Ever since the original God of War was released back in 2005, the series has set the bar for action-adventure games. With that in mind, anticipation surrounding God of War's debut on PlayStation 3 comes as no surprise. Sony Santa Monica made a name for themselves on PlayStation 2 by pushing the limits of the hardware with God of War I and II and because of that, fans have been eagerly awaiting Kratos' return for quite some time. Fortunately, the wait has been well worth it. God of War III is gripping from start to finish, there really isn't a good time to put the game down. All the staples of the previous installments are here; fluid combat, stunning visuals and jaw dropping set pieces. Does God of War III deliver? Without a doubt.
God of War II left players on the edge of their seats. The ending was a cliffhanger in the most literal sense as Kratos, with the help of Gaia and her band of titans, began ascending Mount Olympus to once and for all defeat Zeus. God of War III picks things up right where II left off. Zeus rallies the other gods, telling them to put aside petty grievances to meet the imminent threat posed by Kratos and the titans. Meanwhile, Kratos has only one thing on his mind, revenge.
The story is pretty straightforward; climb Mount Olympus and kill anyone - and anyone can't really be emphasised enough - that gets in the way. While climbing a mountain may not sound like an interesting premise compared to the previous God of War games, rest assured there are plenty of surprises along the way. The narrative generally does a good job of giving the player motivation to press on, some corny dialogue aside. As the conclusion to Kratos' journey, God of War III wraps the plot up nicely and is a fitting end to Kratos' long, weary road.
While Sony Santa Monica's take on Greek mythology is intriguing, it's the combat that truly shines. God of War III's combat is by no means a revolution, it's a refinement of everything I and II brought to the table. Anyone who has played God of War in the past will feel right at home, since all of the core combat mechanics return. The game also maintains the accessible, but at the same time deep, system of combat. Casual players can get away with mashing a few combos, but there is also a ton of room for experienced players to be creative. Considering the series already had some of the best combat around it's hard to imagine what could be improved, yet somehow combos feel even more fluid and the refinements add versatility.
Some of the combat refinements include new weapons, abilities, and redesigned quick time events (QTEs). The four weapons each have distinct features that taylor them to a certain type of enemy. In the past the Blades of Chaos were the weapon of choice for almost any occasion, however, that's no longer the case; every weapon has a use, not to mention the fact that each comes with unique magic abilities. A combo list that rivals Ninja Gaiden also helps. Much like the weapons, new abilities are acquired by slaying different deities such as Hermes' agility, Apollo's arrows, and Helios' sight. The sight ability is especially interesting because it can be used to light dark passages and stun enemies. The QTEs have also been tweaked, now the icons appear on the portion of the screen that corresponds to their place on the controller, for example: an X will appear at the bottom, a triangle at the top, and so on. This new set up feels infinitely more intuitive because the centre of the screen, where all the action takes place, is no longer obscured.
The God of War franchise is well known for its action packed set pieces and boss battles, God of War III is arguably the best to date. The titans are fully interactive during combat - think Shadow of the Colossus on steroids. The game's opening sequence features Kratos fighting all over Gaia as she climbs Mount Olympus while they both simultaneously battle Poseidon. This sequence, and others like it later, can only be described as awe inspiring. The sense of scale as the camera pans in and out revealing just how insignificant Kratos can be in some of these scenes is truly amazing. The more traditional boss battles are also memorable. For the most part they are expertly crafted, have tons of variety, and occur at unexpected times which makes them feel seamlessly integrated into the rest of the game.
Pacing is another reason God of War III stands out. Sony Santa Monica seem to have the balance between combat, platforming and puzzle solving down to a science. There's always a steady stream of new mechanics or slight variations on other ideas, so rarely does any one thing over stay its welcome and get tedious. There are a few situations late in the game where a battle can last too long in one area, but generally the pacing is solid which makes the game hard to put down. God of War III is a very engaging game, in the same way Uncharted 2 was, which is high praise.
God of War III is also comparable to Uncharted 2 in terms of presentation, both games have top notch production values. From a technical standpoint, there are few games on consoles that can be considered in the same conversation as God of War III graphically; the character models and environments are incredibly detailed, there is a great deal of colour and variety in the levels, and the frame rate is smooth no matter what's happening on screen. God of War continues to be on the cutting edge in terms of visual performance. Sound wise, the soundtrack and voice acting complement the overall package well. Powerful orchestral tracks really help set the tone for the key set pieces. Overall, the presentation is fantastic.
After completing the story mode, which clocks in at around 8 to 10 hours, there are a few incentives for players to go back. A second play through is desirable because of the amazing set pieces alone; harder difficulty settings, challenges modes and unlockable items are available for those who want another reason. Casual players will get a good challenge from normal mode, whereas titan mode is better suited to the experienced player. The downside to replaying on a different setting is that items don't carry over between saves. It's a very minor complaint but nevertheless is an odd omission.
The critical and commercial success of the first two God of War games set expectations high for the third installment. Not only did Sony Santa Monica meet these expectations, in many ways, they exceeded them. God of War III is a spectacular game experience; everything that was great about the previous games has been refined, the action is relentless, the combat is fluid and versatile, the presentation, both visually and audibly, is among the best in gaming today, and the set pieces are mind blowing. It's a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy.