God Of War is the playable answer to the 1981 Ray Harryhausen epic Clash Of The Titans, though technological advances means that the game doesn't have to share the film's ice-age special effects. A brutal experience that often feels like a movie crafted by Starship Troopers director Paul Verhoeven, God Of War puts players in control of Kratos, a Spartan busting up the undead in mythological Greece. The cinematic opening has the anti-hero launching into a suicide swan-dive off a cliff edge, but before he gunks up the rocks below, the game calls a time-out and puts him back in time, at the tale's beginning. You then play through his journey, which has Kratos, a murderous human, trying to play Greek god. Going after Pandora's box, Kratos violently surges through massive, beautifully realized landscapes, hoping to gain the power to kill Ares, the god of war.
To battle baddies, Kratos relies primarily on two slingable swords attached to long chains. With this potent hardware, you can carve opponents up in standard fashion, or whip them into the air and do the damage six feet off the ground. Outside of these thrashings, you'll twist off Medusa's skull, tear the wings off low-flying harpies, and finish off minotaurs by feeding them a knife sandwich. You're also handed the proverbial keys to some magic powers, acquired from different gods. You'll score Poseidon's Rage (a splash of energy that deflects enemies), Medusa's Gaze (the ability to turn adversaries to stone) and Zeus' Bolt (lightning from the heavens).
The violence is intense, but it's all served by a can't-look-away cool factor, because Kratos is a sadist with style. It's easy to root for his macabre butcherings—like when he rips a zombie clean in half—in part because of the game's ancient-world setting, in part because his victims are undead.
Beyond the gameplay: One oddball bedroom scene, which starts with Kratos pondering his murderous beginnings, can turn into an offscreen XXX affair. A childish sex mini-game is triggered if you jump on the bed, which is occupied by two damsels. Success comes by pressing all the right buttons.
Worth playing for: Kratos' weaponry-work is inspiring. You'll unlock various button combinations along the way that give off all-new, all-hip, jaw-dropping carnage options.
Frustration sets in when: Occasional puzzles are so cerebral, players will have to rearrange the cosmos of their brains to figure them out. The reward: As with most riddles, once you've unlocked the secret, you'll feel like a complete rube.
Final judgment: God Of War's main character is a fascinating, fully realized study, a rarity in games. Even with the emphasis on his homicidal behavior, his unbottled rage means there's rarely a dull moment during the game's 12 hours of playing time.