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God of War III Review

4
  • PS3

Sony delivers a fittingly epic and savage PlayStation 3 debut for God of War, even if it does little to evolve the formula established by its predecessors.


 Kratos. Son of Zeus. Ghost of Sparta. God of War. Pisces.
 Kratos. Son of Zeus. Ghost of Sparta. God of War. Pisces.

Kratos is a man with serious anger-management issues--issues that he's been violently working out on the entire pantheon of Olympic gods over the course of the last two God of War games, dismembering, disfiguring, and disembowling every god, demi-god, and beast of myth that crosses his path. This hands-on approach to primal scream therapy continues with God of War III, the first in the series designed specifically for the PlayStation 3. God of War has always been a big graphical showcase for Sony, and to this end God of War III doesn't disappoint, using that extra horsepower to bring a phenomenal level of both detail and scale to the game's presentation. While the technology has advanced, the relative shortage of meaningful changes and refinements to God of War's vivisecting gameplay formula means that it's not quite as thrilling as the first (or second) go 'round. Some of these last-gen holdovers make the experience feel less cutting-edge than it might otherwise, though it's still plenty brutal enough to earn the God of War name.  

 

Still playing fast and loose with Greek mythology, God of War III sees Kratos continue on his quest for vengeance against the gods of Olympus, now with his sights set squarely on dear old dad, Zeus. Of course, Kratos can't just walk right up to Zeus, gut him like a trout, and roll credits, so you'll spend most of the ten-or-so hours of God of War III trying to collect the mythical objects that Kratos believes he needs to finish the job. Of course, on the way, Kratos will face off with, and usually murder, whatever significant figures of Greek mythology he didn't already turn into a red smear in the first two games, all in the most unflinchingly graphic, Verhoeven-esque way possible.  

    
 It's called God of War, not God of Friendly Handshakes.
 It's called God of War, not God of Friendly Handshakes.

If God of War III is your introduction to the series, there's a brief video that will basically catch you up to speed, though at this point, all you really need to know is that Kratos is an angry jerk, and pretty much everyone else he encounters is a vindictive, condescending, double-dealing jerk. His bottomless anger seemed justified in the beginning, but his continued insistence to pursue his vengeance at the cost of, basically, the entire known world makes it hard to conjure up much compassion, and makes him seem more like a petulant child than an unrelenting instrument of righteousness. The line between anti-hero and villain can be razor thin, and I occasionally found myself feeling more like I was the antagonist in someone else's story. Kratos is a consistently sadistic son of a bitch, and it's been his sole character trait for so long that certain turns in the story feel unearned. It's hard to tell exactly where the series will go from here--not to say that the ending is anticlimactic, but its gestures towards closure seem... tentative.  

  

The gameplay experience that wraps around this revenge tour doesn't venture too far from the rhythms of the previous God of War games, focusing primarily on contained group fights, mixing it up with some traversal sequences, some lever-pulling and box-pushing puzzles, and some really huge boss fights, with plenty of quick time events to highlight the game's penchant for cinematic flair. The combat is agreeably fast-paced and intense, and I found the default difficulty level to be the almost perfect, providing a hearty challenge while rarely becoming teeth-gnashingly frustrating.

 
 Say
 Say "AAAHRGH!"

In addition to the standard-issue chain blades, you'll unlock a series of weapons and abilities as you progress through God of War III, all of which can be upgraded using the red orbs found inside both treasure chests, and your enemies' chests. I found it kind of odd that two of the alternate weapons you pick up are variations on the basic chain blade motif, which compelled me to pretty much ignore them in favor of the more distinctive Nemean Cestus, a massive pair of lion-headed gauntlets that favor impact over range. Regardless of your weapons of choice, success in battle in God of War III ultimately comes down to diligent use of Kratos' dodge and counter abilities, as well as knowing which of Kratos' plentiful attacks to use on specific enemies or in specific situations, with a certain eye towards crowd control.  

  

Save for a handful of eye-catching sequences that make unique use of the Icarus wings, I found most of the traversal stuff not necessarily bad, but something to fill the downtime in between the administration of savage beatings. For as terrific as God of War III looks--and it is easily one of the best-looking PlayStation 3 games out there right now--there's something vaguely mechanical about the way Kratos shimmies along ledges and swings from his chains.  

  

Similarly, the quick time events are implemented in such a way that I sometimes felt they were drawing my attention away from the flashy camera moves and gruesome acts they were intended to highlight. It's all the stuff that you expect from a God of War game, which I suspect is the very reason why parts of the game feel kind of perfunctory. It's like the developers had a mechanical understanding of the beats they were expected to hit, and focused more on nailing that stuff than pushing the experience somewhere new. 

      Fighting a Titan is like fighting a mountain that hates you.
      Fighting a Titan is like fighting a mountain that hates you.

These issues, however, hardly define the experience of God of War III. No, God of War, as always, is all about vividly grotesque ways in which Kratos fells his enemies, and an incredible sense of scale as you take down one impossibly leviathanic enemy after another. Aside from the flight sequences I mentioned earlier, the most amazing moments in God of War III for me revolved around the Titans, the huge, primitive elder gods that preceded the Olympians. Acting as both enemy and environment, the Titans are the best example of God of War III's capacity to make you feel simultaneously powerful and insignificant, as the camera zooms out from a standard third-person view of Kratos to a perspective that makes him look like a flea on the Titan's back, all in real-time, and all of it looking incredibly sharp. Kratos himself features an impressive level of detail, both during gameplay but particularly in cutscenes, to the point that the other characters can look a little crude by comparison--which, really, says more about how good Kratos looks than anything else. 

 

The beautiful rendering of Kratos' ugliness is what made God of War III a compelling experience for me, despite of the bits that felt unnecessarily slavish to the God of War formula. Even if it's not the best God of War game, it's unequivocally the best-looking God of War to date, and it makes for a wicked showpiece for the PlayStation 3.