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Thursday, December 30, 2010

God of War 3 (9.9/10)

I’ve always been into Greek mythology. The stories of the Olympian gods always stuck with me because, while immortal and powerful, they were still so tragically... human. These tales served a purpose; to explain the unexplainable. The squabbling and bickering of the immortals on Olympus provided an excuse for all the bad things that happened to normal people in the real world. But there were always some who challenged the gods; who flaunted their ultimate authority and power. Kratos, the infamous anti-hero of the God of War series, epitomizes that insolence. His blood soaked march through the halls of Mt. Olympus seeking revenge against those who wronged him is the definition of epic. God of War 3 brings the legend of Kratos to a close in grand fashion, providing one of the most satisfying culminations to any series I have ever played.

God of War 3 takes up where predecessor left off; Kratos riding on the back of the titan Gaia as she ascends to the summit of Mt. Olympus to confront Zeus. There is mythology within a mythology here, sort of an alternate timeline if you will. The battle between the titans and the gods has been raging since time immemorial, and Kratos finds himself caught smack in the middle. Poor Kratos has always been blinded by his own arrogance, and has as a result been betrayed by everyone and is beholden to no one. So what is Kratos to do? Why, kill them all of course!

As the Ghost of Sparta once again winds up in Hades (he should have his hand stamped), we learn from Athena's spirit (gods have spirits, who knew?) that in order to kill his father Zeus, king of all Olympus, Kratos must once again use Pandora's Box. Within it rests the power to kill a god. Of course, that's easier said than done, as the Box is held within the Flame of Olympus which burns so bright and hot that neither man nor god can touch it. To get his revenge, Kratos must get to Pandora's Box. To get to the Box he must get through the Flame... but to get through the Flame he'll need some help. I'm not going to tell you anymore, but needless to say Kratos' patricidal quest for vengeance takes him from the depths of the Underworld to the halls of Mt. Olympus itself, battling gods and titans both, romping and stomping his way through a veritable "Who's Who" of Greek mythology. You can always tell where Kratos has been by the destruction and carnage he leaves in his wake, not to mention the dead deities littering up the place.

Kratos' rampage is brought to life by the best graphics of any game I've played to date. Visually, it is a tour de force, one without equal. Just look at Kratos' face on the main title screen... the attention to detail is phenomenal! Apart from being able to see the pores on his nose, everything from the environments to the enemies looks beyond fantastic. From the dank pits of Tartarus, to battling on, around and in a gigantic Titan, to Aphrodite's silky bed chamber, to the shining halls of Mt. Olympus itself, it's all wonderfully detailed and rich. The gorgons are another great example. While the infamous serpent-haired offspring of Medusa look amazing, the snake skin on their lower half looks real! I mean, really real. The way the light shimmers across them... it's astonishing, like something on the Discovery Channel. That's just one example of many; this entire game shows an incredible attention to detail that should be commended. It illustrates how far we have come in just the last couple of years, and provides a glimpse of what the future may hold for this medium.

If the game looks that good, what about the the legendary God of War cut scenes that we were all so blown away by in the first couple of games? At the time they set a graphical standard. As good as the graphics are in GoW 3, trying to make even better looking cut scenes would have been an exercise in futility. So instead, they smartly went in a completely different route. Cut scenes are done in an anime style reminiscent of the ending of the movie 300. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of this, but ultimately it works and works well, providing a stylized counter balance to the amazing in-game graphics.

Because of the incredible graphical fidelity in GoW 3, the infamous brutality the series is known for gets an obvious bump in realism. This is not a game for the squeamish or the faint of heart. It's realistic violence borders on being too realistic, if you see what I mean. When Kratos eviscerates a centaur (which never gets old by the way) it looks real... or as real as an eviscerated mythological creature can look, I suppose. But when this is most noticeable is during each major boss encounter. Each god dies in a way that is arguably more brutal and graphic than the last, especially those seen through the eyes of the victim. I can only imagine they way he would have killed Aphrodite, but as it is you have other things to do to her;^) Oh, and if you thought killing a god was intense, try offing a titan!

The brilliant graphics are complimented by the sound work. I’d say it deserves near perfect scores as well. The score captures the atmosphere brilliantly. The sound effects are excellent. The dialogue, while stilted and loaded with cliches, is well performed. Kratos usually does a poor impersonation of The Hulk, but as the story unfolds he shows his human side is still there, albeit buried deep down inside.

From a purely gameplay standpoint, GoW 3 is just about perfect in my opinion. Of course, it can quickly devolve into button mashing if you’re not careful. It's worth taking the time to learn the nuances of the controls. Once you've mastered them, I’ve never played a game that makes you feel more like a god, as indestructible and immortal, as GoW 3. I’d say that’s mildly ironic, considering... but when the excellent controls are a huge part of what defines the series, why mess with what works? There are some cool new weapons to play with, although they are really just similar versions of the Blades of Chaos. The main exception is the Cestus, which are basically giant brass knuckles. Those are fun;^), especially in the hands of Kratos. Adding in the ability to switch weapons mid-combo is clever, even though I didn’t use it too much. Controlling the giant monsters is another smart move. I had fun holding on to a giant Cyclops' eyelid and having him run rampant over a bunch of minions. If anything it was probably underutilized...

This series is also known for clever puzzles and platforming sections, and I'm happy to report that Sony Santa Monica took some of the most cleverly designed games in recent memory and pulled out all the stops for the finale. GoW 3 has some of the best pacing ever. There are always little sections tossed in to keep the combat from getting too repetitive. The 'Quicktime' events, a hallmark of the series, have been slightly tweaked to have the prompts on the periphery. Since the face buttons are located on the cardinal directions, it is actually quite instinctive to find the corroborating button without drawing your attention too drastically from the bloody action in the middle of the screen. Not everyone likes QTE, but that small change makes them much more tolerable.

My only complaint, and seriously this is really the only one, is that with sometimes the path to follow in the platforming sections isn't always obvious. Some of the prompts, like where the camera pans through the level, are a little confusing. It can result in some cheap deaths, like jumping off the wrong point just to see if that was the right way to go. Fortunately there are a lot of autosaves, so you tend not to get set back too far. Oh yeah, and I wasn't a huge fan of the flying sections... it was cool the first time, as in once.

I find myself facing one of those moments when I'm struggling for criticism. But sometimes you just have to accept that trying to find fault for the sake of finding fault is moronic. God of War 3 is a wonderful example of how a game can be greater than the sum it's parts, no matter how good those parts might be on their own. Kratos' tale is an experience... and it's final chapter should not be missed lest you risk the wrath of the Ghost of Sparta yourself.


Score = 9.9 / 10

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