God of War III Review
The word “epic” gets tossed around far too liberally in describing videogames. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to read almost any title's press release or back-of-the-box description, and not find the adjective snuck in their somewhere to beef up its appeal. While the majority of games don't have any right to make this claim, Sony's ultra-violent, third-person action juggernaut God of War series has always fit the bill pretty well. And now, the franchise's PS3-exclusive trilogy capper hits this “epic” nail right on the head, and drives it through the skulls, eyeballs, and hearts of anything in its path along the way.
Sony's Santa Monica Studio has done an impressive job crafting a heavily scripted, incredibly cinematic experience that'll leave you slack-jawed on more than one occasion. The most immediate and obvious reason you'll be sent to the floor to retrieve your lax mandible is the game's visual presentation. From blood-soaked start to bone-crunching finish, God of War III has been polished with some of the prettiest graphics the PS3 has ever seen. But what really catapults it past the competition is its immersion-pushing sense of scale; complementing its gorgeous action are moments where returning god-killer Kratos is reduced to a spec in the face of enormous set-pieces and screen-enveloping beasts.
The title received some pre-release attention for its “Titan play”, and it's here that we really find the developers leveraging scope and scale to deliver some truly—yes, I'm going to say it again—epic moments. Before God of War III's story even begins proper, you find yourself fighting Poseidon atop the Titan called Gaia. What unfolds is a several minute, multi-tiered battle royale that blends the sort of big-bad encounter the series has built its reputation on with a Shadow of the Colossus—like backdrop. It kicks the game off on a note most titles would be more than happy to end on, and hints at what's to come in Kratos' final god-slaying spree.
After an opening that'll leave you pinned to the edge of your couch cushions and clutching your Dual Shock for dear life, the game settles into more familiar territory. Kratos is stripped of most of his powers, dropped into Hades, and challenged by enemies that are, you know, like only three times his size. While the game begins to slip into that tried-and-true GoW formula, complete with chain weapon-based combat, buckets of blood, quick-time events, orb-collecting, environmental puzzles, and Kratos generally being pissed off, it still introduces enough fresh ideas to easily make this a must-play even, if like me, you recently replayed the first two entries in the PS3's God of War Collection.
For starters, there are enough new weapons and powers in Kratos' blood-letting arsenal that you'll never be left wanting for fresh ways to eviscerate, behead, or disembowel. But more than just liberally—and literally—splashing the world with creative kills, the new stuff is well-balanced and a pleasure to use. In previous entries I generally found myself experimenting with Kratos' new life-taking toys, but always returning to one of the more reliable bladed-chain variations that have been introduced over the course of the series. You'll still love whipping the hell out of bad guys, racking up crazy combos, and stylishly killing all manner of vicious enemies with the Blades of Exile, but you'll likely find yourself returning to secondary weapons more than you did in the previous games.
From Hercules' Nemean Cestus—large, lion-headed arm gauntlets that pummel flesh into finely ground hamburger, to the Claws of Hades, which literally rip souls from enemy corpses, you'll dig the added depth, strategy, and style delivered by these new beat-down bringers. These new killers do more than just offer fresh ways to tear flesh from bone; the Cestus, for example, is the only item that can crush Onyx, a substance that'll occasionally block your path. And magic is actually tied to the god-killing gear this time, so those Claws of Hades for instance, can conjure the soul of an attacking beast to do your bidding. Of course, in God of War's orb-fueled tradition, all powers and weapons can be upgraded for maximum gutting and entrails spillage. On top of these aforementioned additions, there are many more inspired items, such as the Fire Bow and the Head of Helios, that assist both in puzzle-solving and effectively clearing rooms of mythical monsters. But I'll spare you spoil-ery specifics and let you work out all the gory details for yourself.
The 10+ hour campaign also revisits the awesomeness of the game's opening, further using scale to the extreme on both ends of the spectrum—driven by those ginormous Titans and the comparatively tiny Kratos—to wow you with its cinematic storytelling and polished gameplay. Some will say there should be more of these show-stopping Titan moments, but I actually think they'd lose some of their spectacle if they were overused. GoWIII does a phenomenal job of mixing things up, and giving your senses something new to feast on at every turn, so not milking the best stuff works to its advantage. Additionally, combat, puzzling, and boss encounters are all varied by inventive new touches. When you're afforded Poseidon's perspective of the ass kicking he's receiving at the angry fists of Kratos, for example, you see the Ghost of Sparta's thumbs gouging out his eyes in first-person—his menacing digits approach the screen just before it goes black. Even the potentially tired practice of using quick-time events has been improved upon. Button prompts now sit at the edges of the screen to not only give you an eyeful of the action, but to correspond to the gamepad's mapping. Sony Santa Monica no longer wants you to struggle through these moments; they know they've made a gorgeous game, and they want you to see it all...every last bloody bit of it.
There's little to complain about in Kratos' swan song, but as with any game that's on its second or third sequel, there's a definite decrease in the wow factor. The term “God of War clone” gets used quite a bit these days (I'm looking at you, Dante's Inferno), but there's no greater Kratos copycat than the series' very own sequel. It is familiar, despite its amazing additions and PS3 paint job, but if you loved the previous games, this one will rank as your new favorite. That said, if the formula didn't do it for you before, then GoWIII won't convert you either. Still, it's one of the years' best titles—and possibly THE best on the PS3 to date—brought together by bar-raising production values, well-balanced gameplay, and crazy amounts of gleaming polish. If you want to show your non-gamer friends what the PS3 is capable of, pop this one in and kill a few gods in front of them.