By Marty Mulrooney
Brutal Greek warrior Kratos finally returns to our gaming consoles with the release of God of War III, the long anticipated final chapter of the phenomenal hack ‘n’ slash trilogy. AMO recently previewed the game here, and I am pleased to say that the final release is even more accomplished than that earlier build. Fans of the original games on PS2 will certainly be thrilled to see a HD iteration of this beautifully detailed world and should have no problem at all picking up the pad and getting straight back into the thick of the action.
The hands of death could not defeat me… the Sisters of Fate could not hold me…. and you will not see the end of this day. I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE!
-Kratos, God Of War III
When we last saw Kratos at the end of God of War II, he was riding on the back of Gaia as she and the other Titans climbed Mount Olympus to assault Zeus and the rest of the Gods. God Of War III begins at this exact point. If you haven’t played the first two games the story will quickly get you up to speed (there are some beautifully animated expositional scenes throughout to catch up new players/refresh old ones) yet I would still recommended playing through them first regardless.
What was shown to us as a pre-rendered cutscene last time round is now rendered beautifully on the PS3 hardware in realtime. It is difficult to describe the sheer scale and technical prowess of the opening moments: Sony Santa Monica have created a game with practically zero load times, no mandatory install and a rock solid framerate. The Titans’ assent up Mount Olympus is a graphical revelation and a knockout way to begin a game. As the gameplay begins properly, Kratos fights several enemies on the back of Gaia (sometimes zoomed out to show him as no more than a tiny spec on the giant) whilst all around the other Titans are wreaking havoc against the gods.
It isn’t long before god of the sea Poseidon has jumped from the top of Mount Olympus, taking the form of a watery horse with grasping tentacles, attacking Gaia and trying to loosen her grip on the rock face. Meanwhile, the player controls Kratos, climbing all over Gaia (and at some points the mountain itself) attacking Poseidon with the familiar Blades of Athena. Sometimes the whole level flips and Kratos automatically plunges his blades into the nearest surface, with a makeshift ceiling now leaving you dangling as you frantically continue to assault the enemy. The marriage between familiar gameplay and renewed epicness can at times be overwhelming: there has not yet been any other game this generation that has managed to display such a convincing sense of scale without removing player control in the process.
Suffice to say, Kratos does not manage to reach and kill Zeus at the end of this breathtaking opening assent. After all, if he did it wouldn’t be a very long game now would it! He is soon thrown downwards and lands in the River Styx, losing most of his previous abilities (resetting the series’ long standing upgrade mechanic). The ghost of Athena then turns up and gives you the Blades of Exile. This is where the game begins for real. Surprisingly, from then on it unfolds pretty much exactly like the previous games. This can of course be seen as both a positive and a negative.
There is still a strong focus on combat, which is as brutal and gruesome as you will remember. The controls are pretty much the same as last time, with Triangle issuing heavy attacks and Square issuing lighter ones. Circle allows you to grab opponents (there is now a brilliant new move where you can then use the enemy American Football style and ram his buddies!) whilst X is used for good old jumping/gliding. L1 allows secondary uses of these buttons with the equipped weapon (or blocks an enemy attack if tapped at the right time), whilst L2 allows the use of secondary items such as the bow and arrow. Quick time events return and are simply a case of following the on screen prompts, appearing at the sides of the screen in relation to their position on the pad.
Puzzles largely take a back seat this time around, perhaps even more so than last time. It is usually pretty clear what has to be done next and there is little more thought required than simply pulling levers and moving heavy objects into the correct position. Once or twice there were some more involving head scratchers (one example that involved perspective worked very well) yet overall the puzzles are more of the same.
So what makes it all so compelling? The production values and grade A narrative certainly don’t hinder the proceedings. I heard that this game cost $44,000,000 to make, yet I truly believe that the same story filmed as live action would cost a hell of a lot more and would probably look inferior in some areas too! Gaming is an untapped medium for these kind of epic storylines and Sony Santa Monica have risen to the challenge admirably. This feels like an authentic, legendary tale, a classic that won’t be forgotten, standing shoulder to shoulder with other epic greats such as Clash Of The Titans. This is Greek mythology brought to life. The soundtrack doesn’t disappoint either: it is out of this world. I have probably used the word epic far too much during the course of this review, but it really does feel apt here!
TC Carson voices Kratos with such passion that you can almost taste his bloodthirsty desire with every guttural cry for vengeance. Rip Torn and Malcolm McDowell are just some of the other wonderful voice actors involved with the production: the space available on the Blu-ray format has allowed unlockable extras for God Of War III to include several wonderful HD making of videos too, including the vocal recording sessions. What an even greater delight to discover that TV Hercules Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) voices a much darker and meaner version of the character here! There has just been so much love and attention to detail poured into the creation process and it truly shows throughout.
I won’t spoil the various twists and turns, but I can reveal that the game is largely similar to the formula of old. Players fight multiple weaker enemies, occasionally battling slightly larger and stronger ones before dispatching them with gruesome QTE’s. Cutscenes are sprinkled liberally throughout, usually occurring before an epic (there’s that word again!) boss battle. There are several new weapons (four in total) including the powerful new Cestus, which are basically huge stone gloves.
Sadly, the other two weapons, which I wont spoil, feel largely the same as the Blades Of Exile and I am sure many players will find themselves sticking with these earlier gifts from Athena as their weapons of choice. Still, it is easy to change weapons during combat and it does break things up quite nicely when you feel like a change of pace. The boss battles are great too, offering a somewhat gruesome reason for the reason why there are no Gods in the modern day. Kratos has his vengeance and then some.
Disappointingly, the show stealing Titans only show up near the beginning of the game, and again near the middle when you fight Cronos. Furthermore, as impressive as these scenes are, they are largely smoke and mirrors. Remember the trailer where it looked as if Kratos was on land, before everything shifted and it was revealed you are actually on Gaia’s back? There are no such illusions here: the parts where you move across the Titans are always clearly marked and even appear rather flat like a platform would be anyway, which is a little disappointing. The complexity and life of the giants shown in the wonderful Shadow Of The Colossus on PS2 for example is somewhat missing here, perhaps emphasised because you never see the Titans from a distance. No doubt these are huge rollercoaster ride set pieces but you can never stray from the predetermined path. Still, technologically they are undoubtedly adrenaline pumping injections of sheer processing power that will make your jaw drop.
Still, the whole game has this idea of predetermination firmly in mind throughout. This is a sequel to its predecessors through and through, right down to the invisible walls and clearly marked destinations. It pulls it off through sheer willingness to impress, but one cannot help but feel that this is little more than what we saw last gen polished to perfection. Luckily, I still think the original two games stand now as fun titles, and this final instalment is no exception. Regardless of the fact that GOW III in many ways has one foot firmly stuck in the past, not once during the 8 hours it took me to complete did I feel anything less than totally satisfied.
The fixed camera angles are a small annoyance at times. Because the right analogue stick is used to make Kratos roll, you cannot move the camera yourself. This makes sense for the established GOW gameplay we all know and love. However, the graphics and environments are now so freaking beautiful, it almost hurts when not being able to view them properly. Also, I didn’t die all that often during combat, but missing ledges due to dodgy camera angles got me killed on a regular basis. I can only imagine what a true third person control scheme would have brought to the table here.
There is only one certainty: the ending is going to split audiences; I am still unsure how I feel about the whole thing myself. I certainly wasn’t too fond of the final non-combat section, which felt more Silent Hill: Shattered Memories to me (features a very similar scene near its end!) than God Of War. Yet when I look back, I cannot help but feel that this final chapter is a fitting end to what is surely one of the most revered gaming series in history. There are still some unanswered questions that could certainly be picked up in a follow up as well. I really appreciated the open ended nature of the final scenes.
To conclude, I loved this game and certainly didn’t mean to sound too dampening of its efforts. Not every game has to break the mould completely. Sony Santa Monica have taken what worked before and then run wild with it until it looked and played just that little bit better. The Ghost Of Sparta looks absolutely incredible on PS3; Kratos is one of the most stunningly animated and tangible video game characters ever created. The rest of the game doesn’t quite match his undeniable gravitational pull, but in the end all that matters is this: Kratos wanted his revenge, and I helped him get it with the biggest smile on my face of 2010. Sheer euphoric carnage.
9 OUT OF 10