A port of a remake of greatness.
HD remakes of gaming classics are, by most accounts, a commendable pursuit. Not only do they revive timeless experiences in a fashion matching the doctored imprints on your memory, but they make these titles accessible and desirable to a new generation of gamers who otherwise may not be interested. Trust me, I would know—try as I might, I could never enjoy Ocarina of Time after having experienced Twilight Princess. Gussy it up with a stereoscopic sheen and enhanced gameplay features on 3DS, though, and suddenly it morphed into what I consider to be an excellent Zelda game. A gamer’s mind can play funny tricks like that.
I had never played the first two God of War games on PS2, and for the above reasons I wasn’t all that anxious to try them. Strangely, and much to my disbelief, God of War Collection on PlayStation Vita not only flops in its attempt to bring classic source material up to speed, but actually contains some of the very same unpleasant surprises I’d expect had I switched on my PS2. Confused and panicked (sadly that’s not an exaggeration), I downloaded the game on PS3 to make sure the whole thing wasn’t just some hacked-together rush job. Within minutes I discovered that it absolutely is not. But something, for whatever reason, went very wrong when optimizing this title for the PlayStation Vita, and unfortunately it comes at the player’s expense.
The first issue, which I struggled to look past, is the game’s visual fidelity. It’s not that textures haven’t been enhanced or that models haven’t been souped-up (or in some cases redone) compared to the PS2 source. Rather, it’s that the entire image feels stretched across the Vita’s screen, like a shrunken drumhead made transparent by excessive tension. As a result, the entire experience feels blurrier than it should, to the point that fine details like facial expressions or intricate flourishes of the environment are obscured unless you stop and really examine them.
Maybe expectations should be low for a handheld port, but I do expect more from the Vita. It’s why games like Killzone: Mercenary look so fantastic and is the reason I even own a Vita when there’s a 3DS sitting on my desk right next to it. With God of War, I want to be immersed in a visually stunning world, and part of that is subconscious approval of a game’s fidelity relative to the hardware’s potential. The PSP nailed this with its own GoW titles, but the same can't be said for God of War Collection on Vita.
The audio compression, when compared to the other Vita games I’ve played so far, is the worst I’ve heard on the system. I realize the original GoW titles were on PS2, and that headphones draw more attention to aural artifacts than speakers, but even so, what’s going on here is not pretty. I use a modest but capable pair of iGrados, which cost about $50, and even then most of the game’s dialogue sounds like it’s being transmitted over ham radio. While it doesn’t detract from the actual voice performances, it does get grating, and compared to the PS3 edition the difference is once again night and day.
With all those nasty issues out of the way, there is a morsel of atonement: God of War and God of War II are superb action-adventure games. There are folks out there in the ether who claim the Jaffe-directed entries are the series’ best, and after finally completing each I can completely see where such people are coming from. The boss encounters have aged brilliantly, the levels are well-paced and only occasionally feel restrictive, and the story and scenario design, though not Shakespeare, are irrefutably epic. It’s unfortunate that my strongest urge upon completion was to replay the games on PS3, but at least I was able to look past the flaws of the Vita edition for long enough to enjoy the content held within the cartridge. There’s really no good reason not to experience these titles in one form or another if you haven’t before.
The ridiculous aspect to this entire discussion is that the PS3 and Vita editions of God of War Collection are now Cross-Buy, and as such I can’t in good conscious exactly recommend the Vita edition. Given that you’re getting both either way, though, it’s certainly not a terrible choice, and if you’re a gamer who truly is on the go most of the time, then it’s not as if you have many options. God of War’s first two entries should absolutely not be missed now that they’ve been remade—just choose your edition wisely if you crave the grandeur of an actual HD remake.