A shot that never cuts away, and a game without loading screens.
You know the drill – you trigger a cutscene and a game fades to black, before loading the cutscene. For those few seconds it takes you right out of the experience. Not so in God of War. Unless you die, God of War stays with one camera effortlessly flowing from cutscene to gameplay and back again. It never cuts to another angle.
A filmic aside
After playing the first hour of God of War at midnight on its launch I realised when I turned it off that it never cut to another angle, or even had a loading screen. Known as a ‘oner’, or long take, it’s a highly regarded technique in the film industry that involves one sequence that is all shot from just one camera. In the case of Birdman the entire movie is shot as one giant long take – it won Oscars for Best Film, Cinematography, and Director. Other examples of oners have been found in The Revenant, Creed and Gravity.
Logistically speaking, it’s very difficult to pull off a successful long take in film. The excellent Every Frame a Painting YouTube channel did a video essay on The Spielberg Oner. In a game though, you don’t need to worry about the logistics; how the camera and boom mic operator are going to squeeze through a gap between two rocks with the actors. Santa Monica Studios seemingly knew this and figured out a way for God of War to never need to cut and have the title play out on just the one camera. But, you don’t do a long take like this just because you can.
Having God of War play out on one camera does two main things. One, it keeps up the title’s intensity while also accentuating the quieter moments. Two, it benefits the flow that God of War is trying to create. Keeping a consistent pace with high energy keeps the intensity high too.
When a game so obviously transitions into a cutscene, the player relaxes; maybe putting the controller down or just sitting back. But in God of War you can never tell when control will suddenly be put back into your hands, so you’re always ready to kick things off again. Kratos himself keeps Arteus on his toes, so Santa Monica Studios keeps keeps you on your toes, too.
While it’s logistically hard for a film, it must have taken a lot of work to pull this off technically in a video game. Hats off to Santa Monica Studios for having this idea and sticking with it. It certainly goes a long way in keeping the pace, the flow, and the intensity of God of War always at its peak. It’s not just about intensity and flow – it helps impact the player emotionally, too.
Minor spoilers to the beginning of God of War below. You’ve been warned.
Ashes to ashes
The cremation sequence is a shining example of the effect that single camera can have on the player. Arteus walks into his home to light the candles at his mother’s side. After his prayer he turns, looks up, and for a second you see tears under his eyes before we spin around to see Kratos standing in the doorway – a silhouette. The long take makes the player feel invisible, and as if we are right there in the room – not just watching a cutscene. Arteus had a much stronger relationship with his mother, and that moment is an echo of that. Their grief plays a huge part in God of War, and in a way it is a game about coming to terms with death and grieving in your own way.
Santa Monica Studios wants immediacy and intimacy by utilising only one camera. We don’t edit real life; we don’t cut to different angles. The long take makes God of War’s intimate moments feel more lifelike and human. To echo what I said before – because it’s important – you don’t do a long take just because you can.