As soon as Kratos’ familiar theme blares through your speakers it almost feels like welcoming back an old friend; the familiar rumble of the drums thumping away in the background calling you to war, as the warbled vocals rattle into the air and the leering face of the man himself stares out at you from the menu screen. When even the introductory moments of navigating your controller to the option of beginning your game is capable of acting as a tool for raising anticipation and creating atmosphere, you can be sure that not only has there been a concerted effort to polish every aspect of the gaming package as a whole, but also that you’re witnessing a true AAA title.
Coming as the fifth in the God of War series and the first to the PlayStation 3 system, this latest instalment has some pretty big sandals to fill. The success of the two previous direct console descendents on the PlayStation 2 was mightily impressive, particularly given that each had a new game director at the helm. For this third instalment, once again there is a fresh face (Stig Asmussen) tackling proceedings, overseeing a project with a total budget of $44 million and a team of over 100 employees. Couple this with the fact that even before footage was seen it was to be touted as a potential system seller and the studio would be tasked with creating an entirely new game engine and delivering a storyline that could end the long journey of the anti-hero Kratos with a bang and not a whimper, the size of the feat that lay before all involved could have engendered many potential pitfalls.
The narrative continues from where God of War left off, with Kratos, “the ghost of Sparta”, latched onto the back of the Titan Gaia as she ascends Mount Olympus. He spews vitriolic rhetoric at the figure of Zeus who sits atop the mountain flanked by his fellow Gods, looking down on the insolent whelp who dares entertain the notion of toppling their divine might. To say that we are plunged into the game in a cinematic way would be a mild understatement, and the sheer pace of initial proceedings only gathers from there.
It is hard not to warm to a game that has you killing a God within the first forty minutes and then proceeds to throw you aside, sending you plummeting in a Luciferian manner to the very depths of Hades where your adventure, and slow ascent of Mount Olympus will begin once more.
Unfortunately, in contradiction to comments made by Cary Barlog (the director of the second instalment) at the God of War II launch event, the game does not render at 1080p, being instead 720p with the option for 1080i, but this is hardly a deal breaker given how few current generation games reach the highest resolution. As previously mentioned, Sony’s Santa Monica studios have opted to create their own graphics engine from the ground up, ensuring that it could be utilised to full effect for this title. The good news is that all that time and endeavour has certainly not been in vain. God of War III is perhaps only matched on the PlayStation 3 by that paragon of graphical delight Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, with both displaying a myriad of subtle touches that demand your attention.
Every effort has gone into adding the sort of flare and finery that one would expect of a proposed system seller. The transparency of water during the Poseidon battle sequence is well realised, avoiding the stumbling block so many games fall into of making the liquid either too transparent or opaque. Similarly, when the ghost of Athena is seen, she carries a visible shimmer and her translucence is positively tangible, being reminiscent of an ancient Greek Predator’s cloak.
The star of the show in terms of visual effects is undoubtedly the lighting though, with it at first seeming to be nothing more than a shimmer on Kratos’ armour, but the further you delve into this world of Ancient Greece, the more chance you’ll have to witness the amount of variation on offer. Weather is not something simply seen from afar, but the rain gathers underfoot, creating a sheen of water that reflects and dazzles when the camera reaches a certain angle.
Once one particular treasure is found that lights your way, you’ll begin to notice the plethora of particles in the air and texture detail of the rock faces. It isn’t just inanimate objects that show this level of subtlety, as the meeting with the Titan Haephaestus brings with it perhaps the standout sequence of graphical splendour, as the mixture of light and smoke from the burning pits all around mix in the air. Once close you realise the level intricacy and the lack of uniformity apparent in the dirt and grime that adorns the canvas of his skin, as the light bounces off his glistening derma an intentional blooming blinds away one area of surface detail, heightening the air of this cinematic scene. Make no mistake, from the reflections of the marbled floors to the motion blur during combat, this is a graphical tour de force of multiple effects and has clearly been given a level of polish that is still arguably lacking in many AAA titles.
As one would expect, the leap to a new generation of consoles may have dictated the necessity for a new graphics engine, but the gameplay of the previous instalments hardly needed a great amount of tinkering with. The core features are all present and correct, with an essentially “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach seeming to have been applied to this area of the game. The standard control scheme of one stick for movement and the other for evade manoeuvres is back, as is the familiar array of ranged chain weapons. These new armaments are picked up when defeating particular boss characters throughout the game, of which there are many.
Once you have a total arsenal at your disposal each bladed or blunt killing tool can be selected via the D-Pad, with up, down, left and right bringing forth the selection ascribed to that button. Similarly, a selection of items will be accrued during your journey from the bodies of defeated foes that are then mapped as options to be brought forth when holding L2 and one of the face buttons. As always, each item and weapon can be upgraded by trading in red orbs that are dispersed when an enemy has been slain or found in chests along your path. Nothing needed doing to this simple yet effective system and there is little evidence of any tweaking having been done to the foundations already laid down by the two previous blockbuster console outings for Kratos.
The area which shows the greatest improvement is that of sheer scale. The franchise has always been built around two key components; brutal combat and epic cinematic encounters. Now, thanks to the extra graphical horsepower behind his escapades, Kratos now seems to finally inhabit a game world that is of a suitably immense size. This may sound merely like a consideration of presentational style, but it actually has an effect on the manner in which the game is broken up and the segmental nature of your mission.
Everything feels far more geared around the numerous boss battles that lie along your journey, with there being less in the way of trudging through countless drones and lesser demons. Kratos is depicted as a man driven by his desire for revenge against Zeus, and as such there was a real possibility that without backdrops of sufficient scale his endeavours would feel very traditional in videogaming terms, as opposed to the stunningly cinematic look that Sony’s Santa Monica studios have clearly prioritised.
Now, with the thrill of taking on Titans that not only fill the screen but aren’t even visible in their entirety due to their sheer size, the segments in between boss battles have lost any semblance of being areas to merely burning through in record time and are instead helpful breathers to practice your weaponry.
There are still a few minor bugbears though, the first of which concerns our anti-hero’s multitude of attack implements. Whilst the items have a nice amount of variety to them, the weaponry cannot be considered in any way eclectic, as the attack style for three of the four available can lead you into very familiar patterns. The standard combo of several weak and one strong attack will dispatch a great many of the enemies that cross your path, and for a certain number of those that prove more formidable a well timed evade thrown in for good measure should often suffice.
This though is a minor complaint, as the foundation of the series’ appeal hasn’t changed in years, there may be better games developed around the chaining of combos, but there are none that can hold a candle to the savage brutality of those combination attacks and their displayed effect on your enemies. Whether you prefer to deftly juggle a foe or hit with more grandiose strikes, the end result is where the real satisfaction lies. Once again the Quick Time Event (QTE) sequences that dictate how the beast opposing you ultimately meets their fate are back and in spectacularly bloody form. For an often derided variant on the core gameplay mechanics that has been seen as little more than filler in many titles down the years, few find such well orchestrated ways in which to incorporate QTEs as this series. Mixing split second reaction times with out-and-out button bashing desperation, the wave of relief that washes over you when you’ve finally downed a mammoth beast through one of these essentially simplistic interactions is palpable and rests at the very centre of the [I]God of War[/I] experience.
Not everything is quite as polished though, as the level design sometimes fails the gamer in some fairly simplistic ways. The developers have once again used the search for chests which contain Gorgon eyes, Phoenix feathers and Minotaur horns (which can be sacrificed in order to gain increased health, magic and item bars) as a means to entice players to explore areas rather than simply rushing headlong through stages and only glorying in combat.
Most item locations will be fairly easily found by those willing to spend just a few moments in an area before moving forward, but in a few instances the layout of levels that run in a linear fashion actually penalises exploration or requires a leap of faith. In front of you may be found a hole in the ground and what looks to be a path forward; fall into the hole on one occasion and you’ll find a chest, the next time you come across a similar situation you may assume to do the same but rather than finding spoils it will instead kickstart the next cut-scene of the story and so find yourself unable to get back to your original position, leaving you to wonder whether there ever was a path ahead of the hole or not, and if so what was there?
In these situations it becomes almost the de facto position to simply drop down and either gain something for your troubles or die as a result. The latter proving no great hindrance due to the extremely frequent nature of checkpoints meaning you’ll never likely have to repeat any great deal of an area. This isn’t a significant blight to the game’s charms, but instead a problem that many titles find themselves in due to the nature of forcing a fixed camera position on the player.
For diversity there are a few puzzle sections thrown in and a couple of flight sequences that have you avoiding obstacles in the vein of many a Star Wars game’s Death Star level. The surprising aspect of both these examples is that they actually work to some extent. The puzzles may not be true head-scratching fare, but they break up some of what could be seen as the impending monotony of each and every character you meet attempting to best you with sheer might alone.
One particular instance uses optical illusions in such an effective manner that it seems almost out of place in amongst the brutality of the bloody battles that have thus far made up the majority of your playing time. These moments of quietude are few and far between, but alongside the adrenaline rush of the flight sequences they sporadically force a different pace and tactical mindset upon the gamer and add a level of variety that arguably isn’t needed for the game’s success, but nevertheless should be greatly appreciated.
The combination of heady atmosphere, visceral action, multiple upgradeable weapons and items, inventive QTEs, a myriad of sufficiently different enemies, humungous boss battles and a helpful addition of puzzles and mini-stages combine to make God of War III a fitting title to carry the tag of “system seller”. It may not be 100% perfect but the minute holes that can be picked are vastly outweighed by the all encompassing ambiance of cinematic combat.
Complete all of these and you’ll then be rewarded with the unlocking of the “Combat Arena” feature, allowing you to fill the space within which you have just completed the challenges with the number and type of enemies you’d like to face. It’s essentially a playabout mode to see the various foes in greater detail and it allows for a longer marvel at the animations than many will find themselves willing or capable of doing during the main game. There is also the bonus of several behind-the-scenes videos chronicling the game’s production which will no doubt prove to be essential viewing for all those uber-fans already desperate for more Kratos.
God of War is a classic example of giving the fans what they want. It takes all the staples of the series and turns the dial up to eleven. Some may say that the story isn’t quite as captivating as they’d expected, but the counter argument is that expectations were likely so high to begin with that satisfying all those waiting in anticipation for the final outing for Kratos was in itself a Herculean task. The core gameplay of combination attacks and staggeringly vicious QTEs remains untouched, but thanks to the extra graphical might of the PlayStation 3 proceedings have finally taken on the epic nature that the series has only hitherto alluded to.
It isn’t absolutely perfect, with a few missteps along the way of characterisation, voice acting and level design, but these have always proven to be afterthoughts for the majority of fans of the franchise. A compelling story, brutal interaction with a multitude of varied enemies and numerous weapons to master are the real hooks that draw people back in and lie at the root of the success that saw the game shift in excess of one million units in its first week alone. A statistic made all the more impressive given the close proximity it had to the release of Final Fantasy XIII
It won’t last an excessively long time in terms of initial playing period, but I’d wager that it’ll more than warrant being a title that maintains its place on many a shelf simply because of its sheer scale and the quality of the experience. It’s beautiful to look at and downright fun to play; what’s not to like?
Sword and sandals
- Accessible controls
- Gratifying action
- Epic scale
- Polished visuals
Socks and sandals
- A few level design quibbles
- Somewhat uneven story/pacing
God of War III PS3 Review
Mixing free-flowing combat with gory QTEs, the franchise's bloody explosion onto Sony's beefiest hardware is an epic. A visceral vsual treat, Kratos once again rips his way through the legendary figures of Ancent Greek myth with a gusto.
Our Review Ethos
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