God of War 3 was quite easily one of the most highly anticipated games from the first few years of the PlayStation 3 era. The second game had been an action packed swan song for the PlayStation 2, eking out every last ounce of power from the hardware, but fans of the series salivated at what Studio Santa Monica could do with the PlayStation 3 for the main trilogy’s grand finale.
As God of War 3 makes its way to the PlayStation 4 in yet another game remaster, it’s interesting to look back on the series and note that it was actually the God of War Collection that kicked this particular trend of porting older games to newer hardware into gear – a cunning move to let those that missed out on the PS2 catch up with the story on the PS3 before the sequel. It’s a trick that we’re now seeing Sony pull with the Uncharted series, and it’s not unfathomable to imagine that another God of War sequel is behind the release of this particular remaster.
Yet there’s also a very good argument to be made for the suitability of the God of War series for just such a treatment. There was a very obvious graphical gulf between the PS2 and PS3, which meant that the first two games would never pass for anything other than upscaled ports, but this series is partially defined by, and often maligned for, its fixed camera angles which strictly control what is on screen at any moment.
In terms of gameplay, it means that rolling to dodge can live on the right analogue stick and gamers don’t have to concern themselves with camera control, but it also allowed Studio Santa Monica to strictly control and balance all of the resources at their disposal. God of War 3 and the PlayStation 3 were easily capable of creating some of the grandest and most visually stunning scenes of the time as a consequence, opening with the perilous climb up Mount Olympus by an enraged army of Titans.
As Kratos rides up the mountain on Gaia, Zeus sends his cadre of gods on the counter offensive, sparking the quite incredible running battle with Poseidon and his Hippocampi beasts as her body moves and shifts during the titanic struggle. One minute, her forearm acts as a floor for you to do battle on, the next it’s a ceiling which he has to cling onto with the Blades of Athena.
In truth, this was already starting to push the boundaries of what the PlayStation 3 could do. The original goal of reaching the golden standard of 60fps had to be forsaken, as too was the notion of running at 1080p, and while the game still produced some of the very best visuals of the time, it was within 720p and with a variable frame rate that hovered between 30 and 60 frames per second, with the variability disguised with some liberal application of screen shaking and motion blur. The PlayStation 4 has no such limitations, running at what looks to be an absolutely locked 60fps and 1080p, and the PS3 pales in comparison when the two are put side by side, as in the above video – I recommend watching at 1080p60, if you can.
The PS4 helps to bring out the best in the game’s original artwork and design which, as already discussed, was able to punch above its weight thanks to the strict camera control. You can see some of the limitations, with a clearer divide in-engine sequences and compressed pre-rendered video, some obviously polygonal scenery, texture work that was hindered by the PS3’s pool of RAM, and so on, but Studio Santa Monica’s confidence and set pieces are more than capable of wowing, five years on.
It’s a little unfortunate that the lack of camera control comes to hamper the photo mode that is now built into the remaster. A quick click on the left hand side of the touchpad freezes the game, giving you options to zoom and pan your view, tweak bloom, brightness, add a filter or a border to the image, but it doesn’t let you alter the framing of the photo in any meaningful way. Presumably this is done because of the original game engine and camera restrictions, but while you can still get some interesting shots with a little forethought or luck, it would have been nice to have even minor camera angle adjustments to play with.
Whereas the God of War Collection was a welcome pioneer on PlayStation 3, God of War 3 Remastered finds itself in a very different landscape, where such remasters are oft bemoaned by the more vocal corners of the internet, though this is a transfer that has plenty of polish and of a game that stands the test of time. With a presumed sequel in the works at Studio Santa Monica, it’s good to get a little practice in with some angry god killing sooner rather than later.