raven10's God of War III (PlayStation 3) review

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While it benefits from an often unmatched presentation, God of Wa


Five years ago gamers were introduced to the anti-hero Kratos. A warrior on a quest for redemption, he served the Goddess Athena and longed to destroy Ares, the god of war. Two main entries and two spinoffs later Kratos is finally ready to take out his final vengeance on the gods. God of War 3 is the most polished and mechanically deep entry in the series, but its slavish dedication to series mainstays weakens what could have easily been the best game of this generation.

As is par for the series, the opening hours of God of War 3 are the best parts of the game, and show the true potential that this game had. Players start playing on the back of Gaia, the mother of the Earth, and the opening hour is simply one of the best in gaming history. As the level flips and turns players must constantly adapt to their new orientation. This opening level shows amazing potential, so it is a shame that the moving level feature is only used one other time in the game. The remainder of God of War plays out very similarly to previous entries, and though the core combat is deeper than ever, the rest of the game simply doesn't stand out from the pack.

God of War has always been about graphics over gameplay and the same holds true for the newest entry. The sense of scale is simply outstanding, and the detailed textures, lighting, and character models are simply unmatched. Unlike other games this generation, though, the graphics rarely add anything to the gameplay, the Titan levels and a few sections with dynamic lighting being the only exception. The main problem with God of War 3 isn't that the game isn't fun from beginning to end, because it is, it's that the game simply lacks the level of interaction seen in other top games this generation. Mainly, the quick time events that have become a staple of the series simply feel dated now. Other games have proven that players can remain in full control of their characters while cinematic actions happen around them. God of War 3 lowers this interactivity to a minimum with quick time events that, while required on the weaker PS2, no longer have relevance on a system as powerful as the PS3. Several other impressive sequences in the game are simply cutscenes that the player has virtually no control over.

Another prominent example of the lack of interactivity in this game are the Boots of Hermes. These boots allow the player to walk up and along walls. While this new mechanic could have been used to deepen combat, a la Ninja Gaiden, or liven up traversal like Prince of Persia, the Boots are instead used mainly as a key to reach areas that could not previously be accessed. As such they are limited to being used in only a few spots in the game, and simply don't add anything to the gameplay. Compared to items like The Golden Fleece in God of War 2, the Boots require no skill to use. Simply press a button and they work. Again, the players are treated to what is essentially a cutscene of Kratos running along a wall, and are unable to effect direction or stop the run when they want. Virtually every other highly regarded action game of this ilk available has some sort of wall running sequence that allows the player to control the character as he runs along the wall. The lack of this feature in God of War has always limited platforming and Sony Santa Monica has really missed a great opportunity to raise the platforming of this series in line with other entries in the genre.

Also worse than other genre entries is the combat. While vastly improved from previous games in the series, God of War 3's combat is once again massively shallow compared to the likes of Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, or Ninja Gaiden. Noticeably improved for this game are the secondary weapons. Unlike the previous God of War games, in God of War 3 all of the four weapons Kratos can use are powerful, effective, and fun. Simply put, the combat in God of War 3 is a huge step forward for the series, and is the most enjoyable it has ever been. While it still has a ways to go before it reaches the pinnacles of the genre, for the first time, God of War feels like it holds its own in the combat arena.

None of these gameplay flaws, though, will matter to God of War fanatics. If you're the type of person who has played and loved every entry in the series up to this point then you will almost certainly enjoy this much better looking and more polished entry. If, on the other hand, you have become bored of the formula, or never liked the series in the first place, God of War 3 doesn't do anything different enough to excite you. This is God of War through and through, and while the combat has indeed been vastly improved, and while the scale and graphics looks enormously better, there have been no major changes to the gameplay.

While much of God of War looks incredible, some parts of the game just don't impress as much as others. A black room filled with giant boxes just seems dull, and virtually no level of the game is as cool as the Temple of the first game, or the Horses of the second. In addition, the level design in this entry isn't quite as clever as previous iterations. One of the highlights of the earlier God of War games were levels that snaked in and out of themselves, often creating new paths that previously seemed inaccessible. While this is true of God of War 3 as well, the use of a chain to connect all the various parts of the game isn't quite as impressive in scope as the Island of Fates. Never in this game did I marvel when a door took me to part of the game that I didn't realize could possibly be connected to another. Simply put, the level design, while technically and artistically the best in the series, is lacking in the clever pathways that the first two games had in spades.

One of the highlights of this game is the audio presentation. But, like virtually every other part of the game, it gets worse as time goes on instead of better. The highlight of the audio design comes in the form of the first time you enter Hades. With haunting music and a constantly whispering God of Death egging you on at every turn, it is the most atmospheric part of the game. After this, though, the sound design is simply great, but not excellent.

In fact, that pretty much sums up the entire God of War 3 experience. It is great, but not excellent. It seems dated in its use of mechanics that were required five years ago but are pointless with the power of the PS3. It's platforming is solid, but could have been outstanding if the Boots of Hermes had been put to better use. The combat is the best in the series but still pales in comparison to other genre stalwarts. And the level design, while visually unmatched, is the worst the series has seen from a gameplay perspective. Finally, the story simply goes too far in painting Kratos as a villain. While in previous entries it was possible to relate to the fallen Ghost of Sparta, in this game the cruelty and horror that the once God of War commits simply is too much. When the end finally comes, it seems that Kratos deserves neither his vengeance or redemption. As several Gods mention, everything Kratos touches dies a terrible death. Kratos has had a long and incredible journey over the past five years, but the God of War series has become tired, and it may finally be time for Kratos to throw in the towel and admit that the visions may just never stop.
   
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