By: Rachel Shatto
Greek mythology, has always piqued my imagination, and as a kid I couldn’t get enough of films like Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts. So really getting into the God of War series, with its mythical beasts, fantastical settings and tragic antihero Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, was hardly a stretch. However, despite my obvious fangirl proclivities I am happy to say there is still no question that God of War III is a stellar game that will thrill fans of the series and newcomers alike (although I highly recommend playing through the previous three games, GOW, GOW II and Chains of Olympus, as there are a number of references as well of the motivations of the characters that will be lost to the uninitiated.)
GOW III picks up immediately following the cliffhanger at the end of GOW II with Kratos making his way up to Mount Olympus atop a titan, to seek revenge against Zeus. Awaiting him are a number of ill-fated gods, heroes and mythical baddies. In keeping with the series tradition the game opens with an epic battle, with Kratos taking on his first of many divine foes. However, the scale of this battle makes the fight with the hydra that kicks off the first game laughable in retrospect, the camera pulls way back to show a how massive the size of the battle is only to sweep back in and exploit every bit of the flying viscera–which there is no shortage of in this game.
The game itself is absolutely beautiful. The demo was impressive but it appears that a lot of polishing has happened since it premiered back at E3. The lighting has been vastly improved and much attention has been given to the smallest of details both in the characters as well as the settings—which are breathtaking (just take a look at the images in the gallery below to see what I mean, those photos aren’t from pre-rendered cut scenes, they’re game play–actual game play). The set pieces inspire a sense of wonder and the action scenes are sweeping, epic and vicious. In fact, the level of brutality hinted at in the demo does little to prepare you for the unflinching sadism of the boss battles spread throughout the game. At times it’s cruel, barbaric and–well–gross. But it’s always, really freakin’ cool.
The gameplay itself is very much like the previous games, a button-mashing murderous extravaganza with Kratos wielding a number of chained weapons. Speaking of which, in previous games the secondary weapons were just that, often superfluous and weak in comparison to the basic blades. But in this game for the first time they are the equal of the blades and frequently stronger and more useful weapons—so you aren’t just maxing them out for the trophy. This is due in no small part to that the fact that your magic is connected to them, in addition to their specialized, and impressively powerful special moves (for example your Blades of Exile summon an undead Spartan army, which kick all manner of mythological ass).
There are a few puzzles, found throughout the game, none too challenging but all are very clever and make good use of their surroundings (in fact one particularly ingenious puzzle is your surroundings). And there are a number of timed sequence scenes throughout your adventures. The game designers did something really smart around these sequences, rather than have the prompts appear arbitrarily on screen they pop up on the edge that correlates to their position on the controller, allowing you to take in the command peripherally and keep your eyes firmly fixed on the thrilling action taking place on screen—which believe me, you don’t want to miss. All the franchise stand-bys are here, including the obligatory sex mini-game, as well as a clever little nod to the poor long-suffering sea captain.
One thing that has seemed to change quite a bit since the series began is Kratos himself, any moral ambiguity that he possessed in the previous games is thrown completely out the window with this third installment. His cruelty and lust for vengeance knows no bounds and it is not a stretch to call the character a villain. Anyone who stands in his way is doomed, but it’s his complete lack of compassion for even those not in his way but merely in the vicinity of his path that drives home this fact. He’s come a long dark way from the Kratos in the first game that tried in vain to save a group of women being killed by monsters. There is no trace of chivalry left in this game, in fact he leaves a (bare breasted because in this game is there any way for a woman to be?) women to be ripped in half, simply for his convenience. Yeah, he’s a bad, bad dude, but still how can you not help but like Kratos?
Part of his charm has to be thanks to the incredible voice acting work of TC Carson who brings both a ferocity and vulnerability to the character. The rest of voice cast is impressive as well, boasting genre favorites like Clancy Brown, Malcolm McDowell, Adrienne Barbeau, Linda Hunt, Rip Torn and Kevin Sorbo–all lending their talents and gravitas to the game. (There is also a special thank you to Elijah Wood in the credits, for what I’m not sure, but if someone out there does, let me know!)
Clocking in at about 10 hours, the game is an effective and satisfying wrap up of the trilogy. However, I suspect, regardless of the games tagline “In the End, There Will be Only Chaos” this is not the last we’ve seen of the Ghost of Sparta. There were a few easter eggs in the closing scenes’ dialog and one post-credits extra that seem to support that–and I for one am hopeful. GOW III is a standout in a fading genre (third person, single player), it’s a throwback yet full of innovation. It is iconic, thrilling and breathtaking and is the game PlayStation 3 was built for.
Score: 5 out of 5