God of War III: Kratos' last stand

A no-brainer for being one of 2010's most anticipated games of the year, God of War III looks to end the trilogy with an explosive tale vengeance as Kratos launches a final assault on Mount Olympus. With enough action, violence, and special effects to make James Cameron do a double-take, does God of War III bring the franchise to the next level, or is it merely button-mashing eye candy?

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A no-brainer for being one of 2010's most anticipated games of the year , God of War III looks to end the trilogy with an explosive tale of vengeance as Kratos launches a final assault on Mount Olympus.

With enough action, violence, and special effects to make James Cameron do a double-take, does God of War III bring the franchise to the next level or is it merely button-mashing eye candy?

Jeff:
PlayStation 3 owners have a new game they can brag about. God of War III is by far one of the most dazzling, technically superior titles to hit game consoles since Uncharted 2. Fans of the series need not worry, as God of War III delivers on multiple levels.

While it may not innovate in terms of actual gameplay, God of War III does things in-game that we have not seen before. Blurring the line between cutscenes and gameplay, we're thrown into a brutal world of Greek mythology that's filled with enemies the size of skyscrapers and vast lands rendered to the finest detail. The sense of immensity and chaos comes across so well in certain scenes that we found ourselves replaying sections of the game just to feel the rush a second time around.

As evident in our discussion with the game's lead designer, Todd Papy , the Santa Monica Studio team has pushed the PlayStation 3 arguably further than any game before it, casting plenty of doubt that the 35GB powerhouse could survive on any another platform.

While we mentioned fans of the series will have a lot to love, there is no reason newcomers to the God of War franchise won't pick things right up. At its core, God of War is an action beat-'em-up game that is easy to jump right into but difficult to master.

The series' logical level-up system is back, allowing you to decide which powers and weapons get upgraded first. Also back are those precedent-setting quick-time events where the player must enter a series of commands (button presses) that act as finishing moves. However, in God of War III, the subtle yet brilliant decision was made to move these button prompts to the sides of the screen to allow the player to enjoy the destruction and mayhem that's unfolding. Even smarter, their locations are directly linked to their geographical location on the PS3 controller, so just a visual cue is enough to complete the sequence.

Sure, the story is all-too familiar with Kratos rising and falling, avenging this and destroying that, but all this is merely a footnote hidden behind a stellar presentation and blockbuster action. Make room on your shelf, PS3 owners; God of War III is a must-own.

For more on God of War III, a live demo, and our entire interview with Todd Papy, check out last week's episode of preGAME .

SCEA

Scott:
Years ago, when the first God of War debuted on the PlayStation 2, gaming was in a different place than it is now. GOW defined a whole genre of games by bringing back a visceral arcade-like style of action, and for seamlessly working "quicktime" button-pressing into boss battles. Now it's almost commonplace to mash square and triangle buttons according to screen cues, and many third-person action games steal at least some of God of War's style.

We remember playing Heavenly Sword on the PS3, a God of War-like game that came out several years ago, and wishing it was God of War instead. Most people did. Unfortunately, God of War II came out exclusively for the PS2 in 2007, when the PS3 had already been released. Expectations after all these years are, of course, quite high, but in another sense the God of War frenzy of years past has died down. The industry has moved on, focused on third-person action games that are more like shooters, or games with robust online experiences. In that sense, God of War III is a throwback, a single-player adventure with a focus on hand-to-hand combat.

What a great throwback it is, though. Exhibiting frequently jaw-dropping graphics and a level of close-up detail that's never been seen in the God of War series, this sequel's every bit of the must-get system-seller that everyone expected. So don't worry about that.

On the other hand, Kratos' unending bloody murder sprees begin to feel a little tired after a while. The violence amplifies at moments into true Grand Guignol, but the emotional storyline isn't helped by these explosions of blood. God of War III is a Michael Bay-directed series of unbelievable set pieces at times, but in the spirit of visual spectacle, we'll gladly take that in a game that's all about pushing the envelope. The controls and most of the weaponry and magic feel pulled right from the PS2 games, which is either comforting or disappointing depending on your perspective. GOWIII is next-gen visually, last-gen gameplay-wise.

Maybe it's the timing wedged between Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Clash of the Titans, but we could frankly do with a few less minotaurs and gorgons in our pop-culture snack cup. But for those looking for yet another reason to show why the PS3 is rapidly becoming a great gaming system, God of War III is ready for you.

SCEA

Dan:
The twisting passions and alliances of Greek mythology have been mined for video game fodder surprisingly infrequently over the years. Perhaps its because the industry shies away from anything that smacks of schoolwork (or example, Civil War games are few and far between), or just that modern armies and sci-fi fantasies are easier targets for creating shopper-friendly "product."

But there is clearly a thirst for the particularly brutal brand of adventure told in these myths, as evidenced by the success, both critical and commercial, of the God of War games. It shouldn't be surprising--this is the same source material referenced by Joseph Campbell as the archetype for the classic Hero's Journey (also known as the monomyth)--the basic pattern for narratives across every culture, era, and genre.

Kratos follows this mythological roadmap as well, traveling from the known world to the unknown, in answer to what is referred to as the hero's "call to adventure." There the hero (or antihero) faces trials and challenges in pursuit of a goal, be it power, revenge, or in this case, both.

While the expertly tuned gameplay and eye-candy graphics are most commonly cited as the reasons for the God of War games' popularity (and they are indeed very well done), much credit must go to underlying use of this, the most popular narrative structure in human history (both George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien are frequently citied as modern proponents of the form).

Beyond the mythological context, it seems like a lifetime since the original God of War game, but in fact, it was only 2005--still an epoch in technology terms. Since then, we've had a complete turnover of living room console hardware, as well as a serious shift in how we perceive interactive entertainment. If there's a singular trend the current advanced level of hardware and game programming know-how has evolved in a modern game's DNA, it's the quality of subtlety.

If this game has one limitation, it's that it feels like a throwback to 2005 in some ways--nearly all blood and guts and high-volume shouting (and limited camera control). Games of the past few years have shown tremendous growth in their ability to convey greater dynamic range in their storytelling, from Heavy Rain to Mass Effect, and even in the quiet moments of action games such as Modern Warfare. God of War III feels like a PS2 game wrapped in a PS3 shell--although most fans would say that's exactly what they were looking for--a visually updated version of the original hit. In those terms alone, the game is a sweeping success and highly enjoyable--whether you prefer it with or without a healthy dose of overintellectualizing.

SCEA

 

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