Wednesday, 13 November 2013

God of War III

Post-Launch Review
God of War III
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Released: March 2010
Played: story complete in 9:45


As the Titans attack Mount Olympus, Kratos has been betrayed by all of his allies, save one. The Ghost of Sparta fights his way through all the gods of Olympus, uncaring of how much damage he causes in his rage, to finally have his revenge against Zeus.

At Launch

God of War III was highly praised with average review scores of 92%. Reviewers were very impressed with the game's scale and visuals, and the refinements to the series' already strong combat system. Most reviewers liked the story, though some complained that it felt cheesy at times. Some critics felt that while the combat is great there isn't enough new stuff to keep it fresh.

Post Launch

There are a bunch of purchaseable character skins on the PlayStation Store. One pack contains an additional challenge mode, Challenge of Exile.
God of War III was re-released in God of War Saga, a collection including HD remastered versions of God of War, God of War II, and PS3 versions of the PSP games Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta.

I thought the previous God of War games were decent enough, but they didn't grab me in the same way as they did with many critics. I'm enjoying this one a lot more.

I was a little worried that after the end of God of War II - the Titans charging Olympus, led by Kratos - that the game would somehow find a way to stall the action. Nope! The opening is crazy awesome, with Kratos fighting atop the Titan Gaia. This scene does a great job of conveying the massive scale of what's going on, with Kratos crawling all over the Titan, leaping between limbs and engaging Poseidon's water horse/serpent/bug thing as it grapples with Gaia. Totally action-packed and intense.

The visuals help a lot, too - God of War III looks really good, with detail in just the right places. Despite the game's scale, everything looks consistent, without any fuzzy or obviously tiled textures as happens sometimes with really big environments. The areas are rich with colour and intricate detail. Even the wavy water surfaces look good. Character animation is strong and smooth. Kratos in particular looks great, with highly detailed textures and excellent animation. This is definitely one of the best looking games of the generation.

Even though the previous two games were pretty tight in terms of gameplay and controls, the third feels even more refined. Previously you levelled up weapons, magic, and items separately. Now there's only weapons and items. Each of the four weapons has a specific magic tied to it, and they level together. They also feel a bit better balanced, with different attack patterns and abilities, such that I actually used all the weapons and didn't just stick with the default blades all game. Items have only one upgrade each, which is better because they've always been more support than weapon. As always, combat is smooth, but there's also a new quickswitch option to cycle weapons during an attack combo. I never tried chaining combos between different weapons, but I assume it's possible.

The best combat change for me is that the quicktime event cues have changed slightly. As someone who never really played much PlayStation, I had trouble with quicktime events in the first two games because it took me a while to figure out which button was "square" or "triangle" when I'm more used to Nintendo or Microsoft controllers. God of War III moves the button prompts to the side of the screen that corresponds to the button - triangle on the top edge, square on the left edge, and so on. The relevant edge also glows white. This is way better for me: I don't have to waste time actively trying to remember which button is which, I can just look for the direction. This isn't quite perfect - it's somewhat easy to miss the circle prompt because it falls very near the combo counter, so there isn't as much contrast - but it helped me enjoy the quicktime events more, since I could actually watch what was happening instead of frantically trying to glance between screen and controller before time ran out.

There's a really neat level in Hera's gardens which sort of foreshadows some later plot developments. This is a puzzle area where you need to figure out how to get Kratos to the next area. There are platforms and stairs all over the place, seemingly distributed at random. But when the garden is magically viewed from the perspective of a certain statue, the stairs and platforms all connect, and Kratos can climb and traverse them. Kratos is forced to change his viewpoint in order to progress, which might be a hint to the end of the game.

But before then there are boss fights. So many boss fights. Boss fights all the time. Some of them are slightly too long but for the most part they're quite good, with enough variety within and between fights. In other games it might be annoying to have so many boss battles, but in God of War III it feels earned. Kratos has gone through so much to get to this point, and when all of Olympus stands between him and his revenge, well, you just have to rip right through.

And when I say "rip right through" I'm not exaggerating - this game is brutal, with some pretty extreme violence. It absolutely fits the character - Kratos is so full of rage that I'd be more shocked by mercy than by stomping someone's face in twenty times. But stomping someone's face in twenty times is pretty gross. I have a pretty high tolerance for violence in video games but some of this stuff made me cringe. Even one of the nonviolent bits was pretty cringeworthy - there's a sex QTE with Aphrodite that feels awfully gratuitous and juvenile, especially when you get a trophy for satisfying her. I mean really, Kratos is slaughtering his way through all the gods of Olympus, and yet he's going to stop for some sexy fun time with the sexy naked god? To be fair, Aphrodite is the only god in the entire series with absolutely zero antagonism towards Kratos and no role in what's gone down, but still.

The plot for the first half (maybe two thirds) of the game is also somewhat unsophisticated as you just rage your way through Olympus, but the scale and gameplay are excellent enough that it's easy to forget how little is actually happening plotwise. Of course Kratos needs some doohickey MacGuffin again to fight Zeus. I guess it made sense in the last couple of games, but in God of War III, if I can kill (highlight for spoiler) Poseidon, Hades, Hermes, Apollo, Hercules, and Cronos as a mortal, I don't really get why I need a special thing to kill Zeus. There's an interesting twist to the MacGuffin and the game actually does address that complaint directly, but up until then it's easy to feel like you're just slogging through more "go get this thing".

There are some neat twists to Greek mythology along the way. The biggest example is how Pandora's box ties in to everything - in the first game it merely played the role of a plot device to explain how Kratos got enough power to challenge Ares directly, but this game ties the box much more deeply into the events of the series. Daedalus, the creator of the mythical labyrinth, does so not for King Minos to hold the minotaur, but for Zeus to hold Pandora, in order to protect the Flame of Olympus which now shelter's Pandora's box. Essentially, if I'm understanding things right, the labyrinth was built as a response to Kratos.

Surprisingly, God of War III actually gave me some good emotional closure on the series. For two and a half games I had a little trouble taking Kratos seriously, since his entire character seemed to consist solely of rage. The first half of the game is still driven entirely by Kratos' thirst for vengeance, but this starts to change once Kratos learns he needs Pandora in order to finish his journey. At first Pandora seems like she'll be nothing more than an awkwardly shoehorned redemption opportunity for Kratos, but without spoiling anything, Pandora and her box really help tie the whole series together and turn out to provide some actual legitimate redemption for the Ghost of Sparta.

Recommendation: play it.

I was kind of neutral towards the first two God of War games, but I really enjoyed III despite some of my complaints. It's a tighter, streamlined, better-paced experience with great visuals. It ties up a bunch of loose ends and expands on the series' version of Greek mythology. Most importantly, it finally offers some growth for Kratos, who spent most of the series as nothing but anger and now finally gets a shot at redemption.

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