Before I jump headfirst into this review, perhaps a little background information is in order:
I grew up on mythology the same way most children of the 80’s grew up on Hasbro toys like GI Joe or Transformers, Barbie or Cabbage Patch dolls, etc. I mean, sure, like any active 10 year old, I enjoyed toys and cartoons and video games, but mythology – Greek mythology – was so fascinating and it served as my springboard into science fiction, literature, religion, and philosophy.
The life-long fascination with Greek myths drew me to God of War. Now, although I had stopped playing games by the time the original game came out in 2005, I was easily intrigued with it when I visited another child of the 80’s who had a bigger video gaming addiction. God of War was a brilliant blend of the action platformer & the hack n’ slash game that mined the rich heritage of Greek mythology. The sequel, while being bigger and badder than the original, also ended on one of the greatest cliffhangers I’ve ever seen. Once I heard that the finale would be released on the Playstation 3, I bought it in advance- 3 years ago.
After two weeks of a steady diet of pre-release hype, my expectations shot to impossible heights – even tho I knew nothing could ever match that, I was properly geeked by the latest & greatest creation from the House of Santa Monica Studios.
You play Kratos, a dual chained blades wielding avenging son of Zeus who’s about to repeat the Titanomachy, the great war between the Titans and the Olympians, by riding on the massive back of Gaea, a 1,500 foot tall character as she climbs Mt. Olympus with half a dozen other titans.
During the first 20 minutes you fight off a gigantic horse-slash-crab creature with 4 tendrils that’s attacking Gaea, only to discover its’ Poseidon pet. The entire time, you’re running back and forth on Gaea, who’s also fighting this sea creature and the Olympian god of the sea. This is easily one of the most impressive openings of any game ever. On top of that, there are even more spectacular boss battles later in the game, and you will face a larger titan than Gaea.
One of the series’ selling points are the gruesome “brutal kills” you perform on each opponent, and morbidly fascinating fatalities you inflict upon each boss (Olympians, titans, plus one oversized scorpion). Makes you almost feel sorry for those poor bastards for finding themselves on the wrong end of Kratos’ twin blades.
However, there’s a formula to this series: begin with many abilities, then fall to hades, lose all your abilities, only to fight your way back and regain them, and fight a god in the end. God of War 3 is no different: you begin on Mt. Olympus, only to fall to the underworld and start over again. This isn’t bad in itself, but I was surprised that Santa Monica Studios went back to the well a third time.
Moreover, despite the tried & true formula, the gameplay has been polished to perfection, with the lone exception of an unforgiving jump button that punishes you the instant you hold it down a split-second too long before you press it again to execute a double jump move. The action buttons resemble soul caliber (vertical attacks, horizontal attacks, jump button, grapple).* There’s a lot of button-mashing, which makes the game accessible to the entry level player, but there’s also the more challenging puzzles that will test your patience in the later levels. One level reminds me of Escher’s drawings.
This time, the game improves on the quick-time battle, where you press random button and joystick motions to complete the fatalities to finish off the opponent whose health has depleted. This feature is much improved from the previous entries in the series – the according button is appropriately located on the screen as they are on the controller, instead of being randomly scattered that you have to search for them.
As i plowed through this game, I’m taken back to an obscure game on the Dreamcast – Berserk: Gut’s Rage, where you play a one eyed hero who wields a broadsword that’s nearly twice as long as he is, and from time to time, his rage meter fills and you unleash a pure & unadulterated killing spree. Also, the platform & puzzle elements take me further back to the early days of 3d gaming: Tomb Raider, where you solve a puzzle in order to unlock the door and advance to the next stage.
The animation and the graphics are easily the best in any game I’ve ever seen. Plus, the graphics of Kratos when you maneuver him closer to the screen is so detailed you can see the pores on his skin.
The story is pretty consistent, but nothing spectacular. In fact, i thought the story was less impressive than the previous entry, God of War 2, where they reinvented the role of the Moirae, the Fates, and the Isle of Creation. Kratos is entirely too one-dimensional of a character to have much pathos, but perhaps that’s part of the Greek mythos – a tragic hero hellbent on revenge. Also, despite all the vividly detailed gore, the fountains of gushing blood (and some hanky panky with Aphrodite that’s off-screen) i didn’t think God of War III went as far as some of the more horrible tales of mythology that’s actually based on horrific sexual abuse (incest, rape, mutilation, etc).
A few things regarding the mythology itself: Artemis and Apollo and Demeter are absent. Gaea isn’t technically a Titan; she’s their mother, yet the game continues to lump her with her children. There are no Hecatonchires (the hundred armed & fifty headed beasts that helped Zeus overthrow the Titans). Rendered on the gorgeous GoW3 engine, they would be even more awe-inspiring than the titans.
Final Rating, based on the 1 to 10 scale.
But before i arbitrarily decide on a number I should insist on a number that’s precedent-dependent and context-dependent. A game with 10 is like Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast. Completely flawless.
A 9 would be Grand Theft Auto III on the PS2 or Flashback on the Sega Genesis. Near-perfect, trendsetter. an 8 would be the majority of the great games, but the chief drawback would be their derivative nature, or the console’s natural evolution (programmers becoming more familiar with the limits of the hardware).
I grade God of War at 8.5, based on its amazing graphics (10), gameplay (9), and story (7).
If you like spectacular graphics and polished gameplay, and don’t mind a little blood, plus some 10 to 15 hours of R & R, then God of War 3 is for you.