big screen? That would have definitely put this disc into the must-have-now category.

As a fan of "God of War" and Kratos I'll buy this. I don't know what kind of disease I have, but I have no problem re-buying games I already own these days (see also: "Metroid Prime" Trilogy), especially at the Collection's wallet-friendly price of $39.99. But for the average gamer who already has copies of these games gathering dust on his shelf, and has access to a backward-compatible PlayStation 3? There's simply not enough here to merit a purchase.

And if you haven't played these classics yet?

Buckle up, friend.

This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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God of War Collection

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Video Games: 'God of War' Collection - PS3

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