God of War III
I had been trying my best to studiously avoid all God of War III coverage since the first gameplay footage was released back in December 2008; overexposure for any game – let alone one of the biggest titles of the year – risks the eventual experience feeling diluted, like watching a big Hollywood movie where you find yourself subconsciously ticking off all the big moments from the trailer. If there’s one series that needs to be played with equal parts adrenaline and surprise then its God of War. My resolve eventually cracked when the final trailer was released, the resultant internet clamor persuading me to take a little peek: “Agh, so excited! I saw that new trailer, left me feeling giddy. Game of the year” was my immediate, inarticulate, response. For God of War III is that sort of game. It targets the base, purer instincts with laser-precision, and nearly always gets it right.
Having been sheltered from the hype successfully, there are moments in this game which I hadn’t heard about before – the now-famous opening section included – where the imagination on display is far beyond what the majority of developers have been able to achieve with similar intentions and generic constraints. What’s also more impressive is that these high-points of God of War III aren’t just self-contained exercises in screen-filling destruction; instead they seem to fit neatly into the series-wide arc. In working towards a crescendo first hinted at in the ending of God of War 2 with the words “The End Begins…”, it’s somewhat logical that God of War 3’s set-pieces should be bigger, better and more inventive than its predecessors. It’s an approach that succeeds and the end result, when considering the viscerally satisfying – and strangely moving – ending, is one of the great videogame trilogies.
Although it’s obvious to suggest that fans of the previous games will get the most from God of War 3, the set-up is such that newcomers to Kratos will be just as gratified – it is likely that there will be a few of these players, given that God of War 2 was released back in 2007. The core mechanics of combat remain the same, albeit with some intelligent tweaks. Arguably the biggest of these is that the ‘secondary’ weapons, collected in quick succession from the clutches of slain bosses, have been given greater prominence. Many are essential for beating certain monsters and will likely supplant the Blades of Exile (your starting weapon) well before the end is in sight (something I felt wasn’t the case in the previous games). These weapons also no longer use magic, which highlights Santa Monica Studios’ intent in broadening the tactical depth on offer.
That it still feels like nothing but a God of War game is testament to the care with which Kratos’ third outing has been pieced together. Careful study of the successive upgrades, purchased using the familiar red orbs, reveals a plethora of extra moves; you’ll slowly feel out your favourites in battle, eventually developing a move-set that may not look exhaustive on paper, but proves intuitive and surprisingly graceful in action. It’s implemented so well that, backed by excellent animation and an absence of slowdown, entering a Zen-like state in which you forget you’re even playing a game, however corny that may sound, is pretty common. Purists may harp on about the technically superior systems of Japanese classics/God of War-inspirations such as the Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry series (and they’d probably be right), but in its best moments (roughly, er, 96% of the time) the fighting in God of War is just as fluid, varied and brutal.
Brutal is one of the common descriptions that will usually be attached to God of War III within the first minutes of every discussion (the others are epic and scale, which we’ll come to later). Here its use isn’t an exaggeration. Eyes are gouged, legs are chopped off, and fists are slammed into heads again and again and again… However, Santa Monica clearly understand that it isn’t just about merely spilling more blood than the competition; how these nasty yet hilariously over-the-top range of executions are depicted is just as important. Using a combination of dynamic camera movement and a great sense of player involvement, they instead invest this violence with a cinematic quality and impact that is conspicuously lacking when violence is tackled by less imaginative outfits. A good example would be the last part of the fight with Poseidon – you’re suddenly looking at events from the perspective of the fallen God, every punch from Kratos eliciting as much wincing as it does enjoyment. The final QTE perfectly mirrors your physical action with the controller and the action on-screen – although we won’t spoil what actually happens, it’s an early highlight that is matched and quickly surpassed as the game progresses.
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