‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part IX — The End, The Verdict

June 2, 2015 in Best Of, Game Reviews, Reviews

last of us poster

Note: This is the ninth part of a multi-part series detailing my experiences, observations and thoughts on The Last of Us on PS3. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here, Part 7 here and Part 8 here.

Day 15 (May 19, 2o15)

Here we go. The home stretch.

Joel and Ellie’s journey take them to Salt Lake City, the final stop of their epic adventure. As with previous locations, the city is in ruins, but you get the feeling that the purpose of all the walking around in this last chapter is to provide that final burst of character and relationship development before the inevitable climax.

Salt Lake

And so the first part of Salt Lake is mostly wandering around and watching conversations unfold. Joel has clearly opened up and is finally comfortable with that Ellie means to him, while Ellie is starting to fear what may happen once they finally meet up with the Fireflies.

The highlight of this “slower” portion of the game is an encounter with a pack of giraffes spoiled by most trailers and promotional photos. Still, it’s a beautiful and awe-inspiring moment, not just because of the impressive visuals, but because it reminds you that despite everything, Ellie is still a child who grew up in this broken world and has never seen things we take for granted.

Eventually, action arrives in the form of a watery underpass section filled with runners, clickers and bloaters. While you can stealthily sneak by the majority of them, you might also want to let it rip because it’s the last time in the game you’ll see a zombie. That said, there are a lot of them, so just going in guns blazing could lead to you getting surrounded. Strategy is needed since there are no second chances when it comes to bloaters.

Once you get past that, it’s more wandering until an accident automatically leads into an unavoidable meeting with the Fireflies and a reunion with Marlene.

Marlene's back!

Marlene’s back!

I’ve been reminded that you can spoil a game that’s been out for two years, but just in case, I’ll warn those who want to experience the game for themselves that major spoilers are coming.

So, as it turns out, the only way to even attempt to use Ellie’s immunity to develop a vaccine is to do what Anthony Hopkins did to Ray Liotta — except for the feeding part — by slicing open her head and messing with the brain. Joel ain’t taking any of that shit, thereby setting up a final rampage through the hospital to rescue Ellie.



I admit to being a wee little disappointed with the relative sameness of what is supposed to be the climax of the action. It’s by no means a cakewalk, though if you’ve been saving up your ammunition and items it won’t be very hard to smash anyone who dares to get in your way. There’s really not that many of them either, maybe about a dozen to 20 tops.

At the same time, I can understand why the game makers decided to do it this way. While the survival horror action is fun and all, The Last of Us, since the very beginning, has always been about the characters and their relationships. It’s clear from the way they’ve handled the final chapter that they wanted to go back to the essence of the game and not overwhelm the narrative with all-out, over-the-top carnage. Perhaps they considered the battle with David in the previous chapter as the “final boss”, though I would have personally preferred a more challenging conclusion.

I like the idea of an old-fashioned hospital shootout, but I think it would have been even better with some added spice, like an enemy or enemies with full body armour, making them extra difficult to kill, or some kind of enemy with martial arts skills you need to take down without guns. Alternatively, it would have been even more awesome had zombies somehow managed to get into the hospital — perhaps intentionally let in by Joel to help him out with all the Firefly soldiers — to create a chaotic battle where you have to take on both types of enemies and use your wits to pit them against each other. Throw in a newly mutated boss if necessary. The makers of the film adaptation should totally be reading this!

Feel the wrath of my assault rifle, mother...

Feel the wrath of my assault rifle, mother…

Alas, the real climax was more subdued and more subtle. Enemies had assault rifles (which you can start using if you kill one of them), but apart from that it was largely more of the same. Instead, there was a surprising level of storytelling, as Joel would constantly stumble across notes and voice recorders that would reveal more backstory and explanations.

All of this culminates in a surprisingly anti-climatic showdown against three helpless surgeons in the operating theatre. You can kill them if you want, as I did, with an assortment of weapons, but the game effectively ends when you pick an unconscious Ellie up off the operating table and carry her to a hospital elevator. (This actually led me to think — what if I just waited outside for hours? Would they never start the operation? I wasn’t bored enough to try it out)

This ain't no episode of Grey's Anatomy

This ain’t no episode of Grey’s Anatomy

The game’s big storyline “twist”, if you can call it that, takes place entirely in cut scenes. Just as Joel prepares to leave, he runs into Marlene (of course he does), who begs for him to do the right thing for humanity and allow them to pop open Ellie’s head. I guess he could have mentioned at this point that he had killed all the doctors anyway!

Joel appears to hesitate before the screen fades to black, and the next thing we see is Joel driving. This is a brilliant storytelling device from Naughty Dog because it leaves you hanging, wondering what decision Joel makes in the end. Save humanity by sacrificing the one person he has left in this world, or selfishly do what’s best for himself and Ellie?



What do you think happens and what do you think should have happened?

I never expected Joel to betray Ellie by leaving her behind, and I was proven to be right, as we soon hear Ellie stirring in the back seat as she awakens from anaesthesia. What happens next, however, is a betrayal of a different kind, because Joel goes on to lie to Ellie about why they left the Fireflies, saying that there were dozens of other people like Ellie and that they had given up on finding a cure. His explanation is interspersed with flashbacks of what happened in the parking lot with Marlene, whom Joel shoots with a gun and begs for her life before he caps another one in her skull, saying that she’d just keep coming after Ellie.

I found this twist to be kinda poetic and true to who the characters have been from the very beginning. Joel has always been a survivor; he’s not a saviour and he’s not a hero. Call him the villain of this game, if you will, but his actions actually make a lot of sense if you’ve been paying attention to the kind of person he is. I found it interesting that some people didn’t get it and weren’t sure whether Joel was actually telling the truth.

I thought the game was over, but there’s actually a tiny epilogue after this segment. It’s another one of those creative choices made by Naughty Dog that surprises. You play as Ellie and there’s no fighting involved, just strolling through the woods as they make their way back to Tommy’s. You can tell from their conversation that Joel is fine with his decision, but Ellie remains torn by survivor guilt. The game’s final scene is a mini-masterpiece in which Ellie demands that Joel swear that what he said about the Fireflies is all true. Joel swears, and the final shot lingers on Ellie’s face as she says, “OK”, before the game fades to black.

Ellie Final

Ellie’s haunting final expression

Everyone’s going to have their own interpretation of what the ending means. Did Ellie believe Joel or did she know she was lying? And if she thought he was lying, what does that mean for the future of their relationship? The brilliant thing about it is that Ellie’s facial expression could be taken in several ways. It could be fear, it could be horror, it could be sadness, or it could be relief. Or perhaps it was a mix of all those things. Whatever it is, it’s powerful stuff.

My personal take is that Ellie knows Joel is lying and has known all along, but wants him to say it again to her face one more time. But confirming her suspicions doesn’t mean she no longer trusts him or would make her want to get away from him. To the contrary, I think knows she’s stuck with him, for better or for worse, and she’s conflicted about how that makes her feel. On the one hand she knows he will keep her safe no matter what, but on the other she’ll always feel guilty about living at the potential expense of finding a cure. She’ll survive, but she’ll feel horrible about it. It’s a morally complicated question with no right answer.

Kudos to Naughty Dog for doing something so unconventional and daring. There’s no cure. There’s no happy ending. It’s just ambiguity and a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a revolutionary ending for a revolutionary game, and I like that the game doesn’t offer alternative endings because it would cheapen the impact of the one they went with.

The Verdict

If you haven’t figured it out by now, even after I’ve written a nine-part series about my experience playing it, I’ll spell it out for you: The Last of Us is the best video game I’ve ever played. There are games that may have been more addictive, games that might have been more fun from a pure action perspective, games that have had better graphics or sound or whatever. But nothing beats The Last of Us when it comes to the overall gaming experience.

It’s simply unparalleled when it comes to storytelling, characters and immersiveness.  To be able to achieve this kind of emotional resonance in a video game is something I’ve never seen before. It’s the only game I’ve ever played where I haven’t been able to get it out of my head even days after I’ve finished it. It’s the only game I’ve played worthy of in-depth analysis like a book or a movie. I’ve looked up videos about the game and watched the documentaries about it YouTube. I’m obsessed.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Between the time I finished the game on May 19 and the writing of this post, I’ve played the DLC add-on Left Behind — which I will discuss in my next post — AND played the entire main game all over again in the “plus” version that allows you to keep the upgrades you made to your weapons and skills the first time around. It actually makes the game easier, but the reason I played it again, apart from experiencing its awesomeness one more time, is so I can savour the dramatic moments more. I was far too nervous the first time I played it, so in the second playthrough I made sure I focused on nuances and all the little things that make the game so great. I also killed everything in sight instead of using stealth. That’s probably about 35-40 hours of total playing time (the first playthrough was a little over 17 hours and the DLC was under 3 hours), and I still can’t get enough! Now I understand why some people also get the remastered version to play on PS4 (and if I had a PS4 I would too, dammit!)


Ashley Johnson in The Avengers. She had a bigger role but most of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Full marks to the amazing work of creative director Neil Druckmann, who absolutely should be a consultant on the film adaptation, and the acting of the cast, led by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker. Johnson, whom some of you might know from her cameo as a waitress in The Avengers, actually won the BAFTA Games Awards for Best Performer (male and female compete in the same category) for her role as Ellie in back-to-back years, first in The Last of Us and then in Left Behind.

Here’s her acceptance speech in 2014.

And again in 2015.

Of course, The Last of Us also took home Best Game, Best Action and Adventure, Best Audio, and Best Story. In a year that also gave us GTA V, that says a lot. There’s another 2oo+ awards the game has won, but I’m not about to list them all here. Suffice it to say that they are all well deserved.

I have a feeling I’ve already said too much, but the fact is that I can’t say enough good things about it. Granted, it’s not perfect — no game is — but The Last Us is about as close as it gets.


‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part I

May 9, 2015 in Best Of, Game Reviews, Reviews


Nearly two years ago, American studio Naughty Dog released The Last of Us on PS3. The game went on to win more than 240 game of the year awards around the world, a number only slightly less unfathomable than the fact that there actually are so many game of the year awards to hand out. I wanted to get the game immediately, but with an 18-month-old baby, another one due shortly and this other commitment called life, I was forced to put my dream of playing the game on the backburner.

Last month, I went to Tokyo and visited a Yodobashi Camera, just possibly the best electronic stores ever created. It was in the store’s video game section that my eyes feasted on a familiar image that brought the memories flooding back. Not only that, the game had become part of the PS3 classic collection, meaning it was ON SPECIAL.

This was my face upon those realisations:


And so, despite having games I bought more than two years ago still wrapped in their original plastic covering, I decided it was imperative that I purchase The Last of Us immediately.

After returning, however, I didn’t rip into the game right away. It’s hard to describe, but I liken it to starting a new writing project — you’re excited but you’re also terrified of the commitment it’s going to take to get through to the end. Accordingly — and I’m not kidding — I spent one night admiring the cover (both front and back), and another reading the Japanese instructions manual (front to back).

And then, I was ready.

This post and those to follow it will be a diary of my experience playing The Last of Us. There could be some mild spoilers, but I’ll keep the big revelations concealed for those who want to check it out for themselves.

Day 1 (May 5, 2015)

– Man, I miss the days when you can just plug in a cartridge, turn on the system, and get playing right away. These days, you have to first log in to the Playstation interface, select the game, and then, just when you’re pumped to go, it tells you that you have to update the “system” and install some underlying game files. The same went for The Last of Us, meaning I had to wait about another 15 minutes before I could actually get into the game.

– I also missed the old loading times, or lack thereof. You don’t notice it once you’re into the game, but in the beginning The Last of Us took so long to load I thought the game had stuffed up.


You see this a lot in the beginning

– Finally, we’re in. The first thing that struck me about the game was how cinematic it looks and feels. Games these days all tend to go down the cinematic route, with Heavy Rain in particular sticking out in my mind (I haven’t played a lot, as you can tell), though The Last of Us takes it to another level. The camera angles, the cuts, the spot-on musical score — it’s no wonder a movie version is in the works, set for release in 2016. It’ll be easy — the director can probably just take scenes from the game and film them again in exactly the same way.

– The opening scene of the game is an eerie one that sets up the calm before the storm. The protagonist, Joel, returns home from a long day of work and his baby girl is waiting for him. It’s a sweet little scene that takes minimal time to construct a genuine father-daughter relationship before the shit hits the fan. And boy does the shit hit with a splatter. As most of you know, The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic horror-survival drama game (what a mouthful) set 20 years after a viral outbreak that has wiped out most of civilization.


So sad

– After the trauma of that superbly executed opening sequence — which holds its own against any post-apocalyptic zombie movie in recent years — we get the intro credits, a work of art in its own right. It’s stylish, informative, and reminds me of the openings of the best shows on TV in the modern era.

– When the credits finish rolling, the story moves forward by 20 years. There are a few safe/quarantine zones scattered around, with martial law being the norm. Joel has become a member of a shady group of smugglers in Boston. And here’s my first complaint about the game — he looks a little too similar to how he did 20 years ago; just greyer hair, a bushier beard and a few more wrinkles around the eyes. Perhaps the difference is more noticeable on the PS4 version, but the numbers don’t fully add up. We have to assume Joel was probably in his mid-30s in the opening scene, meaning he would have been in his mid-50s by the time the game begins “properly”. And he looks a little too buffed for a dude living in a world where food is insanely scarce. I think I thinner Joel would have been more realistic, and perhaps a clean shaven young (or stubble) Joel would have brought out the age difference more.

Young Joel vs Old Joel

Young Joel vs Old Joel

That brings me to the end of my first day of playing and Part I of my Last of Us Diary. I only played it for about 20 minutes, but I’m starting to feel that the hype surrounding this game is not unwarranted. Seriously, I already think it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played, and I haven’t even done anything!

Stay tuned for Part II.

PS: Just about everyone I spoke to about the game said I should have gotten a PS4 so I could play the remastered version of the game released last year. It was tempting, but ultimately I knew it wouldn’t be a wise investment given how little I get to play consoles these days. Besides, the graphics on the PS3 look good enough to me.

Game Review: Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting (PS3)

May 8, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews


When visited Japan in October last year, I nearly blew a blood vessel when I saw a poster for Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting, the greatest boxing manga ever known to man. That blood vessel probably burst when I realised that the game would not be released until December. I then kind of forgot about it until a couple of months ago, when I saw that the game was available for download on the PlayStation Network for a consideration discount. And though I hadn’t played my PS3 for months, I decided it was time to dust it off and get back into action.

Hajime no Ippo is the longest-running boxing manga in history. It started in 1989, a year before Mike Tyson would be knocked out by Buster Douglas in Tokyo, and it’s still being drawn today by the same artist, George Morikawa. There are now 110 single volumes and nearly 1,100 individual weekly entries in the series, and the amazing thing is that the main protagonist, former bullied high school student Ippo Makunouchi, is still not world champion. That takes patience and dedication.

Volume 1 of Hajime no Ippo (1989) vs Volume 110 (2015)

Volume 1 of Hajime no Ippo (1989) vs Volume 110 (2015)

The other reason I was so excited for the game was because Hajime no Ippo, the franchise, is also responsible for arguably the greatest boxing simulation video game ever made, Victorious Boxers, a game I still occasionally break out on the old PSP on long journeys. The game, and its comprehensive training-mode version Victorious Road (PS2) — based on the foundations of the classic Boxer’s Road series — features the smoothest and most dynamic gameplay system I’ve ever experienced on a boxing game. Most gamers only know about the Fight Night series, but if you want fun, exciting simulation boxing that feels authentic and awesome, then Victorious Boxers is the one.


Victorious Boxers, still the best boxing simulation around

The last Hajime no Ippo game I tried was Hajime no Ippo: Revolutions, which seemed like the greatest idea of the time because it utilises the Wii’s motion controllers, but the game itself turned out to be quite a disappointment because of the system’s inability to capture precise hand and body movements. My guess is that it’s the same reason why there are so few motion-based boxing games out there.

The Wii version was a great idea without the hardware to pull it off

Anyway, back to Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting on the PS3, the first game in the franchise since 2008. I knew the graphics were going to be fantastic, but apart from that I didn’t know a whole lot more.

After playing it quite a bit over the past month, my overall impression is that it is a fairly fun, albeit somewhat repetitive game that is far more arcade than simulation. It’s much closer to an advanced version of Punch Out than Victorious Boxers. In fact, the games it most resembles, in my mind, are those Dragon Ball Z games where people beat the crap out of each other like Street Fighter but have these insane special/finishing moves that are unstoppable and unblockable once the correct buttons are pressed at the right time. The result is a fast-paced arcade-style boxing game you will probably play a lot for a little while and then never touch it again.



Like Revolutions, The Fighting goes for a stylish anime look as opposed to the old polygons or “realistic” representations of manga characters. The lines are thick and there’s a distinct hand-drawn feel that almost makes you feel like you are watching the show’s long-running anime series. Personally, I prefer the CGI-type renderings in Victorious Boxers, but I suppose for an arcade-style game the artwork matches.



I am assuming they got the original anime voice cast for the game, and it sounds good. It’s got the typically lively manga-style music that will get your blood steaming and the sound effects will make you feel like bones are being crushed (and sometimes they are) by the punches. It’s all very over-the-top in the way that the anime is.


The core of the game is its story mode. You start off with Ippo, of course, and follow the progress of the manga in terms of which opponents you face. When you beat an opponent you add him to the roster, meaning you can start using that character in the free play mode or, if they have one available, their own story mode. Certain characters can only be unlocked once you complete a story mode for a certain character.


Before each fight, there’s a bit of story that plays out in manga form. It’s nice to relive those moments but after a while you’ll start skipping it and get straight to the action.

Unfortunately, like some of the previous Hajime no Ippo games, not all characters are available. This will disappoint a lot of fans as it did me, because part of the allure of games like Victorious Boxers is that you can fight every single guy Ippo has ever faced in the manga. Here, the roster is simplified down to just the key guys and the most popular characters, meaning you won’t get to take on characters such as Ponchai (whom Ippo first used his Dempsey Roll against), Hammer Nao, Iwao, Jimmy Sisphar, and so forth. Given that the game was released in late 2014, the newest character introduced is Alfredo Gonzales, though the big boss, Ricardo Martinez, is of course also available.

The way the game stretches out the story mode is by offering an “IF” alternative path, which is automatically triggered if your character wins certain fights they are lose in the manga or lose certain fights they win in the manga. For example, if Ippo beats Date in their matchup, that would open up a new path the character would be able to pursue, even though the original path will still be available if you play it again and intentionally lose that fight. You have to complete both paths to “finish” that particular character.

Ricardo Martinez is still the ultimate boss

Ricardo Martinez is still the ultimate boss

This method opens up a new world for characters who don’t get to fight a lot in the manga or anime. That said, apart from a newly invented manga story intro to the fight, it doesn’t really add much more to the playing experience because you can simply create the same matchups in the free play mode.

Speaking of which, I feel like the free play mode is essentially for players to hone their skills and gain experience points. Yes, there are experience points to be gained after each fight and characters can level-up to make them stronger. Some characters start off their story modes against extremely difficult opponents — ie, Takamura’s first fight is against Brian Hawk — so you may need to go to free play mode to build him up a bit before going back to challenge them again.

As I alluded to above, the gameplay of The Fighting is pure arcade action. You have a button for block and different buttons for different punches — jab, straight, hook, and uppercut. The most important button, however, is probably the dash button, which allows you to side step punches, step back, or dash forward.

Each boxer has several meters they need to keep track of and is all up on the screen for everyone to see. There’s of course the health meter, and emptying that means your fighter will be knocked down. Each time you get knocked down you lose a “life”, so to speak, and when you run out of those you get knocked out completely (unless the three knockdown rule is in effect and you get knocked down three times in a round). In other words, you know exactly when a fighter is going down and whether he will get back up.

There is also the stamina meter, which reduces each time you throw a punch and recovers fairly quickly when you don’t. If you run out of stamina your boxer will just stand there puffing, opening him up to barrages of punches from your opponent. There’s the block meter, which decreases every time you block a punch and lets you know when your character’s block will be broken make you vulnerable to attacks thereafter.  Lastly, there’s the finishing move meter, which accumulates throughout the course of the fight. Once it is full (I believe there are three levels all up), you can press a button to execute the special move. It looks like an ordinary punch with a blue light around it, but once it hits, the game automatically enters into a cut-scene where the character will summon the special move and deliver massive damage to the opponent.

Each round is a sped-up three minutes, and after each round you’ll get to rest and read strategy advice from your corner. Each character has a set of skills (some have more, some less) that can be equipped before the fight and in between rounds. The skills — such as stronger jab, stronger endurance, better counters, etc) are obtained by beating certain characters in the story mode, and some skills are exclusive to some boxers. A skill could also be activated in certain situations, such as if you are knocked down or injured, or if you’ve done so to your opponent. Then there are skills that can be equipped that cancel out skills equipped by your opponent. It’s not that complicated.

There are two keys to mastering the game — combos and counters. The first is to learn the combos of your particular fighter, which you can conveniently access in a drop down menu once you pause the game. Some boxers have unlimited combos that can go on for eight punches or nine punches until your character runs out of stamina, and almost all characters have “Sunday punches” that can break through blocks at the end of combinations if you key them in the right order.

The Verdict

To be honest, I was kinda disappointed after I started playing The Fighting. I loved the simulation-type boxing games and this was more like Street Fighter, which is less fun when you play by yourself. It’s really repetitive and one-dimensional. You just have to block, side-step punches, then counter. Rinse and repeat. It becomes a meter-denting exercise that doesn’t take a long time to learn.

Additionally, there are probably only two knockdown animations and the character always looks exactly the same when on the canvas. The finishing move animation is also the same every time and you might start to get sick of how long it takes to execute after a while. And being an arcade-style game, there’s no blood, with only a couple of levels of facial swelling that’s nowhere close to what you see in the manga.

That said, after a while, I started really getting into the game and found it to be highly addictive. The skill-level required turned out to be higher than I anticipated. While it is still a meter-denting and button-mashing exercise at heart, each character has different strengths and weaknesses — not to mention combos — that take time to master. Each opponent also requires a slightly different strategy, one that might take more than a single attempt to figure out. If you damage an opponent’s skull or ribs, for instance, you might need to keep attacking the same spot to maximise damage. Sometimes to win you will need to toggle the skills a little to neutralise your opponent’s advantages. It’s little things like that that can make the game exhilarating.

Accordingly, I played The Fighting religiously for a couple of weeks straight and had lots of fun, but once I stopped, there was no urge to ever play it again. I might give it another go if I get the chance to play it with someone else, but for now, it’s going back into the vault. This is one for the fans of the franchise and arcade-style boxing games. Those looking for something to take the mantle away from Victorious Boxers will still have to wait.


Game Review: God of War: Ascension (PS3)

July 10, 2013 in Game Reviews, Reviews


God of War III on the PS3 is, to this day, one of the best video games I’ve ever played. It’s stunning to look at, with innovative controls and gameplay, brutal combat and kill moves, jaw-dropping bosses and boss battles, and a captivating storyline that will have you immersed in the world of Greek mythology. (My full review of that brilliant game can be found here.)

And so it was with great excitement that I purchased a copy of God of War: Ascension during my trip to Japan in March, even though I had about half a dozen games I hadn’t even played. That’s how much I wanted to play it.

It took a few goes, on and off, to get through the game (you know what it’s like when there are more pressing concerns like work and a family), but I finally managed to complete the first run through the other night — a huge accomplishment in itself.

Unfortunately, Ascension could not come close to replicating the wonderful experience I had with GOWIII. Technically, it is as good as the series has ever been, with some astounding backdrops and beautiful scenery. The gameplay is pretty much the same, but with a few nice new additions including the ability to make an object move forward and back in time and create clones of yourself. The boss battles are still epic and the bosses themselves are bigger than ever.

But to be honest it didn’t feel like the game broke any new ground. GOWIII was such a massive step up from GOWII, but Ascension felt like the makers of the game were just trying to cash in on the success of the franchise by adding a bit of spit and polish to GOWIII. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but the lack of ingenuity and innovation did make the game feel a lot more stale and repetitive than its predecessor.

Even mini-boss battles are still epic

Even mini-boss battles are still epic

Ascension is actually a prequel, chronologically the first game in the series. That said, I wouldn’t have known that without reading about the game, because the storytelling this time around is sorely lacking and too convoluted for my liking. I wish I could explain what the plot is about, but I seriously have no idea. I didn’t skip the cut scenes or anything, but all I knew was that there were a bunch of scary-looking ladies I had to fight.

It’s a real shame because Acension, as a standalone game, is still pretty awesome. I still loved the combat gameplay, especially against the epic bosses, which are usually broken down into several phases and require a very long time to conquer. The kill scenes are more gruesome and bloody than ever, and really bring out the power of the PS3 graphics, with the blood specks and splatters clearly visible in the detailed close-ups. The game itself, on the first run through, probably takes about 13-15 hours (which is fairly substantial), and then there are some extras which allow you to restart the game with a different-looking character/outfit but fully-charged weapons.

However, these solid elements don’t quite add up to a memorable game. Part of it is the lack of innovation from GOWIII, but I think it also has something to do with the storytelling and the lack of variety in the game’s progression. In GOWIII it never felt like you were doing the same thing over and over because one minute you might be scaling walls and fighting minions, and the next you could be sliding down a ramp, solving puzzles, then engaging in an epic boss battle. Ascension’s gameplay didn’t feel like it had that variance, and the puzzles also weren’t as creative.

What Ascension does have going for it is the online multiplayer aspect. I haven’t tested it much yet but the ability to play with other people is an excellent addition to the franchise. My main complaints are of course the inability to use Kratos (apparently the developers didn’t want everyone choosing Kratos, as they probably would), and also the inability to play offline with two controllers (or more) on the same system and TV. Not everyone loves online play, you know.

A scene from a multiplayer mission

A scene from a multiplayer mission

On the whole, God of War: Ascension is a sound addition to the GOW franchise, but it’s also one of the more unremarkable ones. Perhaps it’s because I was too spoiled by GOWIII, but despite its strengths there just wasn’t enough freshness or variety to make Ascension a must-have for PS3 gamers.