God of War III Review

By Adam Sessler - Posted Mar 08, 2010

It's a fun feeling when a game causes the player's mouth to involuntarily open in a slack-jawed expression -- hopefully hidden from any outside observer -- as one is caught up in the creativity on display. God of War III is an achievement on all levels. It immediately becomes the standard-bearer for the genre and a monumental conclusion to the series.

The Pros
  • Visual splendor has useful effects on gameplay
  • Blends all of its best attributes into a stellar experience
  • Finishes the trilogy on an exceptionally high note
The Cons
  • One particularly inappropriate puzzle
  • Remapped quick time events might frustrate some

It’s a fun feeling when a game causes the player’s mouth to involuntarily open in a slack-jawed expression -- hopefully hidden from any outside observer -- as one is caught up in the creativity on display.  This occurrence happened numerous times throughout my playthrough of God of War III. Sometimes, it was due to the sheer audacity of the violence on-screen or the introduction of a Boss or location. Other times, it happened once the gameplay mechanics for a given situation became clear and it definitely occurred at the beginning, especially at the beginning.

GOW III picks up immediately at the cliffhanger ending of 2007’s PlayStation 2 swan song with Kratos, sneering sociopath and son of Zeus, riding atop the titan Gaia as she and her colossal siblings climb Mount Olympus to wreak final vengeance upon the ancient Greek gods. What ensues is a breathless sequence that celebrates the technological liberation granted to the designers at Sony’s Santa Monica Studio.  The scale, camera movements, dramatic perspective changes and visual fidelity that once were relegated to the non-interactive and pre-recorded cut-scenes of the previous two titles are now happening in real-time with the player caught up in the middle trying to hold on, literally.  The sheer exuberance of the opening sets the stage for a stunningly polished experience that hums with expert pacing and the ever-satisfying combat that has typified the series.

God of War III

The Power (to Rip the Heads Off) of the Gods

While the opening of GOW III may crank it up to eleven, the game, wisely, doesn’t maintain that velocity throughout and settles into some of the more recognizable tropes of the series.  Kratos has to take out the gods of Olympus, and they’re not too happy about his designs, which turns his ascent of the mountain into a trickier affair, requiring a power that can only be acquired through navigating combat challenges, puzzles and encounters with the wonderfully characterized denizens of the ancient Mythos. -- in particular, a gloriously unexpected realization of Hephaestus (voiced by Rip Torn) in a truly cramped corner of Hades stands out.  The structure of the narrative in GOW III has matured considerably from the previous games,  as the story folds back on itself, revisiting characters and locations to provide greater illumination to what’s initially presented as mysterious and confusing.  This far more gratifying storytelling provides a weighty sense of apocalyptic atmosphere, resulting in a deeply satisfying -- albeit slightly less than nihilistic -- resolution to this tale of revenge.

Revenge, in videogame terms, means killing a lot of things. As with all the entries in the God of War series, combat is the star here.  The button inputs for combos remain virtually unchanged from GOW II, but how they execute on-screen is another matter altogether.  The fluid animations present the mayhem with a degree of balletic precision; chaining combos is even easier with an increased sense of speed to the blades, and the sense of physical brutality has no match to any other game out there.  The number and variety of enemies you encounter in a given situation forces a better appreciation of your repertoire of death-dealing maneuvers and the improved enemy A.I. and attacks (such as the Minotaur’s charge) make blocking and entering into complex movesets a more strategic affair.

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Your Tools for Deicide

Better yet are the introduction of three additional weapons to the standard blades (now called Blades of Exile) that actually bring something substantial to the game.  All four weapons control with similar logic and all are extended from Kratos’s wrists, allowing both long and close-ranged attacks, but with enough distinctions between them and advantages over particular enemies that I found myself frequently switching between them mid-battle. In addition, each weapon is tied to a unique magic spell; to activate the spell, you must equip the weapon. Thankfully, switching between weapons is real-time, as opposed to backing out to a pause screen to select one.

One new move, available to all four weapons, allows Kratos to grab an enemy from a distance and slam him into it, stunning the creature momentarily.  While the damage is nice, the true benefit comes from the ability to ping-pong Kratos across the battle space, helping to keep that combo count high (and looking damn good while doing it).

Of minor concern to some players may be the decision to move the quick-time button prompts for finishing moves away from the enemy’s head and to the periphery of the screen, where one’s eye is rarely focused.  The logic behind the decision is clear: obfuscating the gorgeous image on screen isn’t desirable, but getting accustomed to looking away from the action takes some adjustment, especially on large television sets.  Given that the edge of the screen, where the button prompt appears, correlates with the its placement on the controller, it becomes easy to look for movement out of the corner of your eye and instinctively know which button to hit.

God of War III

A Challenge Worthy of Mere Mortals?

Perhaps the weakest elements of past GOW games have been the puzzles, many of which stand out awkwardly from the mythology of the games:  Why would the gods impose minor block puzzles on man?  Here, they fit far more organically into the game, and in many cases are deliberately designed by the gods to be puzzling.  These sequences benefit immeasurably from the graphics engine, which allows puzzles constructed for the gods to actually have the scope of something, well, godly.  There is one exception worth noting. Mid-way through the game, there’s a rhythm-game challenge that overtly uses the iconography from the Playstation controller in the environment, as opposed to the quick-time commands that stand out from it.  Both the nature of the puzzle and the imagery feel decidedly discordant with the looks and tone of the rest of the game and seem more suitable for a Rare platformer than in a franchise like God of War.  The sequence is fleeting but regrettably offers the only tin-eared moment is an otherwise sublimely consistent landscape.

God of War III

A Game Deserving of the “Epic” Designation

While all these elements stand apart as true accomplishments worthy of praise in GOW III, similar to Uncharted 2, it’s how they are all combined in an elegantly paced action game that highlights the degree of talent behind the title. The game never settles into a reliable rhythm, since the type of gameplay that awaits around every corner is built to surprise; boss battles especially do not always arrive to conclude a level and may turn out to be the level itself.   Camera movements in battle sequences may reveal a larger danger than was initially implied. The delicious fun in the game’s design gives it a thrust that has little equal out there.  While it’s sizeable -- and demands to be played more than once-- time flew by as I found myself trapped in one of the most satisfying feedback loops of visceral pleasure that videogames have to offer.  GOW III is an achievement on all levels. It immediately becomes the standard-bearer for the genre and a monumental conclusion to the series.