He's Still Angry...
The short version of this review is this: GoW3 is more GoW in a prettier dress. They didn't screw it up. Now for the long version (possible spoilers).
God of War 3 is exactly what you're expecting it to be. This holds true for every aspect of the game, platforming, combat, puzzling, story, you name it. It opens with an absolutely insane first level with all kinds of crazy set pieces. The sense of scale as you climb mount Olympus, or rather, as you climb all over Gaea while she climbs mount Olympus, is incredible. These guys do scale well. The same holds true for a lot of the level design in the game in general. It's what I imagine Albert Speer's wet dreams probably looked like. But once the initial chaos subsides, it's all very familiar.
Let's talk about combat. You remember the first two games? It's that. You do get some new weapons, but two of the three feel essentially the same as Kratos's default swords only with slightly different move-sets (and colors!). One thing that is really impressive about the weapons is the way they emit light, but more about that later. You still roll with the right analog stick, which has never really jived with me. Magic this time is tied to the weapon your using, though you can definitely get through the vast majority of the game just using Kratos's default weapons.
One thing that really got obnoxious, especially in the challenges, is that the direction you press on the left analog stick seems to have no bearing on which enemy Kratos will try to grab. Instead he seems to just go for the biggest enemy within range, which is, how shall I put this...stupid. You can be standing between a run of the mill skeleton dude and a 20ft tall cyclops, be facing the skelly, pressing the analog stick towards him, hit circle and Kratos will turn round, reach out to manhandle the cyclops and bounce off like an idiot, leaving him open for a split second to get pounded on by all the nearby baddies. That sucks, because what you would've liked to do is grab the skeleton and hit square to use the new battering ram move to quickly put space between you and the cyclops, all the while bowling over any smaller enemies in your path. Too bad Kratos had other ideas.
Quick time events are also back as part of combat, and some of them actually made me look away from the screen. They are grotesque to say the least. Fortunately they're also a little easier this go around since every button shows up on it's corresponding edge of the screen (triangle up top, circle on the right, etc.). This is great for people like me who can never seem to keep square and circle straight. The bad thing is that circle shows up right on top of the combo counter, which can occasionally make it easy to miss.
And when you're not fighting saggy-boobed harpies you'll of course be platforming and solving puzzles. The platforming is as good as it ever was in a GoW game. The camera will probably kill you a couple times, probably as often or more than enemies on most levels. It also might have just been my Dual Shock telling me it's about to die, but there were also lots of times where double-jumps and Icarus wing glides just didn't register and I ended up dying, slack-jawed and looking back and forth between the screen and my X button. Again, this is probably just my controller, but I've also put 40 or so hours into FFXIII this week and never had to hit X twice to enter a command.
Jumping in general in GoW games has always felt really primitive to me. In a game with such high production values it always seemed odd to me that Kratos's jump was so...I dunno...video-gamey. It almost feels like he's just not trying, which makes missed jumps all the more frustrating. I know that dude can jump higher...or at least better. Still, that's a minor gripe, and platforming as a whole is no better or worse than any of the other GoW games. Just don't expect Super Mario Galaxy or Prince of Persia and you won't get disappointed.
The puzzles were a pretty satisfying mix, though I could've done without one rhythm based puzzle that seemed way to picky for a game that couldn't be further from Guitar Hero. Most of it is standard push this thing here, hit that switch, throw this dead body in that big basin. There are some pretty neat perspective puzzles in one area that last just long enough to not wear out their welcome and are pretty satisfying even if they're not the most difficult thing in the world.
Where this game really shines is...well shiny things. The lighting in this game had me stopping at several points and just staring. It looks good, damn good. All of your weapons emit their own light too, which reflects off of surfaces realistically. There are a few dark areas in the game that make use of this particular fact to great effect. Words don't do it justice, but trust me, when you're swinging in the pitch black at an enemy, getting fleeting glimpses of his buddies headed your way...it just looks damn good. Light is also used well in a quick little gimmick that comes right before you kill Helios (it was not in the demo for those of you who played that).
Most of the character models in the game look great too. Kratos looks better than ever, and most of the gods and all of the Titans look really impressive, and while the fickle camera may kill you on some platforming sections, it is definitely used to great effect during some of the boss fights, with titans in particular. There were times that I'd be fighting on the back of a Titan and just assumed that because the camera had panned out to outer-fucking-space to show the whole Titan, that I was no longer in control. Then I'd just fidget and press square and see the orange flame of my swords, just a few pixels on the screen. It's really impressive the sort of stuff they do while staying in-engine. There's no doubt that this is a very technically proficient game.
So what's the verdict? If you liked the other God of War games, you'll like this one. Fans should go out and buy it. If you've never been a huge fan, wait for a price drop or just skip it all together. It doesn't change enough where it matters to make you love it if you don't already.
Oh, and Rip Torn is Hephaestus...and he does a fucking great job at it. Also I'm pretty sure Hercules is voiced by Kevin Sorbo but (spoilers, but not really) he died a little too quickly for me to decide if it was really him.
+It's still GoW
+Kevin Sorbo? and Rip Torn
+The scale in some parts is insane
+The lighting is fantastic
-It's still GoW
-dodging and grappling implementations still not ideal
Fuck, my fingernails still hurt just thinking about that...you'll see.