Hades might be hell in a toga, to quote the sarcastic narrator of four-player horde shooter God Mode, but its motley rogues' gallery of demons and monsters never quite equals the hellishness of enduring multiple matches that freeze at the good parts. For PC players, at least, that's where the true torment of this trip through the underworld lies. That's a shame, because there's a good bit of fun waiting in God Mode's corpse-strewn halls, and it's especially worth suffering through if you bring along three friends.
But if you're looking for a good story, look somewhere else. The most you get out of God Mode lies in the loading screens that reveal your Olympian ancestry and in the narrator's bemused commentary on your invariably unheroic demise. Sometimes you're pegged as a poor soul who suffered a headfirst skateboarding accident; at other times, you're the guy who put on jeans that were three sizes too small. This is a game that's solely about the pleasures of killing hordes of underworld denizens with up to three other players (although you can create a private match for yourself, if you wish), and there's something refreshing about the way it all but sneers at giving meaning to the proceedings.
God Mode's aesthetic appeal instead lies in the occasionally stunning visuals of its five maps, which run the gamut from crumbling Hellenic temples to iron-laced hell pits that would look at home in any God of War release. Fitting, then, that advancement through these maps also plays out somewhat like God of War, with portals sealing off the exit to the next arena until you've slaughtered all the enemies in sight. Make it to the end, and you're treated to a treasure room that's bursting with coins you can use for new weapons, cosmetic items, or upgrades, along with a sudden shift to friendly fire that lets you turn on the three buddies who helped you reach this point.
Slaughter lies at the heart of the game and its three difficulty modes, and more often than not, it's fun. Weapons generally pack a satisfyingly meaty punch (particularly if you're playing with a controller with a rumbler), and the enemies come in enough varieties to keep you looking out for colossal challenges like minotaurs and cyclopes amid the rank-and-file armored skeletons. In addition, acid-spewing harpies and hideously deformed cupids provide ranged contrasts to the generally melee-oriented hordes, as do globe-flinging Atlas statues. Upgradable special abilities add further spice in tight spots, ranging from simple shields to spells that force your enemies to lend a helping hand.
The weakness of the combat lies in the movements of the avatars themselves, who walk and dodge with such nonchalance that you'd think they were playing with their dogs rather than battling the legions of the underworld. Even so, an option to sprint takes away much of the pain, and the lack of cover mechanics, apart from being able to stand behind titanic environmental elements, imbues the entire gameplay with a welcome urgency.
Thankfully, God Mode never lets itself stay too retro. For one, it breaks up the otherwise repetitive pattern of clearing rooms of demons with several random tests of faith, which toss in a new mutator every time you move to a new arena. Sometimes different weapons appear in your hands every few seconds; sometimes one massive enemy remains invincible until the rest are taken care of; and sometimes you even find your foes simply cavorting about in party hats. Other features help stave off the threat of tedium. Wanting a greater challenge or finding yourself bored with the grind needed to unlock a new level? You can hobble yourself with up to seven oaths by sacrificing key elements, such as your shields or your damage output, for massive boosts to your experience points or gold. It's a welcome touch, even if it sometimes paradoxically lets you rush through the content. Leveling either solo or without oaths is tough, yes, but take most of the oaths, team up with three competent players, and you'll find yourself unlocking items in an hour that once felt as though they'd take days to acquire.
Yet the biggest problem is that leveling isn't as fulfilling as it should be. Sure, each new level unlocks new ways to spend your gold on pirate caps, plasma pistols, new special skills, and the like, but both weapons and cosmetic items in particular suffer from a disappointing lack of variety. Female characters are out of the question, and the buzz saw is about as outlandish as you get for weaponry in this otherworldly setting that begs for surprises like flamethrowers or even ancient Greek weaponry. Worse yet, considering the comparatively limited ammo and firing rate of the higher-level weapons, you'll find you can hold your own just as well at the higher levels with a fully upgraded version of the SMG you received at level 1 as you can with the buzz saw.
Other troubles plague the PC version's multiplayer arenas. As of the time of writing, many multiplayer games end in midcombat with the enemies running in place and invulnerable to attacks, even though the players can still run around and fire their weapons. The action never starts up again, which means you need to exit and begin another round. (Thankfully, you retain the XP and gold you earned before such desertions.) There's also no push-to-talk command or an option to turn off voice chat unless you're in a custom match, which means you're stuck listening to the cacophony of echoes from up to three bad microphones during the slaughter. And when random players inevitably crank up their own music, God Mode truly begins to feel like hell.
Still, God Mode offers a decent amount of fast-paced fun for an agreeable price, but it isn't long before the tedium of repeating the same five levels starts to set in. In time, even the tests of faith and the oaths can't hold this sensation at bay. But if you're only looking for a few hours of entertaining mindless horde shooting, God Mode generally does a decent job of providing it.