HIGH: The battle with Hades.
LOW: The underwhelming Labyrinth.
WTF: Kevin Sorbo makes a cameo, but no Lucy Lawless?
The God of War franchise is the best at what they do. Excellent level design, the best action to be found this side of the Parthenon, flawless controls, epic bosses, the list goes on. Naturally God of War III, the series's first foray on the PlayStation 3, has some lofty expectations attached to it. The end result is certainly a worthy entry into the series, but does it really deliver the kind of spellbinding finale we were teased with? The cliffhanger ending of God of War II left the player with the tantalizing thought of a no-holds-barred killing spree through Mount Olympus, and for the most part that's what we got.
Much like God of War II, the player is socked in the face with the massive scale of the environment from the beginning. Let me try to paint the picture; the adventure begins with the player climbing Olympus on the back of the Titan Gaia while doing battle with the Greek god Poseidon along the way. Let me repeat, this is the first level. No other franchise delivers this kind of experience quite like God of War, and at the very beginning it was clear that they had again brought their best in this regard.
However, the game's scale drastically shrinks as the game goes on. With the exception of the awe-inducing battle with Cronos, nothing approaching the "whoa" factor of the opening level is seen again, and the later portions of the game actually feel somewhat lackluster compared to those in the previous iterations of the series. The Labyrinth simply doesn't measure up to Pandora's Temple or the lair of The Sisters of Fate, and the final battle with Zeus felt flat compared to the fight against Ares in the first God of War.
As I've explained elsewhere, I am a sucker for great boss battles, and given the presence of so many godly antagonists I was expecting something fantastic for each one. Sadly, only a few of the gods get their due as far as bosses go, while several others are simply footnotes or even minor annoyances along the way. Still, the ones that do stand out really do, especially Hades and Cronos. Thankfully, the battle mechanics are still as strong and bloody as ever.
One of the greatest aspects of the God of War series has been how well it handles, and God of War III is no exception. Never at any point did I feel that the controls failed me in any way. All of my deaths were of my own lack of skill and not a failure by the game. This sentiment is woefully absent from many games, and the fact that the God of War franchise has earned it so consistently is very much a feather in their collective cap. On top of that, the weapon design in God of War III feels more balanced than in the previous games, as I consistently found myself switching back and forth between implements of destruction, whereas in God of War I & II I usually stuck with the good ol' chain blades for my dismemberment needs.
Speaking of dismemberment, I'd normally save this kind of statement for the end of the review, but I'll say it here for emphasis: this game is not for kids. God of War III surpasses its own previously-established limits as far as violent finishers go, and again the beginning of the game shows the player exactly what he is in for. I'm about as desensitized to game violence as one can get, having committed all sorts of virtual atrocities over my years of gaming. However, the grisly execution of Poseidon made even me cringe, and things only get gorier from there.
That was the violence, so what about the sex? Of course, no God of War III review would be complete without mentioning Aphrodite's....gameplay segment. (I'm talking about a sex minigame, just in case you missed the innuendo.) Basically, it's "press button to fuck". Beyond Aphrodite, women tend to get the short end of the stick as far as character importance goes. This is something Matthew touched on back when this review would have been timely, but his observations hold true—Aphrodite is essentially a porn star, Hera is a useless hag, Pandora is a helpless child, and so forth. I'm by no means an expert in Greek mythology, as everything I know I learned from Xena: Warrior Princess, so it is possible that all of this can be attributed to loyalty to the source material. Even still, it's this kind of content that perpetuates the stereotype of games being a teenage boy's wet dream.
I'm not going to take my cues from Fox News and rant about how any of this is wrong or destroying our morals, though. If extreme violence and sexuality can be in TV or film, they can certainly be in games too. What I am going to say is this: players (and young players' parents) should know exactly what they're getting into. I am more than used to gaming violence, but some of the acts of brutality did get under my skin a little. No. Kids. Allowed.
Here's where I usually start wrapping things up and going into the obligatory closing paragraph, but I can't quite sign off until I mention the giant ash-covered elephant in the room—Kratos himself. Over the course of the God of War series, Kratos has gone from being somewhat relatable to a complete and total dick, and this descent stands out in God of War III. A far cry from the battle-weary warrior seeking redemption from the first game, Kratos brutally murders every single god, man, woman, child, and puppy in his path, sometimes for no reason whatsoever, and then after all that, Kratos suddenly cares about Pandora?
I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. Kratos is as bad as bad gets, and the series seemingly forgets his original motivation of forgiveness until the very end of God of War III. From the end of the first game up to that point, everything is about revenge, and then suddenly Kratos cares about saving a girl instead of killing Zeus? What of all the malarkey about "the power of hope" and Kratos "finding the hope to keep fighting"? Huh? I'm not going to pretend that God of War III demands a great story (something I've been admittedly nitpicky about in the past) to go along with it, but compared to the first game it really does feel like the writing has been phoned in here.
Does God of War deliver on the promise of a spectacular finish to one of gaming's top franchises? The game certainly earns its passing grade and a "You're a winner" ribbon that it can go home and show mom and dad, but it feels like it should have been more. The production values here are second to none, but they are wasted on a lackluster narrative. The strength of the game's opening sequences and some of the bosses really stuck with me, but some of the later levels just felt kind of...bleh. As far as being the show-stopper that blows the rest of the series away, it falls short.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 8 hours of play was devoted to completing the game once.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language and strong sexual content. This game has been rated M by the ESRB, and with good reason. Keep the kids away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines can be subtitled and there are no significant audio cues.