Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Video Game Review: God of War III

Is there a PlayStation franchise more pivotal to Sony's success in the ongoing console wars than God of War? Is there a single character more memorable than Kratos in their extensive back-catalogue? To both questions, I'd answer no. God of War III, then, is a decisive moment in the history of the much-troubled PlayStation 3. Half a decade in the making and at a reported cost of $44 million, to say there's a lot riding on the third and apparently final game in the God of War trilogy is to understate the case rather dramatically. But despite ludicrously high expectations and some serious kerfuffle behind the scenes of Sony Santa Monica in the form of the surprising departure of former director Cory Barlog, in the end, with God of War III, the studio do both the series and indeed themselves justice.

And if there's a better looking game this year, I'll eat my hat.

Of course, looks aren't everything - given the runaway success of the Wii, in fact, looks don't seem to be worth very much at all - so it's a relief that I'm able to say there's much more to God of War III than meets the eye. But let me restate that: what meets the eye, the eye won't soon forget. God of War III is gorgeous. From the environments and the character to their natural animation and cinematic framing, everything about this game is oozes production value. All the dollars are right there on the screen to see, and for that reason alone - we'll get to the others shortly - God of War III is worth the investment. 

Picking up in the immediate aftermath of where the last game left off, God of War III begins with Kratos standing on the shoulders of giants. Titans, in fact - and an army of them - lumbering up the sheer face of Mount Olympus towards Zeus, lord of all Gods. Kratos has long since sworn vengeance on Zeus, but just as he approaches the culmination of an epic quest of hardships and horrors that has taken him through Hell and back, the Olympians cruelly bumrush the God of War, knocking him into the River Styx, where he is stripped of all his power, and the very possibility, it seems, of enacting the bloodthirsty vengeance that has long compelled him.

Needless to say, Kratos doesn't give up so easily. This brief "abilitease" aside, God of War III chronicles his last-ditch attempt to regain his power and scale Mount Olympus once again - without the assistance of a legion of stone giants. On the default difficulty setting, this shouldn't take him any longer than 10 hours, and they're 10 hours packed so full of action, awesome spectacle and gut-wrenching violence that they're each of them fit to burst.

Of course, you'd be half-mad to come to God of War III for the story. I'll say this much: what there is of it is relatively well done - tying off many of the narrative threads of previous games in the trilogy satisfactorily and even introducing a few interesting new Gods and monsters to the by-now traditional mix - but this game, as with its predecessors, is all about the action. And there's action in spades; which is to say, a successful hybrid of weighty, flexible and utterly rewarding combo-based character action and frequent quick-time events. Short of perhaps Devil May Cry, no game does the former better than God of War, and the third proper entry in the franchise does not disappoint in that regard - though neither does it innovate that aspect of the experience at all.

As to the latter - the so-called QTEs - God of War III surely falls short as compared to the more naturalistic integration of such gameplay as seen in Heavy Rain, but contrived though they may occasionally seem, there are nonetheless a host of impactful quick-time moments you'll be hard pressed to forget. From pummeling a man's head to a bloody pulp to gouging out a God's eyeballs with a press of the thumbsticks, these sequences serve to involve you even in those moments where a cut-scene would otherwise exclude, and I'd personally rather that than the non-interactive alternative. These are games, for goodness sake; at the end of the day, all arguments about the medium's potential as an art form aside, they're for playing.

And God of War III plays like a dream. What with the excruciating, in-your-face violence and the obligatory quick-time sex scene, it's all perhaps a little too boy's-own character action for the tastes of some, and certainly there's an element of been-there, done-that about the proceedings - this is Kratos's third time out, after all - but what the franchise might have lost in vitality, in innovativeness, it makes up for here in terms of fidelity and closure. Gaming has never looked this good. Not only that: God of War III sounds great, the controls are tight and responsive and the action mechanics at its heart are meaty and empowering. Those fans who've hungered for Kratos in HD will find their expectations well and truly met, and though I doubt for a second that we'll see another God of War game at some point in the future, this is a neat conclusion to this chapter in the glorious, if not particularly gutsy adventures of Sony's single most important icon.


  1. I've never played any of the God of War games, but I've been considering purchasing the newly released PS3 versions of GoW 1&2. Do you think I should play through those first before diving into God of War III, or would I be okay?

  2. Hate to be a pain Niall, but from what I've seen FFXIII is a better looking game than this :)

    On the other hand, I've not played this and as I don't own a PS3 doubt I will. But I'll add it to my list for when I finally do pick one up though!

  3. @logankstewart - I'd say you'd be alright either way. Though while God of War III is the pinnacle of the series' aesthetic achievement, I have to say both the first and the second God of War games were better games. For their day, that is; not sure how well they'll have aged. The story's not what you're buying into here anyway.

    If I were you, I'd start at the start. That's certainly where the best aspects of the narrative flourish.

  4. @Mark - I'd agree with you up to a point, mate. The CGI in FFXIII is certainly breathtaking, but also incredibly uneven; no surprise, I suppose, given how long that game has been in development, and how technology has evolved between the crafting of the mostly gorgeous FMV. For my money, God of War III is prettier than FFXIII both overall and in terms of the gameplay segments.

    But what are we doing here, debating who's the prettiest PS3 game of all? :P