LAist REVIEW: God Of War III
If you don't already know, The God of War series is a collection of action-adventure games set against the thrilling, non copyrighted landscape of Greek mythology. The protagonist, aggressively unlikable Spartan warrior Kratos, (Nicknamed "Ghost of Sparta" due to his ghastly pale complexion and Laconian area code,) wages a never ending quest for revenge against the Olympian gods, assisted in his quest only by his prickly disposition, his ability to accumulate increasingly awesome mythological devices and powers, and his impressive skill inflicting beheadings, eye gouges, head stomps and grudge killing. Also, gratuitous titties ensue.
A hallmark of the series has been the deft combination of various gaming conventions - hack-n-slash, platform gaming, inventive puzzle solving, quick-time events, quest based item collection - with epic, over-the-top carnage, a viciously black sense of humor, and a homoeroticism-free take on Greek mythology. Plus, gratuitous titties. Two weeks ago, after nearly 3 years since God of War II ruined the carpel tunnels of millions, the third and final1 installment of the trilogy2 finally arrived. It promised to pick up where the previous games left off, only more fucking hardcore - based on that, a review of God of War III seems almost superfluous - those who've played the previous games are going to love this one, sight unseen.
Even so, after a couple of weeks of playing, and playing again, and playing some more, we're bothering. And just how did we find ourselves after finally completing this engrossing, but flawed game? Well, God of War III isn't terrible - the things that make the GoW series so much fun are back. And really, what's not to love about MORE OF THE SAME BUT EVEN MORE FUCKING HARDCORE? A metric Greek-ton, as it turns out. 2 hours deep, the sickening realization sinks in: Gratuitous titties aside, God of War III is really nothing more than an incredible PS2 game that, for some reason, they released on PS3.
There's plenty about God of War III that exceeds expectations, but the absolute best thing about it is the story. Video games have come a long way since two flat bars bouncing a ball back and forth was considered hi-tech, and nothing has advanced like their ability to tell a compelling story. The GoW series presents the player a deeply unlikeable asshole who, when he isn't killing people or having sex with available wenches, spends his time being the biggest dick in the Agean world since Alcibiades. But it doesn't matter. Despite the lack of bedside manner, you really find yourself caring about whether or not he succeeds. Maybe it' the bleak humor, maybe it's the fact that you're doing this in between bouts of ripping Minotaur heads off. Maybe it's the gratuitous tittays. It just works, and the story, about the only original contribution God of War III brings to the series, almost manages to plaster over the glaring flaws.
Supporting that story is the excellent voice cast. Famous voices can sometimes work against a game, but here it's money well spent. God of War III's Olympians are less the superhuman egomaniacs of myth, and more like a Greco-Roman GiJoe. Poseidon rules the seas, but he's also covered in crazy, electricity-cyborg stripes. Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger god is an elitist, anglicized dandy fop who looks like he just got back from a fortnight in Ibiza. Hera is a drunken socialite, and Hades, a creepy bondage fetishist. If God of War III's developers got one thing right, it was realizing that you need hammy, seasoned actors to pull this kind of thing off and, as with previous installments, they nailed it precisely. Clancy Brown, Rip Torn, Malcolm McDowell and Adrienne Barbeau provide just a few of the game's turbo-nerd city level list of dork references. Best of all is the hilarious casting decision that pays tribute to a certain long since departed high camp TV show also set in Ancient Greece
Also awesome: Aside from the criminal misuse of the r-stick (more on that in a bit), God of War III makes perfect use of the PS3 controller. Want to change from swords to massive earthquake gloves? A simple tap on the d-pad. Want to use magic instead of sword? Just click one of the L or R buttons. Concerned about complicated combos? Fear not - mashing Triangle, Circle and Square while pressing L1 will generally produce the desired gore-related results. For the most part, combat is a breeze too. Walk around, kick ass, and when prompted, follow the quick-time event commands. No messy mucking around with an item screen, no annoying issuing commands to your unit, no lulls. Just good old fashioned, socially irredeemable violence, the way Gods intended.
As expected, God of War III has excellent graphics and is stable. I experienced no freezes, no frame rate problems, no skips. The developers have also just about perfected seamless transitions between player-controlled action, cut-scenes, and quick-time events. No fade to black, load times, or sudden starts, you find yourself transitioning back and forth with absolutely no interruption in narrative or game play. Better still, half of the cut scenes transition to quick-time events and back. It's an impressive accomplishment that more games should copy. It means that once you start the game, expect a seamless, nonstop experience - at least so long as you don't fall prey to the games numerous flaws.
Technological advancements are a lot like sex. When you've never kissed anyone, it doesn't really matter if you date someone who isn't ready. But the second you finally get kissing out of the way, it's frustrating as hell trying to date someone who won't even consider it. This becomes more pronounced, until you finally have sex, at which point you're never not having sex with someone you date again. Unless you're a born again virgin or something equally stupid. Same thing applies to games. Don't believe me? Play an NES game made before Metroid's code save system. (Hell, try playing an NES game for anything other than nostalgia). Try playing the original versions of GTA III or Vice city and tell me if you can get 10 minutes in without giving up from anger at not having full 360 degree camera control.
That's something God of War III's developers should have kept in mind. There's simply no such thing as born again virginity for gamers. You can't join some stupid cult and "lalala-I-can't-hear-this" your way into forgetting about 3D, full camera control, challenging AI, autosave and save-practically-anywhere functionality, and so forth. But God of War III expects you to do just that. How bad is it? If you’ve been playing practically any other game made for the current generation of consoles, you're probably going to be shocked that GOWIII's auto-save system is RAM only. If you make the mistake of turning off the game without doing a real save first, you will find, as I did, that you just lost 45 minutes of valuable game time because you expected to find the same goddamned load last autosave option every other game released in the last 4 years has.
And about that save problem, prepare to be annoyed, because you can only save your progress at designated save points. Some of you are probably saying "well that is how theyalways do it." Yes, you are right. And on a PS2 game I'd expect it - and probably be pleasantly surprised by a game with save-anywhere functionality. But I didn't spend nearly 400 dollars on a PS3 so game developers can give me a nostalgic thrill up my leg. It's 2010, god dammit, and when I need to save the goddamned game, I want to save it, and goddamned right now.
The fixed camera, a staple of the God of War series, remains. As with previous entries in the series, it is essential to the unique look and feel of a GOW game. No problem there, because we understand their intent (largely successful) to create something of a unique gaming experience. But with the fixed camera also comes their famous re-appropriation of the R-stick. Per usual, during normal game play tapping the r-stick make Kratos fast-dodge. This is only problematic insofar as it'll take those of us accustomed to camera control (everyone) a few minutes to stop accidentally sending Kratos zig-zagging away due to habitually trying to change POV. Eventually, you’ll even use it while jumping, to zoom in the air and, during one particularly memorable scene, to maneuver Kratos' right hand in order to block blinding sunlight. It's really quite cool.
Except that there's creating a unique gaming experience, and there's being a contrarian jerk just 'cause. The GoW team is so committed to the idea of nonstandard usage of the R-stick that they keep it up even when there isn't a point, or when it actually hurts gameplay. This most often happens when you find Kratos hanging from a ceiling, or swimming. Underwater, it's just annoying that there is nothing for the R-stick to do and yet, they still didn't bother giving you the chance to get a panoramic view of the glorious underwater environment they created. But when you're hanging from the ceiling, and the camera is fixed, it is insanely easy to push the L-stick in the direction you think you want Kratos to go, only to have him head to the side, or in the opposite direction, due to the infuriatingly confusing camera angle. It's a problem that could easily be fixed by letting the player use the R-stick to reposition the camera, and the inability to do so, rather than challenging you, just annoys you instead.
Speaking of cheap manipulation disguised as challenge, the single, absolute worst thing about God of War III is extremely touchy timing system. Quick-time events work well but you'll find yourself repeating a couple of the game's more climatic moments at least once because the QT event associated with it A) occurs at surprising intervals and B) gives you a very short interval to click the assigned button, and C) comes with the magical, totally not infuriating gift of randomized commands. This means you miss the first QT prompt, prepare yourself for it on the second attempt only to find yourself hitting the wrong button, because they randomly gave you the triangle instead of the X.
But even that isn't as brain-dead angerfying as the triple jump required to activate Kratos' wings (acquired in God of War II). Hypothetically, you perform a quick triple tap on the jump button, but hold down the button on the final tap, at which point the wings will expand and you glide. It definitely works - Stand on a lengthy area with no dangerous chasms in sight and you'll pull it off without a hitch every single time you try it. But God forbid you actually try to use the technique for its designed-for purpose: Gliding across dangerous chasms. No matter how many times you practice before doing it for real, you will fall into the pit to your death at least 60% of the time, despite the fact that you have performed the move in precisely the same way with every attempt. It's infuriating and, frankly, inexcusable. A challenging video game is supposed to provide puzzles to get through, enemies that require interesting means of defeat, obstacles that require strategy and some kind of effort. They aren't supposed to cheese you to death with bullshit difficulty tweaks.
The sad result is that no matter how much fun you have, it starts to feel like Fox News instead of PS3, because you will spend approximately 45% of your play time shouting FUCK YOU at the screen. It's a bit rich that they released God of War III with such an obvious, last-gen flaw intact. The longer you play, the more obvious it is that this game was originally intended to be a PS2 release. For PS3 they updated Graphics, improved the seamlessness, and intensified the action, but in the end, they made a tarted up PS2 port with a lot of unnecessary problems that make what should have been one of 2010's greatest games nothing more than a forgettable, if entertaining, diversion.
It isn't all whining and crying. There's a lot to love, despite the failures. For instance, the protagonist's trademark relentlessly-being-a-sonofabitch shtick, inflated to levels of misanthropy not normally seen outside of the Cheney compound. No joke, seriously, every cut-scene goes something like this:
B List God/Demigod/Tortured Mortal
PLEASE! KRATOS! Save me from this torture! I’ll give you my [Plot Device] if you’ll just save me! Kratos
I Do Not have time to aid you, old (b list god/demigod/tortured mortal).
Kratos straight up kills BLG/D/TM, steals his shit.
I do not need your help. ZEUS WILL FALL! RARRRRGHR!
I am not kidding: this is every other cut-scene.
But nothing can top the gratuitous sex scene that must be played to believe. Everything that makes the God Of War series worth repeated visits, even when they miss the mark, is encapsulated in the least appropriate of the series' many sex based mini games. Gods bless them for going for it. It will almost, but not quite, make you forget all about the stupid timing problems.
God of War III isn't a great game, but it is, mostly, a good game. Is it worth your money? If you loved the last games then you'll love this, probably, so yes. Sadly, the decision to keep the game's conventions mired in the last generation has hobbled the final product, even if it remains a fun product. However, the compelling story, especially the satisfying conclusion, and the continuing awesome that is massive, disgusting carnage, leads one to hope that when they finally get around to making a making a God of War game worthy of the PS3, it won't be released for the PS4.
God of War III was developed by Sony Santa Monica. It's available right now.
1) Yeah, I don't believe it either.
2) This trilogy now has 5 games.