I don’t know about you, but this has been the moment my eyes and fingers have been waiting for. I twirled blades and chains for days, practicing before getting in line for God of War III at E3 2009. An hour and a half later, I had Kratos in the palm of my hand, and the good news is that the forsaken Spartan, in all his rugged, brutal glory does not disappoint.
The bad news is only bad in that it’s expected. God of War III is God of War II and God of War I with a little more blood, and a little more shine.
The truth of the matter is that the God of War formula works. The only thing that promises to stop God of War is the fact that the mythological world is finite. There are only so many monsters, characters, and creatures you can use within the confines of this setting. Kratos’ journey, I imagine, will run its course as long as the kingdom of Zeus allows.
Though it differs in its creatures and brutality, the game itself remains a flesh and blood successor (pun intended). To illustrate my point, let’s look at some footage of the opening filmed on the E3 floor:
Anything about that look familiar? Kratos is pummelling (albeit in the coolest of styles) hordes of enemies while a giant target looms in the distance. In the first, it was Aries. In the second, it was a Colossus. Now, it’s the Ghostbuster‘s marshmallow man after an unfortunate smores incident. This is where I’m torn. The faces of the monsters have changed, but their inherent qualities have not. They are mythological, epic, and fantastic, but their construct and role in the game remain almost identical. Is there enough differentiation for the game to stand on its own?
The answer after playing the demo would have to be a tentative “yes”. In the course of the demo, I learned that Kratos can now stab harpies while they fly and use them to traverse chasms. The harpies have been upgraded to the PS3′s graphical high standard, and if one looks closely, they can see the outlines of their withered, muscular bodies. Kratos also fights a cyclops, a massive centaur, and a chimera – the creature combination of a snake, a lion, and a goat. Variations on attacking style aren’t plentiful, though the chimera rears up on its hind legs when its tail is cut off, then starts to ram (like a goat), when the lion part of the animal is killed.
The brutal quick-time events make a return that’s both triumphant and lackluster. Catching on to the idea of QTEs not being what brings people out to play, the developers made a great choice in flashing whichever button you need to press in its respective direction. So, when you have to press triangle, it appears at the top of the screen, and when its x, it appears at the bottom. While this may seem subtle, not only does it allow for ease of the quick time event, but it allows for the eyes to focus more directly on the action, not missing the brutality usually in store. The bad side of this, however, is variation in the quick-time animation, which introduce the game’s level of brutality.
In the course of the demo, I sliced open a centaur so that his intestines spilled out, and ripped someone’s head off with my bare hands, all while the camera is zoomed in close enough to give the victim a cavity search (this severed head is then used as a flashlight, which is by far one of the most inventive moments of the demo). While the quick-time events in the previous games were centered more on fantastic moves and leaps around foes, the animations in this installment simply have you pressing a button to ferociously and repeatedly stab an enemy, usually ending in an ever more gruesome manner. My problem isn’t necessarily the violence itself, but I’m hoping there’s a balance between repetitive, imagination-less violence, and the ripping out of a cyclops’ one eye.
The one thing that no one can deny is that the game looks amazing. Hordes of people stood and gawked at a slew of HD televisions. The feel of God of War has always been a larger than life adventure, with amazing depth of field, viewing catastrophes in the background of action taking place in your face. You can see for miles. God of War III doesn’t disappoint as a show-off title for the PS3′s capability with beautiful and detailed cinematic angles.
Once again, Kratos is sporting his chains and blades, wings, the bow and arrow, and a weapon consisting of giant metal fists. The blades operate in the same manner as the first two games, and their implementation is simple and fluid. At times, spamming one attack will keep you scratch-free, but the fun is in some of the variation. You can charge an enemy and rush him into other enemies (after which he throws them gruesomely against any surface available). The metal fists dramatically slow down Kratos and make him much less nimble and evasive (the dodge mechanic is entirely different). It also drastically alters the timing and pacing of fights. While they were a new addition, they don’t exactly impress. Kratos has always been a whirlwind of fury, most of his combos turbulent twists and scathing, fast moving blades. But these “Hellboy” fists go the opposite direction, also forcing the player to get in close and rough and tumble with the some of the bigger foes. I’m interested to see how they work past the first twenty minutes of the game, but their contradictory nature to the Kratos’ normal combat worries me. Granted, how many of us always reverted back to the blades and chains anyway?
All in all, the game is a more violent, better looking version of the its predecessors. Is it going to be great? Probably. I don’t imagine those who’ve played the first two God of War titles are going to throw a tantrum in the video game aisle because Kratos has started a hobby collecting severed-head night lights and doesn’t stab with enough flare. It’s the same fast paced, epic action that have made us love the first two. If you’re looking for something different, you may want to try the snack aisle. But if you’re training for the arena and need some help slaying some serious monsters, in March 2010, Kratos is your man.
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