God of War III (PS3) Review

The Short


Pros

– Finale in the fantastic action-game trilogy

– Possibly the most refined variation of the core combat to date

– Absolutely insane setpieces with some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen in any game to date

– Seriously, this game looks so good your eyes will bleed

– Fantastic voice work, sound effects, and soundtrack (as usual)

– Lengthy quest that takes you all over the place and back again

Cons

– The final nail on the coffin that was the sympathy for Kratos’ character

– Not just a character failure, but the story itself is incredibly weak and convoluted

– Seriously, there’s so many cliches, plot holes, and downright despicable moments it’s hard to not fixate on them

– All the bonus weapons except the massive fists are pretty much useless. Just stick to the Blades

– Doesn’t feel quite as good to play as the previous two games; the “weight” of the weapons felt off

– Seriously though, a little girl? A weird dream sequence? That ending?! Man, where did this series go so far off track?

Pushing the “M” rating to its limits

The Long

I think it’s worth mentioning before I start this review: I really do like the God of War trilogy, probably more than it deserves. They just feel so…so good to play. Plus they have a sense of scale and dip into the wonderful richness of Greek mythology that I can’t help but be engrossed (and grossed out) as I play through them. God of War was an absolutely incredible revelation, a complete package through and through that came out of nowhere. God of War II improved on the combat but began to lose sight of the original creative vision in terms of the storytelling. Despite this, both are two of my absolute most favorite games from the past console generation.

Which is why it hurts me to say how much I just didn’t enjoy God of War III.

God of War III is the end. It proudly pronounced this in all its advertising, trying to get a similar Halo 3 “Finish the Fight” vibe. This is the part where Kratos murders all the gods on Olympus and, at last, gets his revenge that only started in the second game. This is also the game where any hope I still had that this game would use the fantastic storytelling elements of the first game to build into something great was shattered, and when I got so upset with the series that I actually quit it for several years.

And on that positive note, let’s overanalyze this, shall we?

Guess what. Kratos is still angry.

Let me say one thing first: I get a bit annoyed when people dismiss these games as stupid, gory action games that have no redeeming qualities. I mean, you guys are right, but I would have to disagree when it comes to the first God of War (and Ghost of Sparta on the PSP). As stated in previous reviews, God of War used its gory, over-the-top awfulness to better convey Kratos’ character in a way that actually tied in really well with the story. I saw his brutality as a man yearning for release, absolutely haunted and (frankly) destroyed by this mistakes of his past. His violence was all he had left, a mask to hide how completely and utterly ruined as a human being he was. Had they expanded on this original promise in the second and third games, these might have gone down as some fantastic pieces of storytelling, a downright modern Greek tragedy where the corrupt, arrogant hero gets his come-uppance and there’s a life lesson to be learned.

This is not to be found in God of War III.

I’m going to try my best to not go on about this, I really am, because I don’t want to bore people who don’t care. But God of War III is (in terms of its story and character development) utterly and completely irredeemable, much like Kratos himself. There are just so many things that are done completely wrong here (and almost offensively so in how they poorly attempt to tamper with our emotions) that I could write whole essays on this, but instead I’ll condense it to two key things: Kratos as a character, and the story upon which this series is based (and concludes) on.

Kratos: maybe the worst person ever.

I make mention that I felt Kratos was actually an excellent and surprisingly “adult” character coming out of God of War (the first one). Had they expanded on this original blueprint, he could have easily evolved into a three-dimensional, flawed, and very sympathetic character.

I was worried after the second game that they weren’t taking Kratos in a good direction, removing what made him interesting (his suppressed humanity) and adding more of what made him boring (his generic rage and childish arrogance), but he wasn’t completely ruined. I thought they could fix this in the third game, tying it all together and making it work (kind of what they did in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, even if it wasn’t perfect). Hint: they don’t.

There is so little to Kratos as a character in this game I think even calling him a “character” might be going too far. Kratos exists to do two things: scream bloody revenge at anything that moves and then kill said thing in a horrific way. Enemies, allies, gods, titans, innocents, those guilty; everybody. Kratos never once pauses to think of the damage his actions are causing (as the world falls to ruin as each god is slain) and never once shows any remorse for his actions. He also never seems to care about what happened to his family, the key driving force in the first game (though I guess the storywriters in II and III were too shallow to understand that his revenge was an effect, not a cause. The cause was the mistake, the effect was his desired revenge against Ares). Kratos exists simply as a mechanism to murder, which I think is a damn shame.

There is a small scene near the very end where we enter Kratos’ mind and see a bit of the pent up remorse for all the awful things he’d done, and for a second I had hope that finally Kratos would realize what he’d become and succumb. But, nope, it just ends with an even more brutal, first person finisher of the final boss. Why did you even put this in the game? To tease me? You all suck.

Point being: this game was the nail on “Kratos as Character”‘s coffin. I downright hated the guy after the first hour of the game, hating him so much it actually made it hard for me to continue playing.

Punch ’em good, Kratos. That’s all you’re good for.

The story this character destruction is “woven” over doesn’t fare much better. The second game at least knew it didn’t have any story and thus didn’t try to force any contrived scenes or out-of-place plot arcs on us. This game, however, isn’t so lucky. Very quickly Kratos burns all his bridges and ends up back in the underworld (AGAIN. He seriously goes there in every single game except Ghost of Sparta, where he goes to the “land of the dead” instead. Much better, that.), swearing revenge on literally everything in creation. Athena, who died at the end of #2, is also somehow…back? And never really explained? If she can come back, why not Ares? Or all the gods Kratos kills, for that matter? Never mind; they needed someone to tell you what to do, so she’s back. Great.

It just keeps falling apart at every turn. We are introduced to Pandora, a little girl who apparently opened the box (which we used in the first game to kill Ares), and now she exists to be sort of Kratos’ humanity or something. But she is never used correctly, and when bad things happen to her, Kratos’ reactions are so half-assed I have no idea what’s actually going on in his head. They couldn’t even use the bland little girl plot device effectively! How do you screw that up?

There’s some contrived thing about needing the flame of olympus and Pandora’s box to kill Zeus, which makes no sense because I almost killed him just fine with the sword of Olympus at the end of game 2, so much so that Athena sacrificed herself to save him and I doubt she would have if she knew he was in no real danger as this third game says, but whatever… continuity is for chumps. It basically just turns in to Kratos murdering everything for more are more obscure and contrived reasons until you get to the end.

WARNING: I AM GOING TO SPOIL THE END OF THIS GAME UNTIL THE NEXT IMAGE.

Ok, so the ending of God of War III is an unmitigated disaster on every front. In short, Pandora sacrifices herself (in what I’m guessing was supposed to be an emotional moment for Kratos and the player? Because it isn’t) to bring “Hope” back. Except apparently Kratos…had “hope” from the start? Also it seems when Kratos opened the box it sent corruption and evil into the world, which is what made the gods all dislike Kratos. Oh…kay? So you are trying to justify my slaughter by saying all the gods were corrupt? I’m pretty sure they all hated Kratos because he acted like an enormous asshole and baby constantly, and the gods bicker all the time anyway. Also, if you introduce that at the end it looks phoned in (because it was) rather than actually, I don’t know, MAKING SENSE.

So Kratos goes into his own psyche as stated previously and learns nothing because he brutally murders Zeus and thus all the gods of Olympus are dead, the world they kept in balance is completely destroyed (though in the other games when you killed the gods nothing bad happened. Um…ok?), and Kratos is left alone with the ghost of Athena who wants the power of Hope for whatever reason. That was like…her scheme this whole time?

Let me state something fast here: if it sounds like this is all just piling up at the end, it’s because it was. None of this is foreshadowed, hinted at, or even mentioned during the course of the entire series or game. It’s all just expositioned all over you during the final half hour or so.

Anyway, to finish this off here, Kratos decides to give Athena the finger one last time and stabs himself in the chest, destroying hope and screwing the world over as well as any final glimmer of hope I had that he’d be a decent character. Except wait…maybe he isn’t dead?! The post credits reveal hints at that, which also makes no sense because if he’s still alive Athena could get what he wants.

This is the point: this is one of the worst endings of any game series I’ve ever played in my life, and it makes me wonder why this game didn’t get so much flack for it like Mass Effect 3 did (which had a mediocre ending but this one is far worse). It basically just takes a huge dump on God of War and everything the first game stood for, leaving a sour taste in my mouth so bad it actually tainted my opinion of the rest of the series.

Ok, I’m done with the story now, promise.

Back to using a god’s head as a flashlight.

Combat wise, God of War III fares a lot better. Most of the combos are still carried over from the first two games, with a few minor exceptions, all for the better. The triple Triangle (aka ultimate heavy attack) has been retimed and animated so it’s much more useful, but the best improvement is the fact that they finally figured out what to do with the L1+Square button combo. In previous games it usually did a useless, unbreakable combo, but in this game it’s like a grapple move. Kratos shoots his chains out at whomever you are targeting and slams himself into them, closing the distance and doing a good deal of damage. It’s great for getting close to dodging enemies for finishers, and while it does make the game a little too easy, it’s the best use of that button combination to date.

Another great improvement is the magic, to a point. The “generic ranged” ability now takes energy from its own, regenerating bar rather than your magic meter, meaning ranged attacks are a much more viable option. Magic is tied to the new sets of weapons you get, which is also a great idea, though of the three replacement weapons you get only one is worth using ever, the heavy punchy fists. The other two are just variations on your chain swords that aren’t as good as your chain swords, so screw ’em.

Boom.

The pacing is still quite good, though I will admit it felt a bit slower at times when compared to the non-stop action of God of War II. While it’s still better paced than most games, God of War III is certainly amongst the weakest in the series, where I did get a bit bored a few times. It also has some really annoying puzzles, which draw back from the fun as well, but overall it isn’t enough to make you straight up stop playing.

I also felt the weapons didn’t feel as…heavy as they did in the first two games. They really felt like they were making a solid impact when I struck guys in the first game, and this one they feel a bit more wispy. Maybe it’s the new blood graphic or new sound effects or something, but I felt that none of the weapons has the same amount of punch. Still, it’s an extremely solid action game with some of the best combat in the series (and certainly the most refined), so on that front I really can’t complain.

Kratos has a new kite.

This game is a graphical marvel. I still don’t know how they got Kratos’ muscles to look and move so realistically, and that level of detail carries over to the enemies, bosses, and landscapes. And man…the landscapes! You start the game fighting on the back of a giant, moving titan amongst other moving titans as they ascend Mount Olympus, every tree on her back rustling as she climbs, all in real time. It’s absolutely staggering to watch.

The lighting is also worth mentioning, as it looks better than what most movie studios can pull off with a wide range of rendering software. Every bloody, gory bit is meticulously recreated in some genuinely stomach-wrenching scenes, so those of you who are gore-averse should seriously avoid this game. It was easy enough to tolerate in the first two games as the graphics made everything feel a bit less realistic, but this one doesn’t hold back. There’s some really nasty stuff here.

Music and voice work is stellar all around, even if the script is an abomination. The tunes aren’t quite as good as the rest of the series, but they are certainly booming and catchy. The soundtrack for the whole trilogy is all on my computer, and I do listen to it frequently.

Kratos doesn’t share trees.

Despite the horrific abomination that is God of War III’s story, it’s hard for me to be so quick to critique the rest of the game similarly as it is, still, extremely solid. I will admit it was getting a bit familiar at this point (mix up the combos once, why don’t you?), but it all felt so tight and was set to such crazy action that I was willing to forgive. As far as action games go, God of War III is very, very solid, and tied with some incredible and unforgettable visual sequences.

That being said, the destruction of Kratos’ character was so off-putting to me I found it hard to enjoy the game. Watching him brutally cut the legs off of Hermes wasn’t interesting or enjoyable, it made me feel like an awful person. I was willing to forgive (and even revel; I’ll admit it. Good stress relief) in these atrocities in the first two games because I felt the actions were justified. In this one, I felt like Kratos was the villain and everybody else was the good guy, so forgive me if hitting buttons to rip people to pieces makes me feel a bit bad. And yeah, I know what an “antihero” is, but Kratos is not an antihero. He’s a psychopath who is completely unlikable, so much so that it completely taints the violence-glorifying game he’s inserted into.

Games exist so that we can go places we can’t in real life, either as ourselves (in terms of games with silent protagonists or with first-person views) or as other people. But when our eyes into this world become something we don’t want to be, do we really want to continue? This medium is so unique and powerful, it really can be used to convey a whole new dimension of storytelling. God of War III squanders and, frankly, abuses this privilege. And for what purpose? Did this really sell more copies, turning off all mature players of your games? I understand I’m judging a God of War game by a higher standard, but it really should be judged that way. God of War was so good, and God of War III is so very, very far from that game’s mark and vision. It’s a damn shame this is how it ended.

I was torn between two and three stars, but I’m going to round up and give it three out of five, but the star rating shouldn’t matter. My opinions on this game are absolutely clear. If you are capable of turning your brain off and just slaughtering tons of mythological things, this game will be perfect for you. But if not, expect a rather hearty amount of story dissonance in your future.

But at least it looks good. I guess.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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