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God of War III (PlayStation 3) artwork

God of War III (PlayStation 3) review


"Five minutes into God of War III, the game was already such a grand, glorious spectacle that it permanently skewed my perception of what can be done in a video game. A shot from the gameís first level might reveal Kratos confronting a horde of demonic soldiers in a lush forest, and itís a scene that would make any other game blush; the impeccable attention to detail is even easier to admire in high definition, and as our protagonist slings his blades through the air, itís a testament to m..."



Five minutes into God of War III, the game was already such a grand, glorious spectacle that it permanently skewed my perception of what can be done in a video game. A shot from the gameís first level might reveal Kratos confronting a horde of demonic soldiers in a lush forest, and itís a scene that would make any other game blush; the impeccable attention to detail is even easier to admire in high definition, and as our protagonist slings his blades through the air, itís a testament to modern gaming that something so beautiful can remain so consistently fluid. And then the camera pulls back. Why is the ground shaking? Why is the backdrop moving? Itís because Ė lo and behold Ė weíre standing on the shoulder of the earth titan Gaia, who is herself battling Poseidon while the other titans storm the slope of Mt. Olympus around her.

Just when you think even the mighty PS3 engine couldnít possibly take anymore, just when you think the shot will cut away, it doesnít. Kratos himself is a disturbingly lifelike sight to behold, yet as the camera sweeps and pans every which way throughout the entirety of this sequence, Sony Santa Monica are constantly reminding us that they havenít yet even scratched the surface of what they can accomplish. How does a spectacle of such monstrous proportions run so smoothly and seamlessly throughout? How can they show us what theyíre showing us without a single interrupting loading screen or distracting framerate dip? How do they do that?

Poseidon himself uses his command of seawater to balloon to around ten times his normal size, bewilderingly sprouting tentacles with horse heads and spider legs on each end Ė just go with it Ė that drill through Gaiaís stony hide. Kratos battles several of these as he struggles to stay aboard the titan, dangling from her enormous limbs throughout and even travelling inside of her body at one point. The climax of the encounter comes when Kratos rips Poseidon from his watery shell and proceeds to beat the living crap out of him the old-fashioned way: through quick-time events. Except itís shown from Poseidonís perspective, and the brawl concludes with Kratos gouging the sea godís eyes out with his thumbsÖ an action the player mimics by clicking the two analog sticks simultaneously.

Are you sold yet? Well, donít get too excited. Once the first level is over, God of War III turns into a regular old action game Ė a very good one, mind, but one that rarely delivers on the promises presented in its first half-hour. If youíre disappointed, imagine how I felt.

The God of War series may be the victim of its own success. While I donít have much experience with the series Ė this is the first one Iíve played all the way through Ė Iíve certainly seen its influence, not just in direct rip-offs like Danteís Inferno, but in the action genre as a whole. By now, weíve seen fast, visceral combat. Weíve seen cinematic finishers punctuated by quick-time events. Weíve seen angry, bloodthirsty protagonists. God of War IIIís one defining attribute is its emphasis on over-the-top spectacle, and yet itís almost more punishing to get only a few tantalizing glances at what could have been done than to get nothing at all.

None of this is bad, mind you. It just means that God of War III, all said and told, is simply a video game, and every time Iíd hoped it would rise to something more Ė as Uncharted 2 proved, a game can achieve greatness through theatricality alone Ė I was abruptly pulled back down to Earth. For all of the seriesí hype over being a ďcinematicĒ experience, the story is disappointingly dry, with perfunctory dialog delivered with excessive self-importance by voice actors who are trying too hard. The plot itself is little more than a series of confrontations with iconic mythological figures, and you get the sense that Sony felt the last two games were underachieving and thus set out to have Kratos murder every single god who wasnít already slain in the previous installments.

It ultimately feels a bit overstuffed. Youíd think the battle with Hades would carry quite a bit of weight, but itís just another boss battle against a big, ugly monster. Maybe Kratosís contempt for all of these characters was believably conveyed in the last two titles, but God of War III has little time to dwell on the death of one god before hastily moving on to the next. Confrontations that should feel monumental Ė and this is a series that has earned a living by feeling monumental Ė donít. Even your final encounter with Zeus is just a punch-up with a bearded guy; a passerby wouldnít realize itís even a boss battle, let alone the finale of a so-called epic trilogy.

On the other hand, though, if God of War III is ďsimplyĒ a game, it does a terrific job of ďsimplyĒ being a game, with combat thatís as fast, deep, fluid and consistently entertaining as any other action title on the market. The timing couldnít be better, either: With the repugnant Danteís Inferno still fresh in our memory, itís fitting for this gameís inspiration to follow immediately afterwards and remind us how itís done. That the first few hours are spent trekking through the Underworld is something Iíd interpret as an ironic jab to Visceralís depiction of hell had God of War III arrived just a little later.

Hell, getting locked in a small room and being told I canít leave until Iíve slain all of the (repeatedly respawning) enemies within is a design choice Iíd attribute to laziness in any other game, yet God of War III is deep and varied enough to get away with it. Iíll spare you the details on every single move in your arsenal (aside from a brief shout-out to the sick-nasty new ranged grab), but Iíll remind you that much of this seriesí success stems not simply from the fluidity with which you can unleash Kratosís rage on his sorry-sap foes, but from the very things youíre doing in the first place. One of the finishers has Kratos ripping the horn from a beastís head and then impaling him with it, and if thatís not the sort of thing to get your blood pumping, Iíd have to wonder why you got into gaming in the first place.

Amidst the vast carnage, God of War III even comes across as a rather thoughtful game. The puzzles are surprisingly clever (one involving perspective changes is devilishly inventive), and their incorporation into everything else youíre doing is rather graceful. Even more impressive are the constant attempts to mix up the various battle scenarios not simply by giving us new enemies to kill, but by rearranging the circumstances in which we fight. I recall with a smile a brief sequence in which I was trapped in a giant cube, with insta-kill spikes protruding from each side. The only way to stay alive is to repeatedly latch onto flying enemies Ė a technique youíre taught earlier as a means of extending jumps. Even if God of War III isnít the wall-to-wall spectacle youíd anticipate, itís still filled with memorable little moments like that.

But you know all of this. All signs point to God of War III being a fun, challenging and exciting action game that grips you till the very end, and while this is no small feat, thatís really all it is. The absolutely astonishing opening sequence paints a picture of a product that is not screwing around, yet only once does the game even come close to matching its promising start. (I wondered for much of the game if I would ever fight one of the titans. The answer is yes.) For all of the sweeping camera shots over each elaborately designed set piece, for all of the shrieking choirs and wailing strings in the orchestra, God of War III is simply an action game. Try not to get caught up in its rich production values and youíll still have an awful lot of fun with it.

Rating: 8/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (April 08, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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zippdementia posted April 08, 2010:

Another good God of War review! I'm running out of things to say in my own attempt! I've got an angle though... wait for it...

Suskie, out of curiousity, did the "new" weapons bug you at all for being so damn similar?
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Suskie posted April 08, 2010:

I never used the hellhooks. I remember the electric Wolverine claws had a cool base triangle attack that seemed good for juggling but I never really got into those either. They were both just copies of the Blades of Exile, which I'd already focused on leveling up by the time I got new weapons. The gauntlets were fun, though, if a bit spotty. The crystal scorpion was kind of annoying because you had to use them.

Thanks, by the way. I wasn't sure what to think about this review, since it takes a very disappointed tone working up to the conclusion that yeah, of course it's good, because it's God of War.
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honestgamer posted April 08, 2010:

I thought that this review was excellent. It seemed like a fair look at the game that mostly aligns with what I expected of it from the previews. You do a nice job of acknowledging strengths in the franchise and showing how they apply for this newest game without gushing about them. It makes me want to play the game, even as I realize that there are others I should probably play first.
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zippdementia posted April 08, 2010:

The punchy-gloves are by far the most powerful weapon in the game, kind've making the Athena Blades (blades of exile) useless except for their range.

The one improvement over the last games, in terms of weaponary, was that it was nice having items like the bow and shoes be separate from magic and the magic abilities were far more useful than they've ever been before.
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darketernal posted April 09, 2010:

I didn't yet play this one, but I know in both God Of War and GoW II I never used any weapon instead the default one. There was absolutely no need for it.
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zippdementia posted April 09, 2010:

Are you kidding me? The Blade of Hermes is bad ass.

But yeah, I guess it is unnecessary.
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zippdementia posted April 10, 2010:

Gonna be crude here for a moment, but did anyone else think God of War III's ending was shit?
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Suskie posted April 10, 2010:

I think it was needlessly drawn out for how ridiculously underwhelming the fight itself was. Although I did like the one quick-time event where you were punching Zeus and the game wouldn't continue until you stopped. That was clever.
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True posted April 10, 2010:

Although I did like the one quick-time event where you were punching Zeus and the game wouldn't continue until you stopped. That was clever.

And the screen filled up with so much blood you couldn't see anymore? Yeah, that was fucking brutal. Though, I must agree with Zip. The ending--considering this was the closing act of an epic--was really lacking. I can't complain too much because the entire game kicked ass, but a little more effort would have been appreciated.
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Suskie posted April 10, 2010:

And the screen filled up with so much blood you couldn't see anymore? Yeah, that was fucking brutal.

I was probably hitting the circle button for a full minute wondering when the scene was going to continue and I was getting really annoyed, then I just stopped and realized I'd fallen right into the game's trap. Like I said, clever.

Edit: Oh, thanks, Jason! Forgot to say that.
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zippdementia posted April 11, 2010:

Yeah, I did the EXACT same thing! I thought my game had frozen and I was like... fuuuuuuck, now I have to do that fight all over again? Then, yeah... I got it.
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randxian posted April 11, 2010:

This review is certainly well written and high quality, but I feel at times it tries too hard.

It's obvious you are passionate about this game, but at times you sound a bit too hyperactive about it. For example, "and if thatís not the sort of thing to get your blood pumping, Iíd have to wonder why you got into gaming in the first place" feels over-the-top.

Again, this is clearly a good, well written review; it just didn't click with me.

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