God of War III – The PS3 Attitude Review
But does the latest and final leg of Kratos’ story offer the experience that PlayStation 3 users crave, or is it a case of dressing the same old game in new clothes?
God of War III is the fifth game in the series, if you take into account the PSP and mobile phone outings, and brings the current story arc to a close for Kratos. On starting the game, you are treated to a Hollywood-style sequence that feels more like a set of opening titles, helping to build the anticipation that what you’re about to play is indeed an epic.
In terms of the plot, God of War III picks up immediately where God of War II finished. The war between the Titans and the Gods rages on, and our protagonist is hell-bent on destroying Zeus. In terms of this review, we will tell you no more about the storyline from that point forwards, as we want this to be completely spoiler-free.
What impresses us more than we expected, however, is the sheer scale of the world in which Kratos now inhabits. Although previous God of War games, even on the PSP, managed to show a good level of scale, God of War III takes this to new limits. The first 90 minutes of Kratos’ journey are, quite simply, one of the most impressive feats we’ve seen on the PS3 to date.
In terms of comparing the sensation to other games we’ve played across the years, GoW III offered the same kind of jaw-dropping awe that we felt the first time we played Shadow of the Colossus on the PS2.
Graphically, God of War III is the second game we’ve seen since Uncharted 2 that shows developers are really getting to grips with the hardware – the other being Heavy Rain. There is a lot of technical subtlety to what Sony Santa Monica have achieved with the visuals that ensure everything looks amazing, whilst moving smoothly and at speed.
Whilst not all the cut-scenes are rendered in real time, the vast majority of them are and those that are playing as ‘videos’ were created using the game engine, which means that you never get that feeling that you are playing a sub-standard render. Gaming and cut-scenes meld into each other seamlessly, and the result is impressive.
Equally impressive are the motion blur, depth of field and anti-aliasing effects throughout the game, helping to ensure that Kratos’ world not only looks fantastic, but moves dynamically as the action dictates. Sony Santa Monica developed an entirely new engine for the game, and we suspect this won’t be the last title that uses this impressive new platform.
As far as gameplay is concerned, anyone who has played any of the previous titles will be pleased to hear that the slick control mechanisms employed before are as present as ever here. The usual combination of buttons, analogue stick and shoulder buttons work just as they ever have done.
The positioning of some of the quick time event prompts, however, will be a little unusual for some people at first. Whereas in previous outings the buttons would appear centrally or close to Kratos, some of the QTE prompts now appear at the edges of the screen. The top of the screen denotes the Triangle button must be pressed. The right belongs to the Circle. And so on.
It can take a bit of getting used to, as your eye naturally tracks what is happening in the centre of the screen, so be prepared – especially if you’re using a huge TV – to be bouncing your eyes around the display more than usual. We never found it particularly uncomfortable, but it did take a little getting used to.
The usual gamut of weapons and moves are available to Kratos, such as the famous chained blades (this time, they’re called the Blades of Exile) and the mega boxing gloves (for want of a better term). In addition to the physical weapons, God of War III also offers some special ‘magical’ weapons that change dependent upon which weapon is being used at the time.
For example, when using the Blades of Exile, and once you’ve reached the point in the game when you can activate these powers, a quick tap of a shoulder button will bring forth a spiritual Spartan army who momentarily appear, surround you with shields and then attack the enemy with spears. Other weapons offer different effects, such as an ‘instant chimera’ that will attack your foes, or a ghostly archer that will help pick off enemies from afar.
As per usual, these attacks use up your ‘magic’. And just as before, getting hit will deplete your energy, as you would expect. The usual chests full of orbs that will refill both these bars are available, as are chests full of souls that you can trade in for weapon and ability upgrades.
New to the franchise is the ‘item bar’. Items act in a similar way to magic – use an item and the bar is depleted. Unlike the other meters, the item bar refills automatically. Items that Kratos uses in God of War III include the Bow of Apollo and Hermes’ Boots. This means you have to think about when you should use those items, as you won’t be able to use them again until the item bar has refilled.
The sound and music throughout God of War III is truly impressive. The choral and classical music that accompanies almost your every move builds, rises and falls with the pace of the action, which can be particularly brutal in this latest instalment. The sound effects are equally impressive and complement the gameplay perfectly, helping you truly feel every last beheading, quartering or gutting manoeuvre. Yes – you really can gut things in GoWIII.
Once you get past the opening 90 minutes and you start to settle into the game without your lower lip dragging on the carpet, God of War III settles into exactly the game you expected it to be. Whilst some may see this as a disappointment in that the latest chapter of Kratos’ story doesn’t innovate nearly as much as you might want it to, this reviewer found that the pacing of the game was almost perfect.
What is also apparent is that anyone – and we truly mean anyone – that is studying games development could do no worse than to look at GoWIII as the ultimate lesson in level design. There ought to be a master’s degree on the level design in God of War III – it really is that good. And whilst the first playthrough will glean a good number of trophies, the second not only offers a chance at some of the more difficult silverware but, thanks to one of the items you gain through the game, new areas to explore that ensure you’ll want to play the game through at least twice.
In addition to the chests that offer you the chance to refill your life and magic, you will also find that you can collect eyes, feathers and horns to eventually increase your life, magic and item bars. Each boss battle also reveals an additional bonus, in that a quick search of the area will no doubt glean a relic of some kind, so be sure to hang around once a major enemy has been defeated.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a true GoW title without a sex mini-game, and those expecting to give Kratos a happier ending than he probably deserves won’t be disappointed. As before, you won’t actually see what is going on, but you’ll be required to get into the groove with a range of jerking and thumb twiddling QTE requests that’ll help you imagine what is going on. Oh – and the whole thing will be narrated for you by two topless cohorts, so don’t play the mini-game in the presence of anyone remotely prudish, or you’ll have some explaining to do.
None of the puzzles in God of War III are particularly taxing, but they do offer a nice break from the relentless action you’ll enjoy in the rest of the game, and whilst the story isn’t going to win any writing awards, it is solid and – especially towards the end – offers answers for much of what Kratos has had to endure across the story arc. The people behind Lost should take note… it is possible to tie up all the loose ends after all.
Outside of the main story, which took this reviewer just over 11 hours and 30 minutes to complete in Normal difficulty, God of War III also features a Challenge mode and a Battle Arena to extend the replay value of the game. The harder difficulty levels are fairly brutal, however, so ensure you get used to the blocking and parrying timing before you embark on the quest a second time around. Simply running through, hacking and slashing as you go, will not get you very far.
We can’t recommend God of War III highly enough. Whilst some may feel that this latest in the franchise is just a prettier, larger scale version of everything that came before, the new features, pacing, sound, incredible graphics and sublime gameplay – not to mention the outstanding level design – ensure that Kratos truly reaches new heights.
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