A Frankenstein assembly of a visual Masterpiece...
March 30, 2010 - God of War III is the conclusive adventure of the story of Kratos and his quest for revenge against the Gods of Olympus. Showcasing the graphical power of the Playstation 3 console, Sony Santa Monica Studios has been able to render a truly gorgeous looking game, although flawed in areas where previous games in the franchise had mastered. Rating a game within a series is different than any one stand alone product because you can't just pin it up against other games within the same genre. I think 3 key factors weigh in rating a game from a series. A) It's improvement over the previous installment B) How it fares over other games in the same genre released within a reasonably close time frame ( 12 months or less ) and C) If the story is a continuity, where does the new release stand, does it progress the story - God of War II - , pre-date the main story - Devil May Cry 3 - , change the story - Ninja Gaiden Black - , or ends the story - Metal Gear Solid 4? ( Legend of Zeldas and Final Fantasy games do not apply here ).
When God of War came out for the Playstation 2 back in 2005, I was weary of a game based off the lore of Greek mythology could be pulled off successfully. Mainly because of both the constraints and freedom available to the developers in creating a game in that world; the average person's conception of the Mythos would be their constraints and the depth of the mythology's characters and stories would be their freedom. Factor in that it had been well over a decade since a good game with the same theme had been released ( The Battle of Olympus for the Nintendo Entertainment System way back in 1989 ) made you wonder why other companies had stayed away from that storyline for so long. Sure similar games had borrowed enemies or bosses from it, but none had taken it head-on to make it the main thread of their adventure since then. So I waited. I was waist deep into a certain game called Resident Evil 4 at the time to care about God of War at all, and then it turned into my favorite game of all time so I thought Kratos and his quest for revenge could rot in Hades for all eternity for all I cared...but then Resident Evil 4 came in 2nd place to Santa Monica's new franchise as it won Game of the Year honors...and I was intrigued. I waited some more...then Sony finally placed the game into it's 'Greatest Hits' Collection and at the price tag of $20 bucks, I decided to give Kratos a chance.
I was fresh off beating Soul Reaver 2, an average third person action adventure game but with the best story telling I had ever seen in a videogame, worthy of an Academy Award of some sort, so I was a bit familiar with the new direction the God of War franchise had taken in the genre; action, puzzles, adventure, and the exceptionally well used 'Quicktime Events' which spawned all over the game allowed for more interaction by the player when defeating either enemies or bosses became a huge step forward for the genre and the industry as a whole. God of War held its own and delivered. Its sequel was even better and vaulted into my top 5 games of all time upon completion, and one of the few games I have ever beaten on the hardest difficulty level ( Resident Evil 4 included ). What was amazing to me was how well the story was told and weaved into great gameplay and innovative level design, splendid environments and astounding bosses.
Now to God of War III. Coming in I knew that the Creative Director for the previous game had left the studio completely as seen in the Special Features section of the disc of that game...and I had a notion of how games are made/ who has nay says and so forth but I did not think that the impact of his departure would be this evident or have a negative effect on the conclusion of the franchise, yet in my opinion they did. Instead of a 'Return of the King' conclusion to a trilogy we got more of a 'Matrix Revolutions' end to the story...good as a stand alone sci-fi movie, but pales in comparison to its place within the series and the weakest movie of the three. I will dissect everything that went well and wrong with this game, removing any biased feelings for or against it by being as objective as possible several days removed from beating it. The game begins where the last one ended, Kratos riding Gaia climbing their way towards Mount Olympus along with the other Titans on their mission to kill Zeus and end the reign of the gods.
PRESENTATION: Very good, style used represents the series well. Summary shown at the intro makes it a good reference for newcomers to the franchise, narration in 1st person is a fresh change on occasions. The CGI scenes blend in favorably with the in-game graphics engine, massive scale used exemplifies the firepower the Playstation 3 can withstand. Although the variety of presentations is limited when it comes to the story, Kratos is not a character with enough depth to warrant more. Menu follows pattern of previous games on higher resolution, thus keeping it familiar to the player.
GRAPHICS: Outstanding. Hands down the best looking videogame I have ever played. What's even more amazing that the graphics are spectacular is that this is Sony Santa Monica Studios FIRST Playstation 3 game and the fact that they nailed it on their 1st try is a testament to their exceptional animation team who had already pulled off the unbelievable on the PS2 the last time around. Kratos looks unbelievably detailed, backgrounds look alive and the lighting effects are fantastic. Enemies and bosses look better than anything else that came before it, the quicktime events seem more engaging and fierce and the framerate is very good. Slowdowns or errors occured only because of something I will touch in on in the next segment. The only game I know can match it's graphical prowess is Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but since that game sits under the umbrella of the stealth genre I do not play, God of War III game will remain atop my list for a couple of months. I say months because the same guy who created the Metal Gear Solid franchise, whose games have turned out to be one of the most graphically advanced and exceptionally well written games in every installment, in the 'history of histories' has taken up the reins for the next Castlevania title that comes out later this year ( Lord of Shadows ). So Kratos can brag...for now.
SOUND: Mediocre. This is one of the disappointing parts of the game. When it comes to sound it does not refer solely to music. The music is very good, hand in hand to the theme of the series, epic sounding, fantasy land galore and well orchestrated. However, sound also applies to sound effects, and herein lies the absence of them. Most effects of the game pertaining to sound, even more the effects emitted by the main character you control, are poor, absent or nonwithstanding. I say this because right after the game crashed and I was staring at the blank TV screen while I was thinking whether my roommate had purchased the extended warranty on his PS3 that I was playing in, or whether software can harm hardware evident when I melted all of my PC's motherboard's transformers into oblivion while I was rendering a design that was too much for it to handle, I came to the conclusion that the Sound was actually giving the game errors here and there. Errors that actually affected gameplay, graphical slowdowns, movement of enemies and the like. More than many occasions I would traverse through areas with no sound, music or effect to be heard. The clashing of weapons, the successful block of an attack, the change of materials in the paths you waltzed through...low quality or barely heard. None happened at the same time, but music would not start sometimes, or other times would start when enemies appeared, etc. The most notable of this mishap comes with the Golden Fleece. This is the armor Kratos wears on one of his shoulders/arms and is used for blocking attacks. It very famously blocked, deflected and shot back any and all projectiles launched his way last time around; I say famously because that is the only way you could defeat the last boss in the previous game when you shot back his lightning attacks, and the fleece made a distinct sound when you had successfully blocked a projectile that you could shoot back to your foe. Unbelievably, that sound effect was nowhere to be found and you are left here with the fleece's glow or glare visible only through the incredible graphics engine that powers the game. Seems strange that a feature mastered on lower caliber hardware ( the Playstation 2 ) could be so notably absent or mishandled on a higher end machine. I doubt that they meant for everyone to play it on Dolby 5.1 because odds are high most gamers don't have a Surround Sound system to go with their PS3's even if they possess a good quality HDTV.
GAMEPLAY: Some people will hold an argument against the gameplay mechanics this time around in God of War III, more so because of the lack of depth and the 'more of the same' snag that hits some games after a couple of sequels. This games does suffer from this, mainly because of the lack of use of other weaponry. Kratos still holds what they call in this game the Blades of Exile, which is basically a different incarnation of the same weapon Ares forged into his arms in the first game. If you are good enough, you can go through the entire game without switching into any of the other 4 weapons you get in the game and you can also refrain the use of other skills that allow you to hurt enemies. I got to the very last version of the last boss by using just two and then decided to 'try' another weapon to see what it looked like. As Castlevanias will have the Vampire Killer whip, Ninja Gaidens will slice and dice with the Dragon Sword, God of War has his Blades of Chaos. But most franchises offer other weaponry not for the sake of variety, but because at some point in the game you NEED to use a certain one to be able to advance or beat a certain boss.
This formula has been around too long to pin down a game or a year, yet it continues to work very well when not used excessively. So that part was a letdown when ( again ) the last game had successfully weaved them into the gameplay fluidly. Even the bow you use now seems to be justified only to traverse through some large gaps in some levels, although that one I blame on the level design, but I will weigh in on that one in the next segment. The 'Rage of the Gods' is less effective in this game, as you use it more so because you have it and not because you might NEED it to your advantage in tight situations. Slowdowns occur here and there, not while facing hordes of enemies but rather on strange sound glitches sprayed throughout the game. The camera is fantastic, and the cinematic feel of the series is continued on here to very good taste. It is the best use of a static camera that I have played on so far, and they managed to focus on and in when they wanted to raise or lower the importance of an area, enemy fight or hide items. It is good to note that I am not a fan of this type of camera, mostly because at some point you know it is going to betray you, hide your character or boss from the action and cost you a life. This team has mastered the use of it and it is clearly visible; should other games come up with this type of result I would probably ease my stance on it. Another example of the lack of depth on the character is the absence use of items, whereas Kratos still needs chests to restore magic and health; I doubt Zeus would have purposely left them scattered all over Olympus so his prodigal son can conveniently use them on his vengeful quest to assassinate him. Movements in general are smooth, response time is very good and the quicktime events prompts are better laid out this time, displayed across the edges of the screen coherent to the button you need to push, thus letting you actually see the move or damage you pull off.
LEVEL DESIGN: Here, as they say, is where the plot thickens...I have huge problems with the level design. If you were to venture through the game by the sole use of portals, the levels would have made a lot more sense. It is not possible to lay out a map of the entire structure of the game in two dimensional form because it escapes the possibility. There is a certain level where I first noticed the discrepancies coming afloat when I was going to the right the whole time and I came out all the way to the LEFT of the starting point of the level. Their vision of Mount Olympus was one of a huge mausoleum sitting atop all the levels, somewhere below it there is a crate filled maze, below that the underworld exists and somewhere in between other worlds open through some doors. There is no coherent transition from one place to the next and most areas suffer from a complete disassociation from each other. I mean, it cannot be both molting hot and freezing cold in the underworld, I'm sure it can be one of those, but not both! You have to revisit certain areas multiple times, and that is a quick indication of poor quality in the way the levels were conceived and/or laid out. These types of games are pretty linear in 'the way you have to go' feature, and although some games offer the ability to revisit the areas for exploration ( finding hidden items mostly ), this is not offered to progress the storyline.
After my third flight through the 'Icarus tunnel' I was rather getting annoyed...once was cool, twice was ok, thrice was boring. Some levels left more to be desired as well. I was surprised to see that there was no water level to be conquered, you do kill Poseidon, on land, but his chambers are as dry as can be. I thought he would have gotten better treatment in the game being the 2nd most important God of Olympus...yet you do get to swim in the game, just for the sake of traveling because there are no items to be found in the water or enemies to fight much less bosses to kill in it. Funny this feature was also absent as in previous installments this type of level had been pulled off successfully. Puzzles this time around are on the easy side, with one maybe two giving you a stop and think moment. My favorite level is Tartarus. This is the area where the Titans and Gods fought in the great war, yet appears to fit behind a bronze door in the level of Hades. Although the entrance to this world is highly questionable, the world itself really hit what had been the theme of the series up to this point. It was arid, epic and handled scale at a massive pace. I really felt like I was playing God of War again, whereas most parts of the game you can replace the main character Kratos with another one and re-brand it and not miss a beat. The level with the biggest divorce issue is by far The Labyrinth. The most commonplace association with a labyrinth would be 'getting lost'. There is no getting lost in this level. It is a straight shot through, preceded by a puzzle garden and then followed by huge wooden crates moving around that basically reduce Kratos to a character from the Alice in Wonderland level from Kingdom Hearts. I gave the level the pass at first until I fought a giant Scorpion on top of one of the huge crates, then I started to think something was off and I kind of wasn't playing God of War anymore...so while I am dodging and killing this beast I'm thinking huh this is a strange labyrinth...wait a minute...THE Labyrinth, which the same Daedalus had designed and where Theseus slayed THE Minotaur...here I knew the wheels had come off for sure as far as the level design went AND creative progress of the storyline. The level design suffers from lack of fluidity, creative puzzle solving, and a complete disassociation within the parts to make the whole one cohesive world visibly understandable to the keen eye; the end result was a monster of a world stitched together in bad taste. Seems like every one in the Level Design department went out and did their job separately and they Lego-ed it together. Here is one part where the creative direction was lacking...
STORY: ...and here is the other. It is a head-scratcher of a story they tried to conclude the journey of Kratos with, and a disappointment in how they failed to capitalize on the great storyline laid out in the first two games. Huge pot holes consist of how Athena, after 'becoming one with The Force' apparently, seems to have survived the blow that killed her, even when she had sacrificed herself to save Zeus in the previous game, now wants him dead...Kratos starts out fighting with the Titans, then they turn on each other because...they want to be the one to kill Zeus?...the use of Herm es in the storyline, he neither gives you an important skill or has an impact in the game whatsoever...the dismissal of Hephaestus, god of fire and forge. He could have been a god to reckon with more than Hermes, who is dead last in the totem pole of the Twelve Olympians...how Zeus continues to tell Kratos ' you have defied the gods for the last time' or 'I will put up with your insolence no longer' and yet the world along with Mount Olympus is ( literally ) crumbling to the depths of an abyss, falling into the ocean filled planet at this point...the absence of encountering Kratos family ( for real ) at any point within the game did not add any closure to his quest either, I mean their deaths is what started his adventure in the first place...When I started to play I thought about Kratos dying at the end of the game in the same veins of Maximus Decimus Meridius from Gladiator, reuniting with his family in the afterlife, The End...for them to try and pursue more out of a character with no depth seems like a stretch at this point...it's not like you are dealing with a Dante from Devil May Cry here where even after 4 games, 4 graphic novels and a 12 episode anime later you are still uncovering layers from him and telling the story...that doesn't mean the series has to end, but the main character has to be laid to rest or take a break...
BEASTIARY: Exceptional. I cannot remember how many different enemies I faced trying to complete Kratos' quest for revenge against the gods. An exemplary job done by this team. Enemies were aggressive, good AI and fit the settings and environments well and none felt to be out of place even with the bad level design constitution this game suffers. Quicktime events were handled better than in previous games and the moves pulled off to defeat certain foes were impressive. The graphical prowess of the game also enhances this effect a great deal, but the moves are pulled off with certain fluid motion that regardless of the graphics engine equipped would add to the gameplay. Bosses though , are different. There is a total of 8 bosses in the game, but they feel more like 7 and one you fight 3 different 'versions' of. The high note of them all by far is Hades. I would rank this encounter in my top 5 'Best Boss Battles of all times list' for sure.
The setting and environment is fantastic, his 'normal' scale is one you would think he would be for being a God of any sort, his attacks are cool and as you start to defeat him his moves start to change and he gets harder to beat. Ultimately he goes into 'God mode' and grows in size trying to make one last push against you, definitely an epic battle...sadly this and the fight against Cronus are the only two you will really remember. Although you pummel Poseidon at the start of the game I found it strange he did not receive a more royal treatment. In popular culture the only 2 gods anybody can name from Greek mythology or have any preconceived notion of are Zeus & Poseidon. So for him not to get his own 'world' to try and conquer and defeat him in was more of a letd own; whereas less known figures like Cronus, Hermes and Hephaestus were given their own levels or lairs. I also have mixed feelings of fighting a huge Scorpion on top of an enormous crate, the boss itself was cool but had we had our little encounter in an underground cavern or in the middle of the Sahara I think would have been more pleased and more fitting. I would have taken a giant Spider instead if the idea behind it was a creature with a long set of legs. Alas it was set in a wrong environment and the ideal battle would have been to have fought a giant Minotaur there to 'escape' the 'labyrinth'. God of War II showcased Zeus in a very good light; massive in scale in 'God Mode' and still larger than you in human form. Different kinds of attacks which got harder as you started to defeat him, excellent environment set in an island in the sky...How all this escaped this incarnation is beyond me. I seldom remember being bored fighting and End Boss in any game, but by the time I reached Zeus fighting version #3 I was looking over at the time and wishing it was over. Not only are you and Zeus the same size the entire time, his attacks are the same in round 1, vary a bit for rounds 2 and 3, but even when close to defeat his attacks do not vary or get harder to dodge, block or fight against. Dracula from the Nintendo Entertainment System Castlevania is harder to predict a pattern from than this lame version of Zeus. The setting in which you face him is nothing to write home about either, no castle in the sky nor atop a floor of thundering clouds nor the black night as a background either...where did it all go...where did Creative Director go again? DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Veteran God of War players would breeze through the game in Normal mode so I would suggest Hard to gain some sense of achievement; checkpoints to continue are well placed and are forgiving. Newcomers to the series should do fine on Normal mode, but if you just want to see through the story like in any game you don't want to investment too much time in you do Easy Mode. Hardcore players could beat this game on harder difficulties as well if they want, it is possible.
LASTING APPEAL: The excellent visuals will surely hypnotize all Avatar fanboys out there and will be the thing that people will remember most from this game. Along with the excellent visuals, extensive hordes of enemies and the boss battles with Hades and Cronus. I would play the game again up until that point, but not any further. I rate it an 8.7/10 LAST THOUGHTS: Not exactly closure to an excellent storyline but definitely a staple for other games to follow and improve upon. This is an example in my opinion of what happens when a great game is made with no clear direction or intention as to where they want to go and how they are going to get there...where is that Creative Director again??? - It's interesting to read the Second Opinions article, after the first initial review, and they both touch on subjects I covered extensively here - http://ps3.ign.com/articles/107/1079967p1.html