Review: Recap from Episode II: ?But, it's true. Athena, the Maury Povich of her day, confirms that Zeus is the father.?
The mighty Spartan warrior Kratos has $44 million dollars backing his final battle, but that budget isn't meant to fight off Zeus and the gods of Olympus. No, the real competition for Sony's anti-hero comes from the trio of God of War clones released in the past two months: Darksiders, Bayonetta and Dante's Inferno. Although each attempted to dethrone God of War III by releasing first, none of these challengers felt as epic when compared to the series' big budget PS3 debut.
God of War III concludes Kratos' three-episode saga, but before the blood of gods is spilled in true high definition for the first time, the story picks up where the second game left us hanging in 2007. Its shocking cliffhanger revealed Zeus to be Kratos' father, giving this mythological epic an ancient Star Wars
vibe. But, it's true. Athena, apparently the Maury Povich of her day, confirms that Zeus is
the father. Kratos' anger at poppa Zeus doesn't wane, as he's even more determined to usurp the King of the Gods and recruits the Earth titan, Gaia, in the process.
Gaia makes for the single-best opening level in an action-adventure game thanks to her enormous character design and dynamically shifting environment. As she scales Mount Olympus, a dwarfed Kratos rides on her tree-scattered rock body and players fight wave after wave of pushover, but fun-to-eliminate foes. The action becomes intense as soon as a Leviathan helmed by the boss Poseidon erupts from her wrist. She flails in pain, which forces players to continue to fight the sea monster, one hand clinging to her constantly twisting arm and the other operating the trusty chain blade weapon. Being upside down with Kratos' legs dangling thousands of feet over Olympus is the closest thing we've seen to an inverted rollercoaster in Ancient Greece. We can promise you that this portion of the ride is Six Ancient Flags of fun.
There are several other highlights that make God of War III's scale appear immense or, in two words, truly divine. Take the incredible detail of Kratos by lead character artist Patrick Murphy, for example. The realistic texture and lighting effects on this enhanced Ghost of Sparta model make the God of War Collection, remastered HD versions of the first games, seem like a standard definition affair. The environments come out just as painstakingly detailed and raw, causing you to sometimes say, ?There's something odd looking about that rock wall formation. I think I'll smash it because it surely has hidden treasure? Oh wait, it's just that
In addition to highly textured walls, the second level boasts accurate water physics when depicting The River Styx. It would almost seem like a peaceful stream if it weren't for the fact that it leads to Hell in the end. Accurate physics go beyond water effects when it comes to large-breasted female characters bearing it all and rolling around in bed. So, in addition to non-stop violence, this Mature game lives up to its ESRB rating with an off-camera sex mini-game like the previous God of Wars.
Minor annoyances with the look come in the best form, as the game attempts to be too realistic for its own good sometimes. The new lighting effects on the green health, blue magic and gold rage orbs that you collect have a whiter tinge to them and are less cartoonish looking. So, although they look really good on their own, that whiter center makes the green, blue and gold harder to tell apart. You'll do another double take during the all-too-familiar quick time events. The button icons are now smaller than before and the placement of the face buttons has shifted to the matching quadrant of the screen. Whenever you have to mash the square button, it pops up on the left, X the bottom, Circle the right and Triangle the top. They no longer all appear in the center, making it easier to determine which button you need to press just by blurring your eyes and noticing the icon pop-up. At the same time, unfortunately, it's easier to miss the icons with all the chaos going on onscreen.
That chaos and detail do thankfully extend to character models beyond the uber-defined Kratos. Hordes of enemy warriors simultaneously fill the screen without a drop in the frame rate. Zeus-allied boss gods bring an impressive array of flashy powers to the table and a new level of motion blur. Non-playable characters who help you along the way are almost as richly detailed all the way through. There are a few exceptions toward the end, which is also where ?the feel? falls short when it comes to this triple-A title's otherwise immortal gameplay.
The always well-balanced God of War gameplay formula of intense action and thought-provoking puzzles is present in this third installment. New to the series, however, are the four chain blade weapons variations. Kratos acquires the familiar Blades of Exile, soul-stealing Claws of Hades, electrified Nemesis Whip and fist-shaped Nemean Cestus.
The Blades of Exile are almost identical to the Blades of Chaos and Blades of Athena found in this game's predecessors. That's a good thing, though, as we wouldn't want to venture from the depths of the Underworld to the peak of Mount Olympus any other way. We couldn't live without the devastating Cyclone of Chaos move. But, the three other blade variations come with satisfying new combos and refreshing dodge moves. They're actually worth using and spending time and red orbs to upgrade.
Besides collecting green and blue orbs to keep the health and magic meters filled, players have to keep an eye on the brand new item bar. It doesn't require orb collection, as it quickly regenerates as soon as you stop using a special item. But, it does limit you from constantly using the game's three items: The Bow of Apollo, Head of Helios and Boots of Hermes. This cap on item use is nice switch, as God of War II's bow, Typhon's Bane, annoyingly siphoned magic with every shot arrow. Minotaur horns locked away in hidden chests extend width of the item bar, just like finding Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers lengthen the health and magic bars.
God of War III fixes two things that didn't make sense for an on-again, off-again god like Kratos. First, the aforementioned item, the Head of Helios, allows him to travel through pitch-black rooms by lighting the way and, if powered up, blinding enemies. It struck us as odd in God of War I when Kratos, a merciless Spartan with brute force, refused to travel down a darkened hallway. We were beginning to think he also slept with a nightlight. Second, this warrior who possesses the might of a thousand men, could always push and pull large blocks around a room to solve puzzles. But, he had to use a time-consuming rotating platform to turn them via an adjacent lever. Now, he can rotate blocks instantly with a flick of the right thumbstick.
New blades, items and gameplay mechanics help power players to the top of Mount Olympus, but as soon as Kratos reaches its peak, the gameplay falls off the cliff in a, sadly, all-too-perfect metaphor. Without ruining the ending, let us vaguely say that the final battle is anticlimactic, while the last moments of exploration gameplay caused us think, ?Really, this is how it's going to end?? It wasn't the story that was the problem, but the way the developer dragged out the boring and almost pointless final scene. It wasn't a fitting ending for a god.