It’s perhaps indicative of Sony’s current interest in the PlayStation Vita that its first God of War should be a port of a port. While the PlayStation Portable dined on two exceptional original adventures – both prepared by The Order: 1886 developer Ready at Dawn – the platform holder’s latest handheld is being forced to feed on scraps. It’s fortunate, then, that said discarded snacks happen to comprise a couple of classics, with spruced up versions of irked anti-hero Kratos’ inaugural PlayStation 2 outings on the menu in this refreshed feast. The question is: will this repurposed banquet satisfy even the most sizeable appetite, or will it leave you begging to the heavens for seconds?
Well, it’s certainly not going to fulfil like a bespoke bite to eat. There’s a good chance that you’ll have played Sony Santa Monica’s seminal action adventures a couple of times in the past, meaning that the shock of beating down sea monsters may have lost its lustre at this point. That doesn’t mean that the games have aged poorly – far from it, they still hold up incredibly well – but with the series stagnating a little over the past couple of years, it’s hard to shake the sense of monotony as you bash out Square, Square, Triangle for what feels like the umpteenth time. Fortunately, if you’re somehow a newcomer to the franchise, then you can skip this paragraph with your purchase intent more or less intact.
Indeed, the conversion here has certainly been produced with slightly more care than the horror show also known as the Jak & Daxter Collection. Much like The Sly Trilogy, this re-release is based upon the excellent PS3 upgrade of the same name, meaning that the muddy textures of the otherwise dazzling PS2 titles have been replaced by high-definition alternatives. Unfortunately, this version doesn’t quite run at native resolution, so while the improvements over the original outings are easy to see, the package still lacks the clarity of its console counterpart. In addition, the developer has opted to chop each title’s framerate in half, tossing out the trademark fluidity of the franchise as a result.
These two concessions undeniably diminish the value of the package, but they don’t mutilate it to the point of no return. In fact, for as bad as the above sounds, this is still a perfectly playable repurposing, with all of the original set-pieces present and correct. Granted, the Hydra may have been bested by the Poseidon punch-up from God of War III, but we reckon that the second game’s battle against the bronzed Colossus of Rhodes will forever remain one of gaming’s greatest moments. And it’s represented here in all of its gruesome glory; from the very first eye-stab right through to the labyrinth-like finisher, this masterclass in game design has certainly stood the test of time.
In fact, even almost a decade after release, both titles remain textbook examples of outstanding pacing and expert level construction. Environments weave in and out of each other, lending a serious sense of scale to the dilapidated ruins and contemplative temples that you’ll be forced to explore. There are moments where you’ll tip-toe cautiously over wooden beams, overlooking the bloodstained tiles of hallways where you fought harpies several hours earlier. Both games are incredibly tightly constructed, and while there are moments in the initial instalment where you’ll ponder what creator David Jaffe and crew were thinking – the infamous spiked column in Hades springs to mind – these occasions are few and far between.
And unlike most ports, the experience actually pairs well with the Vita to boot. The second analogue stick means that dodges can be executed in the series’ more traditional manner, while the various face buttons provide a suitable alternative to the DualShock 2. Where the shoulder buttons were employed in the originals, the developer has mapped actions to the rear touchpad. However, while this may seem like a recipe for disaster, it actually works incredibly well, allowing you to touch any area of the sensitive surface in order to open chests or push puzzle objects, rather than pump the R2 button like you’re attempting to attain the physique of a Greek God. Speaking of which, button bashing quick-time events have been shortened, making them less of a drain on your patience.
The front touch screen is also used for changing weapons and unleashing the Rage of the Gods, but these are generally well implemented and won’t impede your progress – you’ll certainly still be able to see out the Challenge of the Gods without desperately pleading for mercy. It’s a shame that the audio doesn’t hold up as strongly, as it once again falls victim to the compression of its parent console’s miniscule cartridges, and makes Kratos’ irate monologues sound like they’re occurring underwater. Similarly, the pre-rendered cut-scenes succumb to a similar fate, and while they never quite rival the late 90s QuickTime approach employed by The Sly Trilogy, they still look like they’ve been captured on an old VHS tape that’s been hit with a hammer a couple of times.
It’s difficult to discuss the God of War Collection without sounding like a broken record. This re-release comprises two of the greatest action games ever made, and they’re now playable in the palms of your hands. Framerate flaws and a slightly blurry resolution mean that this may not quite be the high definition remaster that you hoped for, but even those issues can’t detract from the genius design on display here. If you’ve never played the first two titles in Sony Santa Monica’s seminal series before, then you’re probably better off sampling them on the PS3 first – but if, for whatever reason, you need to take Kratos on the go, then this Vita version represents a more than adequate gift from the Gods.