Review: God of War III

If you haven’t played it yet, you should.

There is no question that the God of War series of games has been a hallmark of action gaming since the arrival of the original title.  While only playing through pieces of the first game, I borrowed my good friend DLB10000’s PS2 (well into the 360’s life cycle mind you), corded controller and all, and played through the 480p-enabled copy of God of War II to a thoroughly satisfying and epic conclusion (I still reserve the right to bitch about the QTE ending, as it seemed disproportionately difficult with the rest of the game).

In keeping with my tradition of getting a loaner console to play high profile games, I borrowed a PS3 (not from DLB10000) to chew through the recently-released God of War III.

I’ll say it again: if you haven’t played it yet, you should.

I’m going to avoid giving a recap of the old games or a rundown of the current game from a plot perspective, but sufficed to say, this game wraps up the trilogy neatly and with the same level of epic flair that the series has been well-known for.  What surprised me was that, for a game that has (let’s be honest) usually gratuitous violence and sexual content, there are moments of well-delivered voice acting, and even a few thoughtful moments on the state of humanity, and the concepts of sacrifice and forgiveness.  Please don’t misread this as a comparison to Braid or even Bioshock, but it was perfectly appropriate for the proceedings and lent just the right amount of weight to the head-ripping, gut-spilling good times that Sony Santa Monica serves up here.

Let’s talk about the good:

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– The graphics!  *gasp*  Whew.  This is a Herculean (yup, I said it) effort on the part of the developers.  Some of the moments actually equal pre-rendered offerings from other companies (that is no hyperbole).  The Kratos model in particular exhibits animation, texturing and layered special effects that never stop being incredible, from the title screen through the final sequence.  The other characters that are extremely impressive are the Titans (these are not the only “big” spectacle, but the only ones I will semi-spoil).  As you know from the ending of God of War 2, you and the Titans were scaling Mount Olympus to conquer Zeus.  In GOW3, the Titans are actual playable levels upon which you run around, and seeing these enormous beasts lumbering around you as you shift to keep your balance is just as awesome as it sounds.  There are very rare moments of weakness in the graphics (the handling of water/liquid is always a trick unfortunately, and never really feels like actual fluid), but as soon as you notice the tiniest of flaws, some jaw-dropping moment will whisk you away to Radville, and you’ll forget all about it.  The fact that a credible game can be built around such wondrous graphical prowess is a testament to great development.

– The sound is similarly well delivered; some highlights for me include the epic-but-never-too-epic delivery of voices from the Gods (I was particularly impressed with Hades and how they mixed his voice), as well as full use of the surround channels for special effects when appropriate (the souls falling to the underworld and screaming on the way down in the rear speakers never got old).  I wouldn’t call the soundscape “subtle” at any particular moment, but it’s always appropriate for the grand scale of this game.

– Gameplay-wise, God of War 3 is just as accessible as the previous games, with some added depth in the use of several weapons and items that can be switched to on-the-fly (and even mid-combo).  These are never put too far out of the way of the player, and all of them (when powered up) are viable options for combat.  My particular favorite was the Cestus; two enormous metal boxing gloves shaped like lion’s heads.  They hurt people in the matter you’d expect them to.

But what’s not really “working”?

– This is not a perfectly polished game; I ran into a couple of very strange bugs during my playthrough (connected to PSN and downloaded most updated patch), including falling through the scenery to my death and once I didn’t even appear when the game loaded up near the final moments of the game, also resulting in a “You Have Died” screen.  These were rare considering the overall size and scope of the game, but they bear mentioning, and in some ways it is a compliment to the rest of the game in that the vast majority of the experience was so flawlessly produced and delivered.

– The platforming sections (though they don’t really happen too often) are just not best-in-class.  The development team has made a conscious and deliberate choice to take camera control away from the player (as they have in previous God of War games).  For what it’s worth, I think this was the correct choice for this game, and it delivered moments of direction (and therefore storytelling) that you just wouldn’t get with a player-controlled camera.  What it means, however, is that sometimes you’ll have a fairly awkward perspective when jumping from one ledge to the next, and in some cases, it will result in your holistically unnecessary demise.  The moments are none-too-frequent as I mentioned, and the generous checkpoint system soothes the frustration.

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All in all, I can’t say this enough: this is an amazing game for this generation, and one that deserves to be played.  If you’re not a PS3 owner, go cozy up with your favorite PS3-toting buddy and give this game a play-through; you will NOT be sorry.

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