|Developed by:||SCE Santa Monica Studio|
Despite ticking so many of my gaming boxes – third person, action adventure, combat, story driven – I’ve somehow conspired to never play a main console God of War game. In truth this is less a reflection of any view I may have taken on the series itself and more a victim of my multi-year Football Manager obsession that saw me shun the majority of my other games, let alone the slew of quality new titles being released. I did pick up Ghost of Sparta on PSP, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but otherwise I come to this fresh.
Why am I telling you all this, you no doubt ponder, as your mouse drifts ever closer to the that little x at the top of the screen. Because it provides some context, some informative background to the statement I am about to make.
I don’t have the first idea what is going on here. But I think I like it.
Kratos is a bit of a jerk.
Now clearly there is a backstory that I’m missing here. Coming into a series in the third instalment is always going to be something of a difficult ask. That all being said, within the first few minutes of playing, Kratos beats someone to death, confesses to murdering his wife and child and drowns an entire village. And this guy is the hero?
The theme continues the more I play. I approach a poor chap stuck behind a fence, unable to escape. He offers me his bow if I help him to escape. That seems a reasonable trade, I think. And so I dutifully jump here and drop there, pull this and push that to release a fire breathing beast from a cage and OMG I’VE JUST USED HIS FIERY BREATH TO BURN THIS GUY TO DEATH AND STEAL HIS WARES.
And it isn’t a one off. Later in my journey Helios offers his assistance in finding a McGuffin if I spare his life. So I rip his head off. Then a poor citizen is trying to escape a deadly fire by gingerly walking along the outside window ledge of a multi-floor building. So I pull him off the wall out of my way and throw him to his death. Then there is the Titan, a huge tree-beast who helped me scale Mount Olympus in the opening scenes and who now needs my help. So I chop off her hand and send her plummeting to her doom. Er, you’re welcome?
Nope, I don’t have the first clue what I’m doing or why. I don’t know if I’m supposed to cheer for this guy or detest him. I don’t know why he has it in for the Gods. I don’t know why he killed his family. All I know is that he’s hell bent on murdering everyone in sight in the most brutal, bloody way possible. In short, I love it.
In a lot of ways this reminds me of Sands of Time-era Prince of Persia. Like with that game, action is viewed from the third person, battles usually taking the form of massed ranks of enemies swarming round Kratos as he swings his various mechanisms of death round his head. Your weapons have a fairly tidy range but you can also grab individual enemies, either with your weapon for some close up stabby action, or with your hands. Getting up close and fisty means you have a choice of either picking up an enemy and charging round the battle arena, knocking enemies out of bounds before smashing your burden to a pulp, or you can just pummel him where he stands and rip his limbs off. What a delightful choice.
Where it differs from PoP, and indeed other similar games, is the level of just obscene violence and scale. You stomp people into the ground, rip out their spines, sink your weapons into beastly flesh and tear them in two. At one point in my playthough I quite literally turned the screen red with the blood of my now quite former foe, the game offering no direct prompt to stop my fist from smashing into the increasingly lifeless pile of mushy flesh before me. It is brutal. No really, absolutely brutal.
Of course all this brutality is wasted if you don’t have suitable foes upon which to unleash it and GoW serves up a fine selection of beastly denizens. Rank and file skeletal grunts stand alongside hulking ogres and fire breathing hell hounds. But things get really interesting when one of the level bosses steps up for a portion of knuckle sandwich. These behemoths utterly dwarf Kratos, often taking up most of the screen, forcing you to work around them to find the soft spots, identify the tells that give you an opening to rip their guts out. Amidst all the pummelling are a series of QTEs that provide some of the more spectacular visual flourishes, in a gruesomely bloody way at least. Some of these encounters can be tough, the game offering you the option of switching to an easier difficulty. But with perseverance, and learning which weapons and attacks work best, each enemy can be overcome, ensuring that this remains a challenging but fair experience throughout.
To aid you in your quest you have a range of weapons to choose from. You add to your arsenal by defeating certain bosses and each variation gives you some new tools to play with. Whilst some enemies and puzzle solutions require the use of specific tools, most battles are down to your preference of weapon, each offering a light and heavy attack and a series of upgradeable ranged and special moves. With a number of enemies coming at you at once, and new ones respawning, things can get a little button mashy at times but fights generally remain satisfying. The biggest enemies, outside of the boss fights, will often offer another of those QTEs that provides the chance for a quick kill whilst combining air, ground and grappling attacks, or switching weapons on the fly mid-battle, helps to keep each encounter feeling relatively fresh.
Whilst the violence and bloodshed undoubtedly takes centre stage, there are quieter moments that are equally compelling. Puzzles are often simple, requiring you to reach a lever or drag an item into place to allow progress. Two sequences later in the game however add a genuine puzzle element that provide a nice contrast to the usual bombast and, in their own way, are equally as satisfying. One in particular stands out, a perspective shifting brain teaser that requires some lateral thinking to progress through the gardens, the occupant of said gardens playing an unwitting role in your creative solution.
Littered throughout the level are chests with various goodies, some in plain sight, some tucked away or hidden and which reward you with the expected supply of health and XP upgrades. Tracking them down, with the hope of upgrading your skills, offers some sense of exploration but this is otherwise a decidedly linear experience. Indeed it is positively old school in its approach, foregoing the modern reliance on a floating camera and reverting to the earlier trend of fixed camera views. It works within the context of the game, albeit it could be seen as showing some signs of the game’s age. Camera aside, presentation throughout is impressive. Kratros is quick to move but satisfyingly weighty in his attacks whilst enemies are disgustingly grim creations, populating a world brought to life in exquisite detail with first class voice work throughout.
Playing this out of timeline is somewhat confusing narratively but you’ll soon find yourself forgetting the finer details and simply embracing the carnage. Brutal, bloody and never less than satisfying, God of War 3 mixes old school design elements with modern day flourishes to ensure that Kratos remains God of his domain.