Review: ‘God Of War III’

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Kratos, in a rare lighthearted mood.

Maybe it’s just the total lack of sleep I’m suffering from after having played this game all night, but has anybody else noticed that “God of War” is Boris Vallejo’s idea of a Zelda game?

Think about it: It’s real-time hack-and-slash dungeon crawling. You get your weapons by defeating enormous, exaggerated opponents. About the only thing missing is an adorable princess, but this is because Kratos has, well, killed them all.

god war 3 206x300Anyway, now that the fanboy baiting is done, we really have to divide this review into two parts: what the game is like to play, and what the game is like as a story, mostly because the former is great (well, mostly) and the latter is a complete disaster area.

“God of War” was a good game crippled by a reliance on tactics we thought we were done with. Go ahead, play the Ares fight at the end of the first game, see if you have any flashbacks to all the insanely cheap fighting games of the ’90s. “God of War II” took the first game and improved on it substantially, cleaning up mechanics, adding new ones like the Icarus wings, and taking out all the annoying stuff. Gone were the stupid jumping puzzles!

Still, there were problems, most notably the weapons and the quicktime events. Nobody felt like using anything other than the trusty Blades of Athena, because the others just didn’t have an effect. You popped up the weapon, used the spell, and went back to the blades. And the quicktime events were all button-mashing, lightning-reflex affairs.

god of war iii fire titan 300x202The programmers solved this by making everything a variant of your main weapon. Sure, each one has different attacks, combos and spells, with the Nemesis Whip holding a special place in my heart (it stabs AND electrocutes, what’s not to love?) but as weapons they essentially function the same.

To give you an idea of how slickly this game is designed, you have four weapons, with one spell apiece, plus three items that serve various functions tied to the L2 trigger. And not only will you use all of them, it’s easy to use all of them and fun to use all of them. I was filling my enemies with arrows, then blinding them, then knocking them into the air like tenpins, and I wasn’t even using my main weapon.

Then there are the levels. “God of War III” pushes the PS3 to new heights graphically; you’ll be crawling all over Titans, soaring up the chain that holds the world together, and, of course, introducing huge hordes of zombies to your sharp little buddy. This game really brings the epic scale.

God of War 3 1833 300x187There are problems, mostly of the overstuffed variety. Apparently, every single mechanic that was popular when they were developing it just has to be integrated into the game, even if it makes no sense. Some of these are great; there are neat riffs on perspective in the quicktime events, for example. But then there’s stuff like a room featuring what look suspiciously like Portal’s, well, portals, and this game actually features a Guitar Hero-type segment as a puzzle, which would be forgivable if they turned up anywhere else in the game, or made a lick of sense otherwise, which they don’t. The annoying jumping puzzles “God of War II” got rid of make an unwelcome return, because apparently we just didn’t spend enough time trying to navigate chasms in this series. Also, get ready for them to roll out the “wave after wave of difficult enemies” trick not once, not twice, but at least four or five times.

But still, as a game, which is what counts, “God of War III” is fantastic, hack and slash at its finest.

Now, the story. Oh, man, the story.

I feel bad for Sony in some ways because, while this is a sincere and successful effort to make a great game, it’s also flagrantly an attempt to make art and on that level, it fails miserably. If the Saul Bass by way of Greek pottery cutscenes weren’t a big enough clue, there’s also the attempt to give the series a deeper point and Kratos some character development beyond “I stab things that are in front of me”.

Look, you can’t sympathize with Kratos. He’s a mass murderer. So trying to make him remotely sympathetic is going to fail, especially when you actually encourage the player to be a raging douchebag. Don’t tell me Kratos is just a sad puppy dog underneath it all. You had me use a coffin as a wrecking ball and drag some bimbo around to use as a doorstop, guaranteeing she’d be crushed to a bloody pulp. And especially don’t use a whiny thirteen year old girl who can’t shut up about hope. Pandora can’t take damage but oh, you wish she could. There’s one point where you can drown her, and I won’t lie, I did it a few times, I found the character that annoying.

Finally there’s the ending. The boss fight is great. I love the boss fight. But the ending is so horribly half-assed you have to wonder if they just ran out of time. It’s lame and worse, it’s unsatisfying. Let’s just say that all the claims that this is the finale of the series are blatant lies.

In short, as a game, “God Of War III” is great. As a story, it pretty much illustrates that games inspired by van art should really leave the storytelling to Hollywood.