Review: God of War III

Jordan Deam | 18 Mar 2010 09:00
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The nadir of God of War III comes about 20 minutes in, when you've scaled halfway up Mount Olympus on the back of the Titan, Gaia, in your mutual quest to rid the world of Zeus and his fellow Olympians. By this point, you'll have disemboweled a centaur, climbed out of Gaia's vine-covered innards through a hole in her skull and murdered Poseidon by digging your thumbs into his eyes - a gruesome feat which you view from the sea god's own perspective. That's when it hits you: This is just more God of War, but on the PS3.

Oddly enough, you experience pretty much the same realization at each of the game's many high points: Holy sh*t, this is more God of War, but on the PS3.

Perhaps it's because the opening of God of War III blends so seamlessly with the finale of its predecessor that it feels like the intervening three years never happened. More likely, it's a case of impossibly high expectations. It's not enough that God of War III plays virtually identically to the other titles in the series, only with better graphics and bigger set pieces. God of War 1 & 2 set the bar so high that we actually expect it to exceed our expectations - an absurd proposition if there ever was one. Either way, it's no slight against it to say God of War III is merely as awesome as you imagined it would be (and occasionally a bit more).

In the third and final installment of the God of War series, Kratos sets out to finish the job he started in God of War II: Laying waste to Mount Olympus and ending the reign of the Olympians once and for all. Armed with the same Blade of Olympus with which Zeus slew him in the previous game, Kratos now has the ability to kill a god, and it's a power he clearly relishes using. Many of the most prominent members are represented, and each confers to Kratos a new ability upon his untimely demise. There's Poseidon, whose trident allows Kratos to breathe underwater; Hades, whose sharp hooks let him cleanly rip the souls from his victims' bodies; Hermes, whose boots give Kratos a decidedly Prince of Persia-esque wall-run ability; and perhaps most shocking of all, Helios, whose screaming head you literally tear from his body and use as a magic lantern for the rest of the game. Hera even makes an appearance as a sort of ragged, perpetually drunk divorcé - perhaps not the most faithful interpretation of ancient Greek texts, but certainly one of the most colorful.

But aside from Kratos and his perpetual scowl, God of War III is not a character-driven game. Instead, it's dictated by its environments, and in the final game in the trilogy, they're more spectacular than ever. After scaling Mount Olympus with a pack of Titans in the game's prologue, you're swiftly sent back down to Hades, where the damned souls of the River Styx rob you of most of your health and magic bars. It's a bitter intro to the game's first chapter, but the scenery more than makes up for it: Everywhere you go, newly dead souls rain screaming from the skies. There's a dynamic quality in these worlds that you rarely find in videogames. The city of Olympia, for example, changes radically each time you kill a god: Poseidon's death causes a great flood that swallows the valley below the city, while Helios' demise causes black clouds to blot out the sun. You continue to revisit a few of the same areas over the course of the game, and it's incredible to watch how your surroundings become darker and more foreboding as you become more powerful.

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