God of War review: Anger is an energy trumped by love
God of War (PS4) ★★★★★ Age: 18+
Worst. Dad. Ever. As candidates for father of the year go, perma-angry Spartan warrior Kratos is the most unlikely. He mistakenly slew his wife and daughter in the franchise's debut instalment in 2005. Now, as this lavish reboot from the same Santa Monica Studio opens, his second wife has passed away and he's left to raise their son Atreus alone.
But Kratos doesn't do empathy, nor any emotion besides rage. Kratos is at home brutally slaying colossal mythological monsters with improbably sharp blades. Not parenting a child still grieving his mother's death. Yet, somehow, Santa Monica weaves these two disparate threads into a fascinating and tender exploration of human relationships sandwiched between the series' trademark blood-letting.
It sounds counter-intuitive, of course. Yes, the primary focus remains firmly on the whirling dervish that is Kratos with a heavy axe, carving a swathe through ogres, demons and wraiths. The odyssey heaves with startling landscapes, fantastical beasts and unbelievable sights, all rendered in stunning clarity.
Yet your eyes and ears are more often drawn to the little details of this road trip. The moment when Kratos thinks the better of placing a reassuring hand on his trembling son's shoulder. Or how he can never bring himself to call Atreus anything other than "Boy!"
The emotional connection softens and grows as the game unfolds, though, the constant chatter from Atreus uncovering a heart in Kratos he thought he'd lost.
God of War feels at once familiar and yet utterly different from its forebears. Its arcane system of upgrades and abilities muddy the picture a little, detracting from a narrative that flows effortlessly from combat to puzzles to touching moments.
But the return of Kratos - older, wearier, but definitely wiser - is unquestionably a pinnacle for the series, perhaps even the entire PS4 catalogue.
(Switch/PS4) ★★★ Age: 7+
Tally-ho, old chap... Rogue Aces imagines a world where Britain still rules the skies in this amusing if teeth-grindingly frustrating dogfighting sim. Your molars will be down to little stumps as you learn to rewire your brain to fly in 2D and acclimatise to the fussy controls, juggling throttle, direction and ordnance in furious firefights.
Persevere, though, and Rogue Aces reveals its charms gradually. Missions are randomly generated but usually consist of bombing runs, aerial dogfights and strafing attacks, in various combinations. What could have been a repetitive cycle of short bursts of action is enlivened by clever touches such as the ability to hijack another plane in mid-air.