Review: God of War III (Sony PS3)

God of War III
Developer: SCE Santa Monica
Publisher: SCEA
Genre: Action
Release Date: 03/16/2010

It has been three long years since God of War II left us with the unforgettable image of Kratos leading an army of Titans up the face of Mount Olympus, declaring to Zeus that he brought the end with him. It has been three long years, but the wait is finally over. God of War III is here.

The game certainly had some challenges leading up to its release. For one, it had the pedigree of the first two games to live up to. It also switched directors for the third time with Stig Asmsussen taking the helm. It also had to live up to the expectations of what the series could be like on the PS3. For a team who had never before worked on the platform, the pressure was enormous.

Thankfully, these guys weren’t novices. Many of the team worked on the series since its inception, and they already had a strong idea of how to end one of the most critically acclaimed series of all time.

The only real question is if they would rise to the occasion or fall like Icarus trying to fly too high.

Story

The story picks up the very instant that God of War II ends. Kratos has used the power of the Fates to summon all of the Titans to lead a war on Mount Olympus. Zeus, on the other hand, summons his Olympian brethren to defend the attack. The action from the start is unrelenting. Needless to say, the path to Zeus is not an easy nor a short one. You meet a ton of interesting characters and you get to kill just about all of them.

The story doesn’t end up as deep as the first game or as epic as the second, but it does fit the bill well. Part of the problem lies in that most of the history between Kratos and the Gods happened between those first two games. There are clearly relationships of some sort that have formed, but the player isn’t given much information on them. The worst part is that you end up killing characters just as they get really interesting.

Still, the plot is incredibly exciting due to the personality of Kratos, and the sheer gravity of the actions you are taking. It feels like the ending to a blockbuster trilogy. It might not be as good as the others before it, but by now all of the key players are so familiar that we don’t need the same depth. Just watching these behemoths of the gaming world collide is enough. As action plots go, this game can sit with some of the best.

The ending doesn’t disappoint in either its scale or meaning. As the final blows are struck, you’ll feel a profound sense of accomplishment and closure. As this is the final game in the trilogy, that feeling was what was needed. It also throws the player a bit of a curve that allows for the most empathy towards Kratos since Chains of Olympus provided gamers with the most heart wrenching quick time event in history. It almost feels tacked on, but it ends up working, especially if you’ve followed Kratos from the beginning.

For series fans, the story does everything it needs to and more. For those new to God of War, the plot is still easy to follow and fills you in enough on the back story so that you don’t get lost. It isn’t going to be winning any awards, but we couldn’t have asked for a better send off.

Graphics

Scale. It’s a word often taken for granted when it comes to video games. Most games seem happy to have a large city to explore or maybe a big enemy to fight. God of War III doesn’t stop there. The opening sequence of this game blows pretty much everything out of the water. As you’re battling the undead on top of a moving, breathing Titan while it is battling the constructs of Poseidon, or while you’re climbing up the side of a mountain with boulders and fireballs flying all around, you’ll simply run out of words that aren’t “wow”.

The technology at work here is simply impressive. Dozens of small enemies track you down while a larger enemy patrols the background. There is an insane amount of activity going on, but the game and the system handle it, giving you a visual feast like none other. It gets better. The attention to even the smallest details is astounding. Kratos moves more realistically then ever before. Entrails dangle in the air after you’ve gutted a Centaur. Skin stretches and tears as you cut into your foes. Blood soaks the Ghost of Sparta’s skin until he’s covered in red. It’s unbelievable, brutal, and awesome.

I want to pay particular note to the lighting. It is truly next gen stuff. There’s this section where Kratos is shuffling along the side of a wall. A torch shines its light on his armor and obscures some of the Spartan. As he moves away, he comes back into focus, with the glow of his blades providing the only immediate light. He then steps into complete darkness before he unleashes the head of Helios, which works better than any flashlight could ever hope to be. It’s all done so perfectly that you’ll swear it’s real.

The only, and I mean only, complaint I can think of anyone bringing up against this game is that there isn’t enough color. So much of the world you explore is covered in black or brown that it does manage to take away some from the splendor. Still, when the game goes full out with the the palette, it only makes those scenes stick with you that much longer.

Truly, this game has some of the most powerful and memorable visual effects to ever grace any system.

Audio

What this game does in the visual department, believe it or not, pales in comparison to the aural experience.

Firstly, the voice acting is absolutely superb. TC Carson has mastered the guttural bellow of Kratos and it never feels overdone. Even when he whispers, the effect is of a powerful individual. On top of that, veteran actors such as Rip Torn and Malcolm McDowell lend true acting chops to the game, perfecting their characters immediately. The game even has Kevin Sorbo reprising his role as Hercules, though there is enough of a difference that you don’t get the characters confused. One of the bonus videos shows the crew during the recording process. You can see it on their faces that they are blown away by the quality of what they’re getting. You will be too.

Secondly, the music is as good as ever. It picks up when it needs to and fades into the background when things get slower. These are tunes that any epic movie would kill to have in its soundtrack, yet here they are in a video game. It truly pushes the experience to an epic level.

However, the best thing about the game is the absolutely sublime audio effects. The weapons you wield are filled with weight and menace. The larger creatures roar in pain and anger. It is impossible not to get immersed in the world of Ancient Greece when it sounds so real. You wouldn’t think the sound of tendons ripping would be all that important until you play this game. Then, you’ll see what you’ve been missing.

The crazy thing is that I haven’t been exaggerating.

Gameplay

If you’ve played any of the God of War games before, then you know exactly what to expect from the gameplay. There is a ton of offensive-minded combat interspersed with platforming sections and thoughtful puzzles. That’s not to say there’s nothing new, however.

You start off with your typical chain blades, but you eventually get four different weapons that all have uses. You can launch heavy or light attacks that string into combos. The circle button is used for grappling. This time around, you have a special item bar that powers items such as the bow of Apollo and the much publicized Head of Helios. This bar regenerates, meaning using these items in combat is much more feasible then in previous games. When God of War II came out, there were plenty of videos showing off how you could juggle enemies in the air with arrows. However, that was a tactic you would almost never use in the game because the bow used up your magic. Here, however, the bow becomes and important tool not only for launching these nifty combos, but also for lighting foes on fire and keeping enemies at bay. The Head of Helios is good for blinding foes as well as a powerful knock back attack. This new bar can be upgraded just like the magic and health bars can. Kratos can also grab smaller enemies and use them as battering rams, a very useful tactic that is far from just a gimmick. Also new this time around is the fact that magic spells are assigned to a weapon. They’re also upgraded by upgrading those weapons. Each spell has its uses, but you’ll want to save them for bigger fights.

You’ll still have the Blade of Olympus that you acquired in the second game, though this time it is used only when you activate the Rage of Sparta. In this mode, you’ll move hyper fast and launch extremely powerful strikes that can clear an entire room if you use it right. It has to recharge through combat, so it should only be used for the toughest sections.

Like always, you can upgrade your various weapons and items. The weapons each have several levels to upgrade and you can feel each weapon get significantly stronger as you upgraded it. The best example is with the Nemian Cestus. Just a couple of upgrades grant you the power to throw enemies around like pieces of driftwood. You won’t end up with enough experience to completely power everything, up, but whatever weapon you do upgrade will fit the bill fine.

Basically, the combat is more streamlined than ever, but also deeper than ever. You have a ton of options to deal with your foes, and rarely is one weapon more useful than another in most situations.

There is also a new gameplay section that shows up multiples times. In these sections, Kratos will either soar upwards or fall downwards through narrow tunnels full of outcroppings and falling debris. You need merely to move out of the way, but the section whizzes by fast enough to make this challenging. The sense of speed is exhilarating to say the least. There is a problem, however, in that hitting an obstacle obscures your vision for a second. This makes it far too easy to get stuck hitting many obstacles in a row, shrinking your life total exponentially.

As hyped, you can also ride enemies in some sections. These moments are extremely controlled in that you have small areas and limited time to use these abilities, but it is still fun to hop on the back of a Cyclops or a Cerberus and use their fearsome powers on your enemies for a change.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. The new technology that allows scores of enemies to be on screen at once expose some serious holes in the gameplay. For one, the targeting system isn’t up to snuff. You can’t lock onto enemies unless you’re using the bow. What ends up happening often is that you’ll try to grapple a dazed enemy only to grab a healthy one. Not only will the healthy one knock you back, but you’ll be open to attack from the enemy you were trying to grab in the first place. Also, there is one section in particular that suffers because of this. You need to grab onto a harpy in order to get above rising spikes. However, there will most likely be several enemies around you. If you’re not careful, you’ll grab one of them and get skewered, forcing you to restart the section. It happens enough to be a problem.

The camera is another issue. In previous games, the camera was better about giving you the best angle. Sadly, the larger scale has kind of ruined that here. The camera will often peel far back to give you a great visual shot, but will leave you squinting as you try to fend off an enemy attack. In another section, I had to fight an enemy I couldn’t see because the camera got stuck behind a wall. Obviously, this is not ideal.

Invisible walls, long a bane in the series side, are even worse here. There are a ton of areas you will be tempted to go, but can’t for some reason. On more than a few occasions, I fell to my doom because I thought I could grab onto a ledge.

Still, these problems are not nearly enough to ruin experience. They merely cause annoyances from time to time. In fact, I only died in combat a few times. Almost all of the deaths I suffered were during platforming sections. Here, the camera angles fail miserably. It can shift rapidly, throwing your bearings off and making your jump either too early or too late. Also, I found the controls for the double jump and glide to be a bit touchy. You need to immediately input the command to get it to work. If you try and time the presses to get maximum distance, you’ll likely fall to your death.

I’ve gone on a bit about these problems, but that is mostly because I’m trying to be a fair and objective reviewer. Believe me when I say that these instances don’t stop the game from being an absolute blast to play. The combat is as good as ever thanks to tight controls and a ton of depth and variety. The puzzles are fun brain teasers that grant perfectly timed respites from the action. The level design is so tightly and expertly paced that there is a constant sense of progression. There is almost never a moment when you won’t be enjoying yourself. Even when you die, your only thought will be to keep playing so you can see what happens next. It never gets dull.

This is a rock solid action game with some of the best combat you can find.

Replayability

My first play through of the game on normal difficulty took about nine hours. That is a bit shorter than the last game. Still, once you’ve beaten the game, you unlock the hardest difficulty and challenge levels. Besting the game on Chaos difficulty will prove a worthy challenge for even the hardiest player, but if you don’t get into replaying on harder difficulty, there isn’t much replay value in the game. The game is extremely linear, so each subsequent play through will yield a near identical experience.

There are reasons to suggest that there will downloadable content in the near future in the form of extra challenges, and there are always trophies to hunt, but don’t expect this game to take up too much time. I’ve always considered God of War to be something akin to the perfect one night stand of gaming. It is a complete blast to play the first time, but the second time just can’t live up that experience.

Balance

As is usually the case with these games, series vets should start on the hard difficulty. I found the combat to be a bit easy on normal. I could button mash my way through most fights if I wanted to, though there were still plenty of tough fights. Your finger dexterity will be tested in the boss fights and some of the puzzles will tax your poor brain.

What is really nifty is watching the AI work. Enemies will respond to your attacks. Enemies that are lit aflame will rush towards you and try to repay the favor. Smaller enemies will attempt to dog pile Kratos while the larger enemies block and counter almost as well as human players. If you try to sleep through the combat, you will die, and you will die often.

Overall, I’d say the game is nearly perfectly balanced as long as you play on the appropriate difficulty setting. Players who want a challenge will find the game eager to comply, while those looking merely to play through a great experience will be able to move forward without too much frustration.

Originality

This is God of War. It isn’t going to break the mold in terms of new gameplay types any time soon. What it does do is take everything that games have done before, and take that to the next level. How many game can you think of where you’re battling on top of a moving colossus where each step affects the terrain you battle on? I’m guessing not that many.

Still, there is an overwhelming sense of familiarity for those who’ve played the other games. You have the prerequisite swimming, rope climbing, wall climbing, and puzzle sections. A lot of the combos for the Blades of Exile are carried over from the first game. If you can’t perform the armor breaking combo by now, then may the gods help you.

God of War is about pushing the PS3 to the next level, so a lack of originality is acceptable. It’s better they worked on further perfecting the gameplay then risked failure for the sake of change.

Addictiveness

The game flies by. I’ve played for hours without realizing what time it was until I decided to take a break. Any time I did anything besides play the game, it felt like merely an interluded. The game had to be beaten. Zeus needed to be put down once and for all.

Basically, the game is crack.

Rarely are action games quite this addicting. It just goes to show you how pacing and a good story are just as good as a solid combat engine. I mean, you’d think that after you’d bested a couple of gods, the game couldn’t possibly pick up the pace, but it does so time and time again. It sucks you in because you always wonder what they could possible do for an encore. It’s become a hallmark of the series to blow gamers away from start to finish. That is still the case this time.

Appeal Factor

Are you kidding me?

Sure there was Heavy Rain and Final Fantasy XIII, but the one PS3 game that people were really waiting for was God of War III. Kratos’ popularity has done nothing but boom over the years and the sheer thrill at the thought of being able to play a next gen God of War games had people chomping at the bit to play this before it was even announced!

True, there are those who never cared much for the series, but they are in the minority. Except for maybe Gran Turismo 5, this will hands down be the biggest game on the PS3 this year.

If you like action games, cinematic games, or you’re just looking for a fun game to kill time with, God of War III has you covered. Fans and non-fans alike will enjoy the game.

Granted, the game is clearly intended for mature audiences. There is a ton of realistic gore, nudity, and mature themes. If your kid is asking you to buy this for them, take a good long minute to think about it first. Then buy it for yourself and steal the PS3 away for a day or two.

Miscellaneous

This game doesn’t need to install and there are almost no load times in the game. Generally speaking, the only load times you’ll encounter are during sections where you suddenly backtrack or when you restart after dying. The game accomplishes by loading sections ahead of time. This can cause the odd moments where the frame rate will drop for a second, but for the most part the game is one seamless experience from start to finish.

Once you’ve beaten the game, you will unlock a ton of behind the scenes videos including a making of documentary and vignettes that cover specific sections of the game making process. These are interesting to watch and much better than the typical unlockables you get in games.

On top of that, you can find treasures in the game that grant special bonuses or hindrances if you chose to equip them. These range from doing more damage per hit to getting more experience and even a slowly draining health bar. It should be noted that if you use these or any of the bonus costumes, that you’ll forfeit the ability to earn trophies.

Also, if you can complete the Challenge of the Gods mode, you’ll unlock a battle arena where you can set up scenarios to your liking so you can train against certain monster types. This is a great tool for learning how to beat the toughest enemies on the highest difficulty.

Overall, the game is a complete package for a single player game.

The Scores:
Story: Very Good
Graphics: Amazing
Audio: Unparallelled
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Great
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Great Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

God of War III is a great game from start to finish that proudly bears the series name while pushing the boundaries of what is capable on the PS3. Is it the best game in the series? I’d say not, but it is by no means an inferior product. If you’ve been looking forward to the game or simply want to check out what all of the talk is about, it won’t disappoint. If you’ve got a PS3, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game and experience one of the most finely crafted games in recent memory.

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