Kratos is in a bad mood. No, wait, that's an understatement. He's in the worst mood imaginable, and he's ready to take out his anger on the entire Greek pantheon if it means getting revenge on the god who drove him mad.
A mythological epic, God of War casts players as Kratos, a rage-fueled maniac with a pair of nasty-looking swords chained to his arms. His life destroyed by Ares, the god of war, Kratos wants to find Pandora's Box and use its power to kill his divine nemesis. Standing between him and the box is the stunningly beautiful, usually dangerous Greek countryside and an army of monsters straight out of legend. And before he's through, Kratos will literally rip them all to shreds.
With its simple, visceral 3D action, God of War plays a little like Devil May Cry. But instead of using acrobatics and gunplay, you commit horrifying acts of rage against the assorted minotaurs, satyrs and gorgons that get in your way. Kratos deals some serious damage right out the gate, swinging his magic swords around like whips and bringing down monsters hundreds of times his size. Smacking enemies around has a fun, natural flow to it, and it's easy to bust out elaborate combos by just mashing buttons.
At the same time, there's strategy to it (mainly the strategies of "find the trick to kill the boss" and "know when to get the hell out of the way"), and as you progress through the game, you'll be granted new weapons like thunderbolts and Medusa's monster-petrifying head. But the best parts are the gory finishing moves (performed by hitting buttons on cue) that let Kratos pull of harpy wings, unscrew gorgon heads and rip undead warriors in half like phone books.
These little atrocities reveal something important about Kratos' character: Unlike most video-game anti-heroes, he's not some misunderstood good guy with questionable methods. He's a force of nature who doesn't care about anything but revenge, and anyone whose death helps him along even slightly is slaughtered without hesitation. Despite his savagery, though, Kratos' cocky attitude and sadistic sense of humor make him one of the most compelling and even likable video-game characters in recent memory.
Aside from all the creative brutality, God of War does a great job of keeping things fresh throughout its surprisingly long run time. As you explore environments ranging from a fleet of shipwrecks to a gigantic temple carried around by a colossal Titan, you'll be faced with a series of unique, genuinely difficult puzzles. The solutions are rarely obvious and sometimes seemingly impossible, but if you're resourceful and look around carefully, you should be able to figure them out.
The PS2's aging hardware, unfortunately, can't always keep up with the sheer level of detail the developers shoehorned in. As a result, the graphics occasionally stutter or even slow down. But these problems are minor nits next to God of War's creative design, riveting plot and sheer balls-out fun. One of the best action titles on the PS2, God of War stands out as an ultraviolent masterpiece.