Truly astounding videogames are few and far between, and whilst there have been some solid titles released this generation nothing has come close to the feeling of awe and bewilderment that God Of War III can bestow. From the very moment you slide the disk into the PS3, Santa Monica Studio’s deft handling of the console shines through and doesn’t let go until the final curtain, offering up one incredible, jaw dropping moment after another as you take a determined and focused Kratos to his ultimate confrontation with Zeus.
It’s true that the opening scene is the most dramatic, as gods battle Olympians on the slopes of Mount Olympus, Kratos but a mere spec against the behemoths climbing the snowy ridges. It’s a stunning introduction to the game, the wild scale dialed down considerably after that for the next few hours before the game kicks everything you thought possible out of the window at around the midpoint before dropping again until the finale. The engine, written from the ground up for the third game, is adept at any zoom level, with textures, animation and modeling top notch regardless.
A good thing, then, because Kratos’ adventures take him from place to place, indoor to outdoor, with almost reckless abandon. The storyline as self indulgent and hammy as you’d expect, God Of War III moves at such a staggering pace and introduces characters with barely a chance to breathe from the last that it’s easy to forget what it is you’re actually doing at any given time. Not necessarily a problem given the game’s linear path, but fans looking for a deep conclusion to the current story thread will have to wait until the closing credits when the game finally has chance to catch up with itself.
Kratos might be carrying his protective Golden Fleece and Icarus’ wings from God Of War II, but his armoury this time is mostly new – the familiar long range blades are joined by numerous pain inflicting instruments procured from defeated enemies: a pair of powerful metal breaking cesti, blue-tinged Claws from a downed combatant deep underground; and backing up these primary weapons are an expanding array of devices mapped to L2 – a chargeable (and thus flaming) bow, light from a beheaded god and the boots of a messenger amongst the first. Varied, thoughtful in their mechanics and re-used throughout, although the boots are an afterthought in all but the most rudimentary cases.
More equally balanced are your magic attacks, tied to R2 but wrapped around whatever principle weapon you’re currently wielding, with the Claws offering the most interesting choice despite the lack of power: the ability to summon the souls of various foes to fight alongside you for a short time. Item use and spell casting soak up their own reserves, and thus require top-ups gained from generously placed chests or via the skillful dispatch of key enemies with bigger combos and success at finishing move quick time events your best bet.
Combat itself is graceful and dynamic, your tactics shifting for each encounter and the choice of weaponry (switched on the fly with the d-pad) increasingly more important as you climb up the difficulty level (harder modes are locked until you beat the game on a lower setting). The game’s easiest mode is almost insultingly forgiving, but only the truly hardcore will master the death-dealing metal and be nimble enough with the items and magic to conquer Titan mode. Enemy patterns might be predictable but in numbers no amount of simple dodging and blocking (despite a clever parry function) will win the battle alone.
As the game flicks back and forth from epic, dazzling boss encounter to slower, puzzle based interior, so the game’s breathtaking visuals step up as required. During the most franctic action God Of War III’s motion blur, depth of field and inspired animation make the whole thing a rush to play through, and yet when faced with a moving block puzzle (of which there are several) the close-up textures are razor sharp, the lighting utterly mind blowing and the attention to detail in the minutiae at least the equal of anything Naughty Dog have produced on the platform.
Whilst there are a couple of moments in the game where the visuals aren’t quite up to scratch (a central character you’ll meet more than once always looks as if his higher resolution textures are still to pop in, Unreal style) it’s no hyperbole to say that the graphics are without a doubt the most impressive we’ve ever seen. Kratos steals the show as you’d expect, especially when he’s directly in front of camera, but the visual effects pulled off here by Santa Monica, some for the first time ever in a video game, are simply ridiculous, even after repeated play; fans of escher will dig one section late in the game.
Along with the musical score, which fits the action perfectly, and the deliberately overacted spoken lines, the technical achievements shouldn’t be underestimated. For a game of its depth, the fact that God Of War III requires no obvious installation time (if there’s a little, it’s hidden behind the first unskippable cut-scene) and no waiting between levels (the whole thing streams seemlessly) is bewildering when you consider how much third parties struggle with the Blu-ray format. Failure or death is followed by a brief pause whilst the game reloads the last checkpoint, but that’s it.
The game controls just as you’d expect, with fast, light attacks mapped to Square and heavier (and thus slower) attacks to Triangle. With L1 and R1 used as ‘shifts’ once you’ve powered up each weapon enough, there’s plenty of variety. Circle acts as grab and L3 and R3 trigger your powered up state, which just leaves Cross for jump. Frustratingly, double jumping was the cause of many a restart: for some reason the game fails to award you the extra distance entirely arbitrarily, leaving you to plunge to your death and a tread back to the last checkpoint far too often.
The game does play host to a few other inconsistencies, too – locking onto targets with your bow is automatic and thus in a crowded battle impossible to aim for yourself (same with the grab, troublesome in one area near the end); the circle highlights, which appear to start off a finishing move when your enemy is near death, don’t take priority if there’s a lesser foe in your path (at which point you’ll grab him instead) and the R1 context-sensitive options are annoyingly vague and often don’t show up until you turn around, walk away from the object in question and try again, presumably as the game is autosaving. Not game breaking, but disappointing.
Also spoiling the otherwise exemplary party is a substantial amount of repetition. We can forgive the ‘hub’ section as that’s integral to both the level design and much of the game’s exposition, but there’s one key moment in the game that you do three times, and the surrounding area (itself victim of a tired second visit) is problematic with a lack of direction and far too much reliance on what are frustratingly vague grappling hook tricks. It’s a shame that future playthroughs don’t have a level skip option, although platforming fans may well lap up the challenge.
Equally dumb is the forced, headline baiting sex scene. Thrown in seemingly to garner some column inches (which we’re sure it will, once the embargo is up) the whole sequence is cringe-worthy and embarrassing, completely at odds with the rest of the game and practically pointless with respect to the storyline other than to provide another arbitrary route back to the central hub. Still, whilst the game’s older audience will wonder why it was included, teenage boys will struggle to stifle a snigger – surely the developer’s goal.
Elsewhere, though, it’s simply one hell of a game. Seriously, there’s so much good here that any issues with the game’s occasional hiccups in pacing and difficulty curve are outweighed by a considered, powerful adventure that destroys anything else around at the moment. As a continuation of the current God Of War canon it’s nigh-on perfect and fans of the series will gloss over any of the above issues without thinking twice knowing that there’s always another boss battle around the corner more deserved of their attention in the game’s 8-10 hour storyline.
And on a technical level, from start to finish Santa Monica have managed to wrangle more out of the PS3 than anyone previously which has meant that their vision has had no obvious technical boundaries with getting the game onto a Blu-ray. With creative freedom, Kratos’s latest adventure is staggering in scale, superbly visualised and, for the most part, an absolute joy to play through. And most importantly, where it counts – the action sequences – God of War III is utterly umatched and unequalled, and therefore absolutely essential for action fans.
- Awesome graphics, taking visuals above and beyond what we’ve seen before.
- A sense of scale unmatched in the genre.
- A decent length adventure.
- Plenty of post-game treats to unlock.
- Issues with jump timing and other niggles spoil the overall impression.
Old characters come into play, old wounds are reopened and old friends part ways, but this is an all-new game and one that kicks pretenders to the throne into touch: Bayonetta’s sexuality is already old hat, and Dante’s descent into Inferno doesn’t hold a candle to the sheer technical grunt on offer here. Sure, we’ve already seen what Kratos is capable of, but this is the first time we’ve really seen what PlayStation 3 can do and thanks to Santa Monica Studios there won’t be a developer on the planet that isn’t looking at what’s been achieved here with envious eyes.
And there shouldn’t be a gamer that doesn’t get to experience their work. Sublime.