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God of War III (PlayStation 3) artwork

God of War III (PlayStation 3) review


"A while back I wrote a review for God of War I. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I loved so much about the game, so I went with the standard “Kratos is a total bad-ass” angle and thus repeated what a thousand other reviewers had already said, many more eloquently than I did. Then I played God of War III and realized that brutality is not what made God of War great. "



A while back I wrote a review for God of War I. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I loved so much about the game, so I went with the standard “Kratos is a total bad-ass” angle and thus repeated what a thousand other reviewers had already said, many more eloquently than I did. Then I played God of War III and realized that brutality is not what made God of War great.

God of War III features Kratos at his most bloodthirsty. Angry, presumably at his inability to do anything of note during the second game, Kratos has upped his vendetta against his father to one against ALL of the gods. This quickly expands to include the Titans as well and then, perhaps in a bid for simplicity, anything living. God of War III is one man’s quest to bring Ragnarok to the world in as gruesome a fashion as possible. Kratos beats his enemies to death so ridiculously in this new installment that his actions in the first two games seem like episodes of Hello Kitty in comparison. Enemies have their entrails ripped out, their heads pulled off, and their own bones shoved through their eyes. Innocent bystanders are treated to death by plague and evisceration. Even the puzzles feature maiming. In God of War III, if someone is begging you not to burn them alive, that’s probably what you have to do next to proceed.

Based on the assumptions of my original views of Kratos, one would expect that these things would easily place his last adventure as the best yet in the series. Yet, God of War III didn’t capture my imagination or hold my attention the way the first installment did. Despite the grandeur of Kratos’ epic quest to end all existence, God of War III lacks character. That isn’t to say that it lacks characters. By the gods, no, the game is chock full of new faces for Kratos to crush. For the most part, these are interesting interpretations of the Greek legends. Hephaestus is a broken-down man driven crazy by his own machinations. Hera is a raging drunk. Hercules is a brutish oaf with a chip on his shoulder. Athena is a scheming bitch. The problem with these characterizations is that they aren’t explored, they are presented. The player is told how to feel about these characters before they have a chance to learn how to feel about them.

One glaring example of this is Hercules. The dude shows up more than halfway through the game to announce an age-old rivalry with Kratos, his voice filled with bitter rage as he spits accusations that have supposedly been on his lips for generations. I don’t know about other gamers, but I definitely scratched my head at that. After all, haven’t we followed Kratos through every moment of his life throughout the course of the series? Never before has a long-standing hatred between the sons of Zeus been mentioned. Things like this, which are presented to the player with all the fanfare of a major plot twist, feel shoehorned into the plot. It’s as if the writers said to each other, “this relationship would’ve been super cool if we had introduced it two games ago” and then decided to run with it. Even that might have been fine if they’d done something to develop it. Instead, it becomes just an excuse for a fight. Kratos beats his brother to death and gets on with life.

The Kratos that gamers were introduced to back in 2005 was a strangely sympathetic character. Despite his savage methods and his disdain for human life, his quest felt like one of redemption. He suffered for his brutality, he didn’t revel in it. Burning a man alive in the first game was more than a divergent game mechanic... it was a sacrifice, not only in the physical sense but also of Kratos’ waning humanity. Kratos was fighting against an enemy who literally embodied the destructive nature of war. If he was to succeed in his quest for redemption, Kratos would have to be more brutal, more savage, than Ares himself. By the time he emerged victorious from that battle, Kratos no longer had any trace of sympathy or emotion. He rose to the station of the one he had defeated, becoming that which he hated, the God of War. His redemption was also his downfall was also his ascension. That was a powerfully twisted journey for a character to take. By the end of it, we fully understood Kratos’ rage and bitterness. It was this which made his brutal actions so unique. After all, any video game character can pick up a blade and carve their way through living flesh. In Kratos’ case, such actions went beyond the cool factor and were explained as essential aspects of the character’s emotional deterioration.

What we’re left with by the third game in the series is a character that has gone far beyond deterioration. Despite the game’s thin attempts to add emotion back to the character, it is hard to think of Kratos as anything but a machine. Like the gods he murders, his motivations are never fully developed. Thus, despite the fact that God of War III features numerous Greek legends in a variety of intensely cinematic combats, none are as memorable as Ares. Ares was a monumental goal, an inevitable obstacle that Kratos would have to face to complete his development. This time around, the gods are just bosses. Similarly, Kratos is just a brute and his actions are just those of any video game character who wields sharp knives and carves up flesh for fun. Ultimately, God of War III is just another action game.

When you take the innovation and character out of a title, all that’s left to judge are technicalities. As an action game, there are technical things that are great about God of War III. The art direction, for instance, is fantastic. The Centaurs are probably the most memorable example of this, charging into battlefields with their spears raised high, their muscles glistening with sweat in the waning light of a dying world. Their movements are so well captured that they define the structural integrity of their bodies. As they twist their human upper-bodies to stab at Kratos you can see the lower horse-body curve in response to the shift in gravity. When they are finally brought down, it is to crash to the earth in an awkward twisting fall. High pitches screams escape their lips as Kratos rips open their abdomens, spilling steaming entrails onto the ground.

Then there are things that kind of suck, like the lame weapons. Of the four weapons you get in the game, three are near-exact copies of Kratos’ usual blades with slightly different move sets. Nor, aside from obligatory demonstrations of their slight differences, are you ever expected to make use of them. The Blades of Exile, easily the most powerful and versatile weapons in the game, are also the very first ones you get. The game has a smooth control system which allows the player to almost seamlessly switch between weapons and set up flows of combos, but there simply isn’t a reason to use it. This leads to another problem, as well, where many of the fights become bash-fests involving using your most powerful combo over and over with the occasional dodge thrown in. This is most evident during the game’s ultimate battle with Zeus. If anything proves that Kratos sprang from those golden loins, it is Zeus’ fighting strategy of using one or two moves and then dodging. The final fight is a drawn out affair full of cheap blocks and sparse hits from both parties. Those who were eagerly awaiting an intense showdown between father and son should go back to watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

For the most part, God of War III achieves what it set out to do. It maintains the well-produced gruesome aesthetic of the series and is fun to play. What it fails to do is create the same awed feeling that the first game still inspires in me. That we’ve been with Kratos so long is part of the problem. By this point in the series, we’ve simply seen too much of Kratos and his head-bashing tendencies. There’s nothing left for the character to show us. In the old Greek legends, a story was done when there was nothing left to tell. By that definition, I can’t help but feel that God of War should have ended five years ago, with Kratos sitting on his newly gained throne, staring into the future of mankind’s unending wars. That was the perfect chilling conclusion to the character. Taking it further has just lessened its impact with nothing new to say.

Rating: 7/10

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (June 02, 2010)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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Suskie posted June 03, 2010:

Both you and Zig seem to share similar views on this series, and it's very interesting to hear a take that completely differs from my own. Having now played the entire trilogy, I'd say that the plot is easily the weakest thing about the series, and that includes the first one. I judge these games as action games and nothing more, I think one of the reasons I enjoyed reading both Zig's review and yours is because you've both taken on a stance that never would have even occurred to me otherwise. And you both do a terrific job of selling your points. I don't agree with them, but well done!

My only suggestion with this review is to maybe divide that massive third paragraph into two smaller ones. Bit intimidating, you know? Otherwise, jolly good work.
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zippdementia posted June 03, 2010:

I agree about that paragraph. It bugged me posting it that way. I'll have another look and see what I can do!

I've been looking at other member's writing styles this past month and seeing what works for me. There have been some great reviews in the month of May, many of them from you, and I've been learning a lot about how better to put an alternative view out there. Glad it seems to be working.
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fleinn posted June 03, 2010:

"The Kratos that gamers were introduced to back in 2005 was a strangely sympathetic character. Despite his savage methods and his disdain for human life, his quest felt like one of redemption. He suffered for his brutality, he didn’t revel in it."

*nods* Good sentences. Have to admit that with the God of War games, I've always been stuck at the entire "taking figures from mythology and making you fight them" thing. I've never liked that. But.. I've always thought the character was a good one. If you ignore the entire butchering of Greek mythology business. He's.. a bit like Achilles, except he's not vain or blessed - instead he's that self-made man that simply embraces his fate without reservation or (much) regret. But not without understanding what he's doing.

So as action heroes go, he's interesting.

And I sort of thought Asmussen was all about promoting that personality in this game - nothing like that at all?

Liked the descriptions of the fighting, by the way. I've only played the demo - but the sameness of the moves, that's something that stuck me as well. I think I understood how to make things flow better after the.. ninth time I played through it, or something like that :D But before that it really was more fun to watch someone else play than play yourself.

That's still there as well...?
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zippdementia posted June 03, 2010:

Thanks for the comments, Fleinn! I think the first God of War captured the whole Greek thing better than any of the other games because its story builds off the same format as the classic songs, like the Odyssey. My favorite example of this is the "second ending" that is present in Greek epics and is also present in God of War (Kratos' death leads to a second ending in the form of the final confrontation against Ares and the return home).

The third game doesn't have nearly as cohesive a story, in my opinion. There are some cool attempts made with the character of Pandora but I was disgusted by how quickly that turned into the classic JRPG "friends are good and believing in yourself is awesome-possum."

As for watching God of War, I think it is fun to watch (my sister watched me play for, like, four hours one night and she NEVER does that). Probably because there's a lot going on at once that the player doesn't see. Like I was watching a clip of one of the battles last night and noticed that a Titan was moving around in the background... something I'd failed to notice while actually playing, so concentrated was I on watching the enemy for the proper time to dodge.

Dodging remains fun in God of War because the timing has to be just right. But it's diminished by the ultra-block button that you can just hold down with a rubber band while you go get a sandwich. That's a bit of an exageration, of course, but any GOW player knows what I'm talking about. The biggest problem is that there are two really useful combos (if memory serves me, it's sq. sq. tr. and tr. tr. tr.) that do massive damage, knock enemies back, and interrupt attacks. I tried to vary it up at times to make things "cooler" but I usually just ended up getting my ass handed to me. Enemies are sometimes impossible in God of War unless you fight cheap. Especially the fucking Satyrs. Gods of lust and drink, my ass.

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