It’s been three years since console gamers last saw Kratos storming towards the mountain where the Olympians resided. God of War II finished with a massive cliffhanger, which left gamers in the lurch, and eagerly anticipating the next chapter in the bloody adventures of the man turned god. Few franchises have made the generational jump successfully, and even fewer have had sequels as highly anticipated as God of War III. It should come as no surprise that Sony’s Santa Monica Studio manages to deliver the goods with God of War III, creating both a fitting and just conclusion to one of the most enjoyable trilogies in recent memory, as well as crafting a sure-fire contender for 2010’s Game of the Year. But, as Sony’s marketing campaign once claimed, “You are not ready.”
Picking up exactly where God of War II concluded, Kratos’ latest action-filled epic begins with the former god ascending Mount Olympus on the back of Gaia, one of the original Titans. Seeking to murder Zeus, as well as the rest of the Greek God pantheon, Kratos will let nothing stand in his way of revenge. Only with the help of Athena, and later, a mysterious ally, will you be able to overcome the obstacles the Olympians present to you, but as he’s proven before, nothing can stop Kratos from getting what he wants. Every single second of the game is filled with edge of your seat moments, vicious battles, and so much blood you’ll be wiping it from your screen. The story won’t take any unexpected turns, but that doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring. The franchise is known for smooth combat and huge boss encounters, but nothing you’ve seen to this point can prepare you for what lies ahead. Whatever your expectations, prepare to have them shattered. Sony’s made it no secret that this will be the last time players step into Kratos’ shoes, and this final adventure provides an appropriately fitting conclusion to the Ghost of Sparta’s story.
Santa Monica Studios has had the benefit of slowly developing the unbelievably rich and easy to use controls over the course of the last five years. Every nuance and subtlety has been perfected for this game, making God of War III’s combat controls the best to date. Many of the combos implemented in previous incarnations return, but there are tons of new weapons and magical items to play with to keep things fresh. Kratos still has his signature blades, but he’ll also come into possession of incredibly powerful gauntlets, and two new sets of chained weapons. Instead of getting magic from various gods, the spells learned are gained from individual weapon sets. For example, the standard blades summon a sampling of the Spartan army phalanx line, while the gauntlets produce massive shockwaves that send enemies flying. You’ll even be able to get your hands on some special weapons like the decapitated head of Helios and Hermes’ shoes. In addition to their capabilities in battle, the artifacts may help you find secret areas or progress through many of the game’s platforming portions.
The franchise’s signature quick-time events return as well, though there have been some improvements made. Button prompts now appear on screen in relation to where the buttons are on the controller, and though some may find this departure rather arbitrary, newcomers will find the layout of on-screen commands much easier to find and follow. Kratos does have a few new maneuvers in his arsenal this time around, though the most interesting are the new grapples. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the enemies surrounding you, Kratos can grab a foe, and can use him as a battering ram to clear the battlefield. Additionally, Kratos has a new weapon grapple, which he can use to latch on to a demon and pull himself close enough to drive a hefty knee into its face. This attack is a little unbalanced as it’s virtually unblockable, save for a few enemy types, and you can’t get hit while in the process of using the ability. You can potentially eliminate a screen full of enemies without taking much damage by simply repeating the move over and over again.
While God of War’s platforming has never been the most talked about aspect of the game, that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Kratos has plenty of new abilities at his disposal for traversing the various worlds he’ll explore. Artifacts like Hermes’ shoes and Helios’ head will be used again and again to make it through some to the game’s more interesting areas. Icarus’ wings are also back, though this time around they seemingly only serve to extend your double-jump length. Though there are some flying segments in the game, steering Kratos up, down, left, and right are the only controls you have. Platforming elements have also been implemented in many of the boss battles, helping create a sense of scale, as well as expanding the physical space in which you’ll do combat. The game’s puzzles are never complicated, and even though they don’t test your brainpower too much, the puzzles do provide a nice change of pace from the never-ending action. It’s easy to write off this third game in the series as being derivative, but if you look hard enough, and play long enough, you’ll find God of War III not only improves upon everything that came before, but it also sets a new bar of what gamers will expect from games in this genre.
Saying that God of War III is an impressive looking game might be one of the grossest understatements of the year. For the first time in franchise history, every single moment is rendered in-game, meaning there are no pre-made scenes or set pieces. When you see Kratos standing on the shoulders of a Titan, that’s all happening in real time. The moment the camera zooms in for a close-up, and you realize just how grand the scope of this game is, it’s truly amazing. The God of War franchise has typically relied on a fixed camera, but for this iteration, the camera lives and breathes like a character unto itself. Though you still won’t have control over the game’s camera yourself, director Stig Asmussen pushes the action with the camera nearly as much as he does with what’s happening on screen. One of the advantages of the world existing entirely in computer generated imagery is that there is no limitations on what angles and shots can be accomplished. God of War III takes advantage of this fact, blasting the viewer with swooping shots and rapid zooms that heighten action, which help show off just how beautifully detailed the game really is.
Check out the God of War III sex mini-game.
Character models in God of War are unbelievably rendered and look fantastic, as do the landscapes and architecture, but the real star of the show is Kratos. It’s clear from the moment he’s first viewed in close-up that much more time was spent on making Kratos one of the most incredible character models in a video game to date. Muscles flex, sinew pops, and for the first time in a game, a character’s physicality is actually felt. The work done to painstakingly recreate the anatomy of a man doing the things that Kratos does couldn’t have been easy, but the developer's efforts pay off in spades. Surprisingly, one of the more underappreciated aspects of a video game’s presentation, the lighting, is one of the most impressive facets of God of War III. Every weapon used creates its own light source, causing dynamic shadows and highlights to cascade off every surface and person on screen. Though it’s typically something we take for granted when playing a game, with God of War III it’s hard not to notice how much time and attention was paid to creating mood, atmosphere, and incredible effects through lighting. The voice acting, as always with this franchise, is impeccable. T.C. Carson has spent the last seven years bringing Kratos’ angry heart, bitter soul, and unrelenting spirit to life, and it’s truly a shame this is the last time we’re going to get to hear that familiar and frightening growl. Animations in God of War III are varied and incredibly real, and I have yet to see another game bring all the elements together as well as this long-awaited sequel.
If there’s one complaint to levy against this otherwise amazing game, it’s that God of War III is over too quickly. That said, I don’t feel shortchanged by the experience. Kratos is given a wonderfully epic farewell that would truly be a shame to miss, and every aspect of the game, from the controls, to the combat, to the presentation, is as close to perfect as perfect can be. Even if you’ve never played a single game in this series before, God of War III is a game you must play if you have the opportunity. You owe it to yourself, and the team at Santa Monica Studios, to play this game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more gods to kill.