Game Title: God of War III
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): Playstation 3
When Does an Epic Become Too Epic?
It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve had a chance to play through God of War III and think about my feelings towards this obviously well-crafted game. It’s taken me some time to articulate what the overall experience was in terms of how it met my expectations, how it wrapped up the story of its lead, Kratos, and what this game means for epic event games moving forward. Ultimately I came away feeling impressed with the construction of the game as a thrill ride but a little bummed out by the lack of real evolution since God of War II on the PS2.
The Story of a Godkiller
GOWIII takes place almost immediately after the last game, with Kratos mounted on the back of Gaea as she leads the other Titans in an assault on Olympus. Kratos is looking to straight-up murder Zeus and doesn’t mind cutting his way through any of the remaining gods (and demigods) that get in his way. The story will have players scaling Mount Olympus, laying siege to Hades, and negotiating a labyrinth in the search for the lead character’s revenge.
The game looks great – but of course looking like a few million bucks is kind of the trademark of the series. The most standout piece of animation is the character of Hephaestus (voiced by Rip Torn) whose eyes roll crazily in his over-large head and whose body language conveys volumes of pathos in his prison in Hades. He’s one of the few emotionally engaging aspects of the entire experience.
If you were looking for a complex ending to the story, then modify your expectations now: it’s all about Kratos being the same angry, kinda-dickish character he’s been in the last two games (and the PSP sequel) with the only difference being the settings. That was actually a bit of a virtue in the previous games – everything about the character read rage and violence, from his design to his move set, to the voice work by Terrence Carson. His single-mindedness was in a dark way sort of appealing in the previous installments, given how rare it is to play a downright son of a bitch in a game.
Here though, the shtick wears thin by about the midway point. It’s supposed to be the end of the characters journey – his thematic arc and all you really get is the same sort of hyperaggression and no real story beats – just setpieces. There’s a couple of really unearned turns at the end that maybe attempt to do something different with the character emotionally but it comes too little, too late. The most apt comparison I’ve heard so far is from the crew over at Giantbomb during a recent podcast where someone Kratos’s story to a bunch of Slipknot lyrics in video game form: “I’m mad at you, dad, and I’m gonna do a bunch of violent stuff! Rawwr!”
But the game is called God of War, not God of Emotional Actualization so how’s the actual warfare shake out?
Cutting Your Way Through Olympus
If you’ve just put down your copy of GOWII then you’ll slip right into its sequel which pretty much brings back the mechanics from the previous game with some minor tweaks to Kratos’s attack speed and a couple of new weapons. Other than that, expect the same fixed camera, the same climbing sequences, more double jumps and glides, and more chests filled with white, green, or red orbs. There’s of course the large-scale boss battles for which the game is famous, the numerous QTE’s allowing you to ride the back of a Cyclops, the occasional puzzle, and quite a bit of backtracking.
In short, it’s God of War, folks.
Working from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” play book, Sony Santa Monica has pretty much kept the gameplay and structure intact from previous installments. This isn’t a bad thing per se when you evaluate the game in a vacuum.
But since the release of the first installment back in 2005, the game has created a cottage industry of imitators in the realm of 3rd person hack-n-slash games. Still, it’s disappointing that no new ideas have been added across the console generations, and while it never comes across as stale there’s nothing here that’s going to wow you, either.
That actually sums up the game play experience in its entirety – while the cinematic aspects are very cool and add to the experience, the actual 8-10 hours you spend playing the game will never really wow you or make you feel especially powerful. Couple that with the odd decision to add several new weapons that are essentially variations on your default Blades of Chaos and the grand experience of playing a new God of War title starts to feel a little small.
The Continuing Adventures of Kratos
It’s not really a spoiler to say that the ending of the game leaves room for a sequel in the future. Here’s hoping that Sony takes the opportunity with a future installment to give players something new and return to innovating 3rd person action as they did 5 years ago.
Here’s a trailer for the game: