Last month, Sony published the artsy Heavy Rain with the lofty goal of expanding the emotional range of videogames. Its new PlayStation 3 exclusive, God of War 3, simply wants to make 14-year-old boys — real and inner — marvel at its violence and spectacle.
In that, the game is a spectacular success. Sony Santa Monica, the studio that also developed the two PlayStation 2 games, has harnessed the power under the PlayStation 3’s hood to create a game that packs a visceral punch.
This is a game about size, grandeur, and bloodshed on an operatic scale — subtlety be damned. It might play fast and loose with the details of Greek mythology, but I can’t help suspecting the ancient Greeks would have approved, anyway.
God of War 3 rounds off the God of War trilogy with Kratos on a mission to kill Zeus after his betrayal at the hands of the gods of Olympus. The vengeful, hubristic Kratos is probably one of the nastiest characters to star in his own videogame.
For that, God of War 3 makes no apologies. It’s a straightforward power fantasy that puts you in the sandals of a powerful and very angry Spartan warrior. In a market where even military shooters are leery of blood, the game is oblivious to political correctness.
But as crude and one-dimensional as God of War 3 (and its predecessors) may seem at first glance, the game is executed with so much technical skill and artistic flair that it is completely irresistible.
Sony Santa Monica has made no dramatic changes to the core formula of God of War — it’s the same blend of Tomb Raider-style platforming and puzzle solving with hack and slash combat and epic boss fights.
Though the apparent lack of innovation is disappointing at first, it soon becomes clear that the gameplay has been refined through a number of subtle tweaks. The level design and pacing, for example, are nearly perfect, checkpoints and auto-saves are handled more intelligently than in the earlier games, and the controls feel tighter than ever before.
Combat in God of War 3 is simple, but satisfying and brutal. It lacks the finesse and depth of the fighting in Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden, opting instead for immediacy and accessibility. On normal difficulty, one is soon stringing together ferocious combos that dispatch enemies in showers of blood and severed body parts.
God of War 3 has a trophy for covering Kratos in 500 buckets of blood by defeating enemies. I earned it within the first hour of gameplay.
Impalements, eviscerations, decapitations, limb loppings, and savage beatings are all rendered unflinchingly as Kratos hacks and slashes his way through anyone and anything that stands between him and Zeus.
There are new weapons and magical attacks to play around with, adding a little depth to the game. As in the earlier games, beating down a larger enemy’s health enough will give you the opportunity to initiate a gory finishing move by following a series of on-screen button prompts. These “quick time events” have been much improved over earlier games in the series — the prompts are displayed in a more intuitive way, for example.
The boss fights with gods and titans deserve special mention — they’re every bit as exciting and inventive as the boss fights in the first two games in the series. Some of them are marathon toe-to-toe battles with enemies larger (sometimes hundreds of times larger) and more powerful than Kratos, while others rely on simple puzzle solving or platforming for their resolution.
Platforming in God of War 3 is also much improved – the occasional control and camera issues that made navigating some of the more treacherous environments such a chore in the earlier games have been corrected. Indeed, platform traversal in God of War 3 feels as fluid as it does in one of the newer Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider games.
There are also a few environmental puzzles to solve — none of them too taxing. They prove to be a welcome respite from the action and give you an opportunity to take in some of God of War 3’s gorgeous vistas.
Given that God of War 1 and 2 count among the best-looking games on the PlayStation 2, it’s no surprise that the graphics in God of War 3 are breathtaking. At its best moments, God of War 3 challenges Uncharted 2’s position as the most beautiful and technically impressive game available for the PlayStation 3.
I came into playing God of War 3 fresh from replaying the high-definition (HD) PlayStation 3 remasters of God of War 1 and 2. As good as God of War 2 looks in HD, even by today’s standards, God of War 3 is a quantum leap over it in every way from lighting and animations to texture work and the level of detail in the characters and the massive environments.
The opening hour of the game — with Kratos perched on the arm of the titan, Gaia, as she scales Mount Olympus — is nothing short of jaw dropping. God of War 3’s visual design and technical performance doesn’t always come together as spectacularly as it does in that scene — sometimes, it’s merely good.
God of War 3 hits the market hard on the heels of a number of copycat games, most notably the excellent Darksiders from THQ and the mediocre Dante’s Inferno from Electronic Arts. But Kratos’s sandalled foot stomps on them all. I can’t help feeling that the upcoming Clash of the Titans movie will feel tame and bloodless by comparison. — Lance Harris, TechCentral