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Kratos is back. Those three words send shivers down the spine of any gamer who has ever dabbled with a Sony console. Kratos is the juggernaut that has twice sliced his way through lesser games to claim the glory he so rightly deserves. A jewel in the crown of the much maligned Brawler genre, the God of War franchise defines scale and spectacle, the adventures of a seriously disgruntled Spartan as he kills his way through Greek myth beats most Hollywood blockbusters into the dust.
Two games have allready bowed out on the PS2, God Of War 2 acting as the console's swan song. Fitting then, that this supposed trilogy closer seems like a welcome for the PS3, a console three years into its lifespan. Yet here it is, the game that could, nay, should elevate its native console into the pantheon.
Kratos is back, but has he returned to glory??
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Carrying on immediately after God Of War 2, the threequel sees our bloodthirsty hero fighting Posiedon while astride Gaia, heading for the mother of all reckonings on Olympus. Its a hell of an opener, one that re-defines spectacle for the new generation. The pace slows down a bit after this barnstorming entrance but rest assured, the death of the sea God is not the biggest thing in God Of War 3.
The GOW franchise almost cheats when it comes to story, it takes the epic grandeur of Greek mythology as its narrative template and adds carnage and buckets of blood. With all the familiar mythological faces all wearing thin after 2 outings, we must once again look to Kratos for any new story structure, and the writers do not disappoint here.
Kratos' final mission to defeat Zeus and take revenge for his father's betrayal is epic in a way only this franchise could produce. Lest we not forget that Kratos is murdering his way through the gods to get to his target, gods! Along the course of Kratos' final journey (supposedly the last God Of War), we see Kratos betrayed once again, have another mighty fall, fight his way back up and finally....well, that would be telling.
It would be remiss to say that this is the final God Of War game, after all, a franchise is only a franchise if it keeps churning out product. But this particular franchise installment stands as a satisfying conclusion to Kratos' journey and anyone looking for closure will not be disappointed.
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The original God Of War games tested the PS2 to its very limits, pushing the boundaries of what the current tech could accomplish. Utilising scale and perspective, the GOW games present grand locations for the player to traverse, Kratos often becoming lost in the gigantic on screen architecture. This trend is continued in GOWIII.
From the absurdly OTT opener set on Gaia's back, it becomes apparent that everything about GOWIII is going to be BIG. The sequence is truly something special and at the risk of sounding trite, feels like you're playing a cut scene. The GOW games traditionally transition between in-game engine narrative and full FMV to move the story along, pulling the player out of the action for an extravagant display of video. Here this transition is completely indivisible from the gameplay. Its not unusual for Kratos to stand stock still in the middle of a battle because you didn't realise the story scene had ended, the experience is really quite beautiful.
God Of War 3's intense visuals bring with them a degree of immersion not seen since the Unreal Engine 3 first introduced us to the Locust. Surfaces gleam with an uncanny verisimilitude, water splashes a convincing mist over Kratos's blades and the blood trickles down his body with a grim detail. This is not just God Of War 2 with a HD sheen, this is a whole new ball game, SCE building on the graphical innovations made by Naughty Dog for Uncharted.
There are small gripes. Some character models could look more realistic and the enemies at times seem bland, but these problems don't even make a dent in the overall presentation of the game.
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And here we come to the game's only glaring flaw, its steadfast adherence to a tired old template. The general idea for this sequel really has been to craft a great story and throw some HD visuals over the same basic combat model.
Kratos hacks his way through scores of undead warriors/minotaurs/harpies/cyclops/bosses in much the same way as he does in God of War 1, 2 and Chains Of Olympus, in EXACTLY the same way in fact. He can now ride on harpies, essentially using them as grappling points and larger creatures like Cerberus and Cyclops can also be mounted but little else has been added to the mix.
Anything present that might seem fresh is tellingly false. The admittedly great QTEs have returned, but now the prompts skirt the edge of the screen, encouraging the player to watch the action unfold while they tap familiar places on the pad. This is a prime example of something that has always been there undergoing a small cosmetic change.
The combat model once again relies on canned combos and powerful magic spells. Kratos picks up some handy items throughout and the new spells are awesome to behold (the Spartan phalanx from early on in the game never gets old).
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Music and Sound
The Orchestral pieces in the God Of War games always deserve honourable mention as they are such an integral part of the action. From ethereal siren songs to spectacular crescendos, the composers compliment the lush visuals with music that is just as accomplished.
The score for GOWIII is much more refined than in previous games. Kratos's main theme no longer dominates your speakers, replaced instead by haunting choirs and tribal grunts. The variety in the score ultimately adds to the enjoyment of the game, giving overly familiar areas (Hades, Olympus) a fresh perspective.
The sound of GOWIII is just as impressive. High definition sound means every crunch can be identified, the swirling vortex of death that is Kratos' blades is a piercing hiss while the crash of Spartan spears shakes the speakers. If there was ever a game to make one invest in surround sound, this is it.
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There are essentially two types of gaming protagonist; the strong silent type that the player can project themselves onto (Master Chief, Gordon Freeman) and the classical hero that we usher through an adventure. Kratos is very much the latter and his story is one of the greatest in videogames.
Far from a one-dimensional killing machine, Kratos' past is one of anguish and sorrow. Its unfortunate that as the games have progressed, the Spartan seems to grow more quiet. In God Of War 3, his 'final' adventure, his actions definitely speak louder than his words. Physicality is almost a personality trait, it's a welcome surprise to find that Kratos only needs one hand to open chests in one of GOW III's many animation tweaks. That's the amount of love I had for this character.
The fact that you are playing as the unhinged warrior is the only reason GOWIII's stale gameplay doesn't become tedious.
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God of War III is a spectacular triumph but it's by no means perfect. Sony Santa Monica have succeeded in bringing Kratos to the new generation with grace and flair, it's just a shame they weren't brave enough to shake up the formula and try something new.
The appeal of God Of War III as a successful sequel is evident in the little incidental moments of story and gameplay. That barnstorming opener is a killer and the final battle is awe inspiring. Elsewhere, a protracted chase with Hermes is a great example of cinematic gaming narrative. Even Kratos shielding his eyes from the brightness of Helios is constructed as a neat little interactive touch.
It's usually a bad thing when gameplay takes a back seat to looks and story, but with God Of War that's exactly the point. The reason Sony hasn't changed the template is because this franchise doesn't get by on innovation, it gets by on the grand spectacle of blockbuster gaming.
But what of the competition? Bayonetta offers hardcore Japanese brawler gaming while Darksiders and Dante's Inferno seek to beat Kratos at his own game. These newcomers threw their hat into the ring just as the hype for GOWIII was reaching fever pitch and it's a testament to Sony and it's bald Spartan mascot that it has survived the onslaught.
Bayonetta is certainly more imaginative with its effortless combat system and bonkers story, but it lacks the wow factor of Sony's behemoth. As for the other two? Well, Darksiders is a strange mix of different genres masquerading as an original epic, while Dante's Inferno is a shameless rip off that hasnt the courage to even try to be different, shooting for dizzy heights but falling flat on its face.
There are franchises hidden in all of these pretenders, but they have yet to prove as consistently awe inspiring as Kratos' grand tale.