Wow! Gasp! Oooohhh! That’s certainly going to be the reaction from almost every gamer that picks up God Of War III and scraps their way through the game’s epic opening sequence. This sequence, which sees the series’ brutal protagonist, Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta clambering around a massive moving titan as it climbs Mount Olympus, is one of the most impressive openings of any game, ever. It’s a real jolt to your seat by the developer, and a clear sign that Sony’s box has finally come of age.
What you see on screen here is true next gen visual performance on console, not only due to the impressive visuals themselves, but by the events being portrayed.
As the camera sweeps in and out showing titan, Gaia, fighting against a massive foe, you control Kratos, fighting his own battles like a flea running around on Gaia’s arm. When the camera swoops out to reveal the massive size of Gaia, it’s impressive enough, but when you realise that you’re still controlling Kratos and the action is still going, well, you can’t fail to be impressed.
It’s with this impressive visual performance that GoWIII hopes to beat your senses into submission, and from the opening scenes, right through to the last battle, the presentation and technical achievement is always brilliant. There are few games on either PS3 or the 360 that can hope to match this level of visual fidelity.
As for the actual gameplay, this is where God Of War III retains its traditional roots. While the differences in visual presentation between the original games (even the high def versions in the GoW Collection reviewed here) and this third outing are separated by a great river of Styx-like distance, the combat and game mechanics here are basically the same, with little in the way of change.
Controlling Kratos is like slipping on a pair of old, comfy trainers; there’s little need to wear them in, as they fit just fine. As soon as you take Kratos’ reins, you’re in familiar territory, as long as you’ve played the previous games, of course, and you’ll be able to pull off all of his devilishly graceful moves with ease. The chained blades the Spartan warrior prefers are as deadly and cool as ever, and with the new visual flair, you’re not likely to see as much blood spilled anywhere else.
Yep, GoW III is about as gory as it gets, and with the return of the series’ staple QTE finishers, the amount of blood, guts and giblets being thrown around is higher than ever, with some truly grotesque and brutal depictions of violence on display.
Kratos can pull off stunning combos with the blades, and the control system is as fast and fluid as it always was, with the right stick being used to perform quick evades, and shoulder buttons used for guard, magic, attack modifiers and contextual actions.
Using a mix of light and heavy attacks, along with evades, blocks, parries and throws, you can act out some truly eye watering battles, where odds that would take down a god are all within Kratos’ formidable grasp. You really do appreciate just how ridiculously nails Kratos is as you carve a bloody trail through the many and varied foes, and as with the original game, the combat is still peppered with various puzzles and simple logic problems, each of which help to break up the scrapping and to keep things well paced and interesting.
Predictably, shortly after the opening scenes, Kratos is stripped of most of his powers, meaning that, as you progress, you’ll have to power him up. This is done by finding hidden chests containing Gorgon eyes, Phoenix feathers and Minotaur horns, as well as acquiring new weapons and abilities by defeating bosses and the like.
Ah, the bosses. Few games have been able to match the epic boss fights of the GoW series in the past, and this time the title goes totally balls to the wall, with some stunning confrontations. I’m not just talking about the presence of the enormous titans, as even the smaller bosses like Hades are impressive. Each battle is well thought out, and all require some truly OTT tactics to take down.
The new selection of weapons and abilities are all well implemented too, and perhaps far more balanced than in previous outings. Instead of wielding several types of magic at once, here your available magic changes depending on the weapon you’re using. For example, the Blades of Exile, Kratos’ new main weapon, grant the ability to summon a 300-style phalanx of Spartan warriors that surround you with shields and stab your foes, whilst the Chains of Hades let you summon a selection of different spirits to aid you. To use each power, you need to switch to the weapon that bestows it. This means that the d-pad is now used to change weapons, rather than magic.
Other abilities include items that reveal secret doors, a powerful bow and the return of the Icarus’ wings, which Kratos can use to glide over large drops and fly on thermal drafts.
As I mentioned earlier, the plentiful QTE events also return, only this time they’re a little more forgiving, and it’s a little easier to nail each input. That said, I do find the icons appearing at the periphery of the screen a little off putting, but once you get used to it, it’s no major issue. Rest assured, though, these QTE events do fit in with the gameplay, and aren’t the cheap additions that so many games employ.
I should take some time to mention the audio direction of the title, which is simply superb. The booming orchestral soundtrack returns with some perfectly fitting compositions, and the voice acting is great, if a little clichéd in terms of writing. Still, this isn’t all that important either, as the story is as simple as it gets: Kratos wants to kill Zeus, king of the gods, and he’ll let nothing, not even a titan, get in his way.
There’s no real room for asides here, and the single-mindedness of the most vicious Spartan to have ever lived ensures that the game is constantly on track, right up to the inevitable final confrontation. That’s not to say the story unfolding in front of you isn’t interesting. With the game pillaging from all the best bits of Greek mythology, there’s no shortage of great twists and turns, and the line-up of foes and gods that face Kratos’ wrath are all A-list, with the game’s depictions of the deities being very stylish and well designed.
As with the first two games, the camera can be a problem from time to time, and it’s still as rigid as ever, with no manual control. This is a shame as you can’t spend time to admire the impressive environments the developer has created, instead being limited to the angles the game gives you. (There are, however, a few surprising POV camera scenes that we won’t spoil except to say you’ll experience the power of Kratos from a whole new angle.)
It’s also easy to lose track of what’s going on in some more confined battles on occasion, and during some of the game’s plentiful platform sections, you can make clumsy mistakes, dropping into an abyss when you think you’re safe to land.
Still, despite these niggles, the game is always a blast to play, and although there’s very little in the way of new content or innovation, God Of War III is a truly stunning finale to the series, and one game that every PS3 owner needs to grab.