I just finished playing the third installment in the now-legendary God of War franchise brought to Sony’s PS3 by Santa Monica Studio. It was a rushed effort because I bought the game in Hong Kong for a friend, who was kind enough to allow me to “test” the game for him first.
I’ve been a fan of the God of War series since the original, and I had a great time with the sequel, both on the PS2. God of War III is the first of the franchise to appear on the significantly more powerful PS3, and it really shows. I really can’t say enough about this game because it lived up to all my expectations and more. Without a doubt one of the most impressive games I’ve ever played.
I had my doubts about God of War III when I first placed the game in the console. Unlike most other games, there was no grand pre-game intro to demonstrate the prowess of the PS3. Instead, all you got was the protagonist Kratos’ massive and familiar head. When I started a new game, that was when the cinematics began, and while it was pretty, it was nothing I hadn’t seen on the PS3 before. And when the gameplay finally began, it felt very familiar as Kratos wielded the same weapon (but with a different name, ie the Blades of Exile) he had in the two previous games, and the enemies (a few skeleton dudes) weren’t anything new.
This raised alarm bells and had me thinking — were they just milking another title out of the popular franchise with basically the same game but on a next-gen console?
Let me assure you, those doubts were soon put to bed for good with the first boss fight against Poseidon, which effectively takes place on the body of a colossal Titan (Gaia).
(For those unfamiliar with the God of War series, it’s immersed in Greek mythology and is about this guy called Kratos, a warrior who is tricked into slaying his family and turns out to be the son of Zeus. He’s an ugly anti-hero hero of few words and no mercy, and the whole series he is fuelled by a desire for revenge against the Gods that destroyed his life. The stories from the three games are linked.)
And so began an eye-opening adventure that took the franchise soaring to a level I had not experienced before. What the makers of God of War III have done is taken all the best elements from the first two games of the series and charged them up with the PS3 engine, AND added incredible new elements with ingenious innovation and creativity.
Let me try and break these down one by one.
(to read on click on ‘more…’)
For me, it’s all about the gameplay, and God of War III has excelled in providing a fun, enjoyable, challenging but not too frustrating gaming experience. Throughout the game, Kratos accumulates an assortment of different weapons that can be used for different purposes. I won’t spoil it by revealing what they are, but I was impressed with the ingenuity and the contrasting styles and purposes of the weapons. As per usual, you power up these weapons using “souls” gathered from the enemies you slay.
Kratos also runs, swims, flies, scales walls and mountains and does all sorts of crazy stuff. One new feature of the game is the “fly mode”, where Kratos is either flying up or down a long distance (with the camera positioned behind him) and you have to avoid the obstacles and debris by maneuvering his body.
Secondly, Kratos has learned a few new moves, and the most significant one is the grapple, which can be used to pull an enemy close before you decide what to do with them. You can thump them, you can throw them, or you can use them as a battering ram. Basically, the creators of the game have ensured that very button on the PS3 control pad has a purpose, and if you can master all the weapons and moves, it makes the game infinitely more enjoyable.
Thirdly, there is the innovative puzzles. The God of War franchise has never been about puzzle solving (it’s focus has always been on brutal action), but God of War III is littered with numerous puzzles that help the gamer use their brain without making it too difficult so as to make the game frustrating. When you encounter a puzzle, the camera even pans around to give you a clue as to what you need to do. The puzzles could have easily been tedious and repetitive, but instead they were creative and varied, providing welcoming breaks in between the action.
Fourthly, there’s the scale of the game. When playing God of War III, you get the feeling that you are playing an epic. The sets are gigantic, and Kratos (apparently eight feet plus in height) is often just a dot on the screen. The creators of the game have really outdone themselves in creating the Titans and Gods, some of whom are bigger than skyscrapers, and thanks to the PS3 technology, you get to see them up close with all the intricate detail. They are so big that Kratos has to fight on their bodies, creating amazing multi-staged battles against a single character. The bosses are so durable (they are, after all, Gods) that each boss fight can have multiple phases and can take a really long time — and that is exactly what the gamers want — memorable and challenging bosses!
Lastly, there is the variety. Too many games these days fall into the trap of repetition, but God of War III, for the most part, manages to avoid this pitfall. I was impressed by the way the game continues to bring out new enemies, new bosses, new terrains, new puzzles and new playing styles, keeping the game feeling fresh the whole way through. You never felt like you were playing the same stage twice, even when the setting is recycled.
For a PS3 game, God of War III doesn’t immediately stand out when it comes to its graphics, but if you look closer, you’ll be astounded by the level of detail that the makers put into the game. Every background, every character, every animation, is done with the most incredible detail. You can see the veins pulsating, you can see the definition in each muscle, and you can see the speckles of dried blood on the armour and weapons. A lot of the things you wanted to get a better view of on the PS2 are accomplished on the PS3. When Kratos attempts a finishing move on an enemy, you get the full close up, and you can see every little thing on their faces, including their facial expressions. The first time I saw Kratos disembowel a minotaur it left me breathless.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to God of War III is that the cut scenes do not feel out of place. You know how so many games these days put all their effort into creating visually stunning cut scenes that look completely different to the actual gameplay? Well, God of War III bucks that trend, because you slide in and out of the cut scenes so seamlessly that it truly feels like part of the same game. That’s not to say the cut scenes are not as impressive visually. To the contrary, it’s a testament to the graphics of the in-game gameplay.
On top of that, the crafty camera angles, which only provided a couple of minor problems at times, flew and weaved around like a movie camera, adding a cinematic feel to the game.
The sound effects in God of War III are strong, as they should be. It’s not something that is particularly groundbreaking, but they did a good job of emphasizing the sounds that require emphasis, such as when you are slicing off the limbs of an enemy or pummeling their face in with gauntlets. These sounds added an additional layer of excitement to the game.
What does set the game apart, however, is the voice acting. I found out in the bonus videos you get after completing the game that the voice cast included great actors Rip Torn, Malcolm McDowell and Kevin Sorbo as…wait for it….Hercules! Any time you can get actors of their calibre doing the voice acting for a video game, you know it’s huge.
Warning: Gore galore, nudity and sex!
One thing the God of War series has always had is plenty of violence and gore. In God of War III, this has been taken to brand new heights! There is a good reason this game pushes the boundaries of the classification system because there are many parts of the game that should be strictly for the adults. I won’t spoil the type of things Kratos does to his enemies, but some of them are absolutely jaw-dropping. Let’s just say it’s not for the squeamish.
God of War III also has a bit of female nudity and Kratos can even engage in sexual congress with a Goddess (and your performance depends on how well you press the buttons!). I’m sure pimply geeks around the world have prepared a separate “save game” and enjoy playing that part of the game over and over again…
I was rushing to finish this game off, playing several hours a day, and on the first time through it took me around about 4 or 5 days. Not an overly long period of time, but God of War III does have substantial replay value. When you finish the game for the first time, you get these 7 challenges to complete, after which you can set your own challenges in a battle arena. I don’t usually bother with bonus features after I finish a game but in this case I found myself trying to finish all the challenges and even started a new game in Chaos (the hardest) mode to appreciate the game again.
When you finish the game you also get a series of videos on how Santa Monica made the game. I can’t believe I watched most of these, which were quite well-made documentaries. It was fun to watch just how a blockbuster game like this was made, and the amount of people, time and effort it took for them to complete the polished product. Watching these videos alone will set you back another few hours.
I’m afraid all I’ve done is gush about how great God of War III is. I don’t think I am exaggerating. The visuals are impressive, the sound is solid — these things can be said about a lot of PS3 games these days. But what makes God of War III so fun is its gameplay and playability. It’s a cinematic, exciting, challenging and fresh gaming experience that I didn’t expect to be this good when I first started playing it.
God of War amazed us. God of War II took it to another level. And against all odds, God of War III has raised the bar even higher into the stratosphere.
10 out of 10!