Finally got a chance to see the much hyped God of War last night. This game generated a lot of enthusiastic chatter among the Hardcore communities, but I notice it charted (in the UK) at Number 5 in its first week, beneath Cricket 2005, Destroy All Humans, Medal of Honor: European Assault and (at number one) Juiced - all of which had been in the charts for several weeks already. This is, without a doubt, not the sales performance Sony had hoped for, but it is possible that like Need for Speed Underground 2 it will gain sales volume after release. I doubt it though.
We looked at the demo for the game... I had certain expectations for it on the game design front, but never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that what it would be is an old school scrolling beat 'em up like Golden Axe (the game which infamously introduced it's villain as "Death=Adder"). Now it's a very impressive (read: expensive) piece of work, I'll grant you, but one has to wonder at the logic that lead to its creation. Here is a game which (as far as I can tell) has only Hardcore appeal, with a maximum audience of, say, 2 million units. Sony don't need to be courting the Hardcore in the way that, say, Microsoft and Nintendo need to right now, so was this a prestige title that was never intended to be a big seller, or is it a strategical goof by Sony? It's hard to say.
What I can say is that anyone for whom Type 1 Conqueror play is tolerable (i.e. anyone who can tolerate challenge being shoehorned in at every angle and, quite likely, a lot of fail-repeat gameplay) will probably be able to really enjoy this game. It offers some Type 2 puzzles and a certain degree of Type 3 experience too (with its expensive animations), but it probably can't hit a diverse audience because it's basically a linear hack-and-slash game - it looks like you must complete everything to progress. As I say, you'd better have a lot of tolerance for Type 1 play (a great thirst for challenge and fiero) and be content with moderate "ultra violence" or you will not be able to enjoy this game.
It doesn't seem to have much (anything?) original to offer on its design front, but on the other hand, I'm arguing that AAA products like God of War should be about refinement and not innovation. And that's what it certainly does - it refines the formula of the linear scrolling beat em up into a slick and polished package. I just suspect that whatever SCEA's system for determining what their prestige titles should be is flawed...
I reckon SCEA have gathered extensive data on the gaming audience, and by the gaming audience, I mean to say that they have gathered extensive data on the vocal Hardcore. Which is to say, they have gathered extensive data on Type 1 Conqueror players (the audience currently targetted by an awful lot of games) and determined to continue to target them. Perhaps it's a strategy with a multiple pronged approach - after all, EyeToy targets another audience entirely (primarily the audience which correlates with our Type 4 Participant cluster). But God of War shows a certain cyclopean vision in respect of its potential audience.
The ancient Greek setting is a mixed bag as well... I'm sure it works for a lot of Hardcore players, but it's hard to transition that appeal to the mass market. It appeals greatly to me personally - I'm playing Rygar: The Legendary Adventure at the moment, and we had a game called Gods & Monsters based around this setting which sadly will never be made; the concept document is on our website. Gods & Monsters was primarily targeting the Hardcore, and would have been on a much lower budget than God of War, and thus had the potential to be profitable (and, hopefully, a satisfying and unusual play experience too).
Unless God of War was made to placate Hardcore fans and keep them loyal to Sony (probably a pointless exercise), I don't quite see the business sense in the game. Still, some players will be very pleased with it, and that's nice for them, and there's a good chance it will more than break even, in which case no harm done. But I have to say that in all honesty, Sony can surely do a better job of reaching out to a wider audience, if they want to.
On the plus side, HMV is giving a free DVD of the classic Ray Harryhausen stop motion monster flick Jason & The Argonauts with every purchase of God of War - I doff my hat to the retailer for that stock clearing tie in. I wonder if God of War has anything as wonderful as the skeleton fight sequence at the climax of the film?