IGN Review of God of War III
After three years of development and three very long years of waiting, the end is finally upon us. God of War III marks the finale to Kratos' search for revenge and properly caps off a trilogy that ranks near the very top of the best action games ever list. Yes indeed, everything does come to a complete and decisive close by the end, and though it may not be the last that we've seen of the franchise, this really is the end of this tale.
Taking the old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule at face value, Sony Santa Monica has done very little to alter how things work, though there's been a bit of welcome polish on nearly every facet of gameplay. That is, if you were expecting a revolution in terms of design, you'll be sorely disappointed. But, if you simply wanted more of what has made the series so great up to this point, you're going to be quite happy indeed.
What has worked in the past largely still holds true here in great fashion. God of War III practically redefines what the word "scale" means with regards to videogames, as it throws you into scenes with Titans that are larger than entire levels in some other games. The scope of some of these sequences is nothing short of astounding, with playable sequences that take place on creatures the size of a skyscraper. Sony Santa Monica has been promising this all along, but even when you know what sort of experience you're in for, you'll still be blown away by the immensity of some scenes.
While size is a hugely impressive aspect of the game, more than anything else, God of War III is a tour-de-force in terms of its visuals, and it's even more brutal than any of its predecessors. Yes, this is a very M-rated game, one filled with blood, gore and detached limbs, but what's important is that it all makes sense. Greek mythology was filled with violence, and Kratos' latest doesn't hold back in all the right ways.
The combat is just as responsive as ever with big, massive combos that you'll always feel completely in control of. You can cancel out of almost anything and go into a block or roll, making defensive maneuvers a strong (and very necessary) part of your arsenal. One subtle tweak this time around is that the old Square-Square-Triangle combo that ends with Kratos whipping down the Blades in a big overhand motion isn't as easily abused as it once was. This is partly due to the fact that you'll find yourself surrounded by more enemies than ever before, requiring that you utilize your area attacks more often, but it's also because enemies can be more aggressive. If you're in their sights, they're probably attacking, which makes the combat a little more balanced between blocking, rolling and attacking; that's great. It's not a huge change, but it's certainly very welcome.
One problem with past God of War titles was that despite the fact that you'd pick up a handful of other weapons along the way, in large part they weren't very useful as your blades seemed to almost always be more effective. That's been fixed this time, and all three of the other weapons you acquire are good in almost any situation. That's even more true thanks to the fact that you can now switch between them on the fly, mid-combo, allowing you to string together big sequences will all four weapons in use.
My only complaint here is that two of the three additional weapons that you'll earn are extremely similar to your blades. They have unique powers and slightly different moves, but by and large, they're more of the same. The Cestus (the pair of big metal gloves that you've no doubt seen previously) is really the only weapon that's truly unique, and fortunately those are both useful and great fun to take into battle, but it's hard to not wish that your other pickups were as different at the Cestus.
Another cool change to the mechanics is that your magic is now tied to each weapon, so switching between these has become not only simpler, but it's also easier to tell what magic you have selected. All of this is still relegated to directions on the D-Pad, though you can now quick-swap between weapons (and therefore magic) mid-combo by pressing L1 and X. This setup actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the game as well because most of the magic comes directly from the weapons rather than being some ethereal power that Kratos magically (pun intended) gains at some point.
One change that we first saw in the E3 2009 demo, which resulted in a bit of controversy, is that the quick-time event button prompts that come up during kill moves are now situated at the edges of the screen, allowing you to watch what's happening and use your peripheral vision to see which button to press rather than have the prompts appear over top of the action. I'm a big fan of this change as it allows you to pay attention to the action rather than waiting to see what button appears next.
Another thing that I'm a big fan of this time around is that Sony Santa Monica uses the camera in a much more cinematic way throughout the game. No, you still don't have control over it as the camera is specifically placed in spots for each scene (it's still controlled for you, in other words), but there's a lot more play with it during cutscenes, including in-game kills. While you'll still see the slow pans here and there to show you where you should go next or what door you've just opened with a switch, other sequences where you don't have direct control over Kratos feature multiple camera cuts from some nice angles. It's great to see the team play with how the camera is used as I think there were some missed opportunities in the past.
One other seriously impressive bit about presentation changes is that there are no CG cutscenes in the game. Outside of the cool credits intro, everything else was rendered in the game engine with zero post-production effects added. Some scenes were too intense for the engine to handle without chugging a bit so those scenes are presented as a movie (individual frames were spit out and put together as a film), but everything you see matches up almost seamlessly because of this. In fact, if you aren't really looking for it you might not ever notice the cuts, which is great.
As I mentioned previously, the game can look incredible. There are scenes that look like they were ripped straight out of WETA Digital's render farm with lighting so immaculate that your eyes will drop out of their sockets. Truly, God of War III presents some of the most impressive visuals that I've ever seen in a game. Kratos in particular looks phenomenal, and is perhaps the single most impressive-looking character ever in videogames.
However, the graphical fidelity is not entirely consistent. There are a couple areas of the game that just don't match up to the most impressive stuff, creating an uneven feeling in the visual presentation. Granted, even at its worst God of War III still looks really good, but some spots just don't feature the same level of lighting quality or perhaps texture work as others. The biggest culprits in this issue, however, are some of the characters. There are a few that look fantastic, but many are clearly not on the same level as Kratos, and some are even only passable as "good".
This issue of inconsistency also unfortunately applies to the story. Despite how relatively simplistic the previous story entries were, they were told extremely well. Everything made sense and there was a clear purpose of what was happening and why. Here, the story (and therefore the game's progression) seems to buckle under its own weight at times. It's a little more complex, attempting to introduce intangible concepts that I won't spoil here, but it doesn't work as well for me as the more straightforward tales from past titles.
This also means that some of the progression elements aren't connected quite as well as I'd have hoped. There are a couple areas that feel a little out of place, largely because they're there to serve a story that isn't as finely tuned as it could have been. It's tricky to really explain this more without spoiling anything, but some spots just don't feel as old and timeless as big locations have in the past (like the Island of Fate or Pandora's Temple), which makes things seem a little less "epic" in terms of historical importance and breadth of scale.
Back to the good stuff though... this of course wouldn't be a God of War game without some intense boss battles, and God of War III largely delivers in that respect. What's really cool is that there are a handful of fights that aren't executed in standard form, where you would just need to kill them before they kill you. Sony Santa Monica played with how some of these encounters could work quite a bit, and in these cases, the sequences fit the story better than if these characters just stepped up and fought with incredible combat skills.
Not every section of every battle is incredible, but there are some really good fights in store for you. The second half of one in particular (probably about half-way through) devolves into an extremely brutal melee brawl that now ranks amongst my favorite one-on-one battles ever.
As has been the case with both PlayStation 2 releases, there are a ton of extras included on the disc including behind-the-scenes footage, a series of very difficult challenges and an arena battle room. Note that if the arena battles sound interesting, you have to finish the game and then the Challenge of Olympus (same deal as the Challenge of the Gods from past titles) before you can try that mode out.
As far as the videos go, The Making of God of War III is your usual behind-the-scenes, all-encompassing clip that I found to be very enjoyable. In addition to this, there are some 15-plus other videos that dive into specific aspects, including level design, the music and visual effects. It's all really good stuff and will take you a couple hours to go through if you watch all of it. And yes, it's all in HD.
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