God of War III (PS3) is better than Avatar

God of War III

This game is why I don’t go to the movies anymore.

Ever since Jackie Chan stopped doing his own stunts, action sequences in movies have come a poor second to the stuff you can do in a video game.  Just like its predecessors did before it, God of War III provides an amazing array of acrobatic and brutal kills that you can pull off.  The fact that you are executing these moves against famous mythical creatures like Cyclops and Centaurs just makes it all the sweeter.  No other game makes you feel tougher as it ladles out generous serves of sweet visceral, fist-pumping elation when you vanquish a difficult foe.

Don’t see Clash of the Titans.  Play God of War III.

Seriously … in this game you can diesembowel a Centaur and tear out a Cyclops’ eye.  If you aren’t sold on the basis of that sentence alone, then we are done here. And I think your nappy is full.

This game has me searching my Word thesaurus for synonyms for “epic”, because that word describes the scale of the whole enterprise – the booming orchestral music, with a large Czech choir singing “KRA-TOS”, the towering architecture, the sprawling environments, the violent combat, the crazy plot about wiping out an entire pantheon of gods, and even the emotional bombast of Kratos’ infinite surliness.  Everything is so over the top that you cannot help joining in the barbarity.  God of War III touches people on a primal level, and it feels good.

While we’re talking about the violence, I will say this to anyone complaining that the violence is gratuitous – go read a translation of the Iliad or the Odyssey.  They are best in the original Greek, of course, but in any language they are bloody.  Achilles gives Kratos a run for his money in the bloodthirsty stakes, except he only killed mortals.  Read ancient Greek literature and you will read graphic descriptions of bones being crushed, organs being pierced and eyes being popped out.  There is also an alarmingly frequent rate of groin-stabbing.  Thank Zeus Sony Santa Monica weren’t completely faithful to the source material.  Also realise these games are rated MA15+ for a reason.

Play it on Hard you pussies

Unless God of War III is the first video game you have played, it should be played on Hard.  No exceptions.  There will be those of you (*cough* critics on a deadline *cough*) who whizz through God of War III on Easy, or even Normal, just to avoid frustration or to see the story.  On Easy mode, you could probably get through 80% of the game spamming one combo (the trusty ol’ square-square-triangle) and you will put the game down wondering what the hype is all about.  “Sure it looks nice,” you will say on your blog and in forums, “but ultimately it’s just a button-mashing snoozefest”.

You have missed the point.

Playing God of War III just to focus on the story is like eating a cheese for its shape.  Sure, it’s part of the product, but it isn’t what Tiger Woods would call a “core fundamental”.  While the mythological setting of the story is bombastic in tone and integral to the game’s sense of scale, the plot itself merely serves as a vehicle to get Kratos from kick-ass Medusa encounter A to kick-ass God encounter B.

God of War games are primarily about combat and they should be judged primarily on that basis.  Sure they’ve got puzzles in them too, but these are just to give your thumbs a rest from pulling combos and to make you feel smart.  Strip away the challenge of the combat and the games come up wanting.

Only when you play on Hard does the combat become truly epic, where any number of staged encounters outside of boss fights could become an hour-long roadblock.  Only on Hard does Kratos’ entire moveset become relevant, such as using the long distance grapple and air lifts, or the timed block to activate the golden fleece counterattack.  Only on Hard do you welcome the quicktime events, rather than see them as an immersion killer, as they represent a chance to finish off that tough and frustrating foe that’s killed you 5 times before.  Only on Hard do you have to think carefully about when to use your precious magic.

I noticed the difference between difficulties when I played through certain sections of the game a second time with various collectible Godly artifacts activated, including one that allows for unlimited magic.  Whenever things got hairy, I could spam my Army of Sparta (an area effect magic) and take out the whole battlefield.  I came up to the fight with Hercules, which was epic the first time around because I could hardly afford to get hit by that behemoth.  This time around, I just hid under the trusty ol’ Army of Sparta and did him in about 30 seconds.  It all became a little yawny because nothing felt earned – I sure as shit had earned the Godly artifact, but I wasn’t earning my way through the game like my first hard-fought, inch-by-inch experience.

I have also noticed a bunch of folks have criticised God of War III for failing to “revolutionise” the combat.  Where do these people come from? It’s the friggin 3rd game in a trilogy, not a completely new game!  Do they expect that the newest edition of Monopoly will have a different-shaped board and let you roll three dice instead of two?  Or that a new edition of Scrabble will … wait, scratch that.  Why reinvent the wheel?  These folks are really saying “I don’t want to play God of War, I want to play a different game”.  Good for them, you can’t please all the people all of the time.  Command & Conquer has revolutionised its core mechanics in its latest instalment and the fanboys and critics are whining about it.  Damned if you do, I guess …

How God of War III improved on previous God of War games

Sony Santa Monica did the right thing with the combat system in God of War III – they kept the fundamentals the same and tweaked it for improvements.  These improvements are small but significant.

I loved the fact that the grapple (used to grab a dude or just to shoulder-slam them) was given a longer range.  In previous games, it was at hug range.  Now it is at like a half-chain blade range, and can be used to grapple enemies in the air like those annoying bat-type creatures that shoot fire.  The ‘distance grapple’ was also handy to move Kratos out of tight spots and a good starting point for attempting those big combo chains.

I loved all the new group-combat features, like the ability to tackle one minion and use said minion as a battering ram as Kratos runs headlong into a group of other minions, sending them flying.  I liked being able to get on the back of a big beastie and use it to fight the smaller beasties, like you could with Bane in Batman: Arkham Asylum (last year’s best game).

I loved the simple change of putting the QTE button-prompts on the side of the screen that corresponded with their position on the controller, eg triangle at the top, square on the left, etc.  This enables you to watch Kratos’ gory finishing animation while you use your peripherals to know what to press to not die.

The only confusing bit for the controls was that magic attacks are now mapped to a specific weapon, so your type of magic attack depends on which weapon you’ve selected.  You still have a blue magic gauge, but there is a new yellow gauge for some items, like your bow, meaning you can fire it off without worrying about wasting your other combat magic.

Beyond regular combat, God of War III is also packed with great boss fights.  An impressive roster of Greek mythology Hall of Famers lines up to get a smackdown from Kratos.  Some boss fights are more epic than others, and some are truly gargantuan, multi-staged encounters that illustrate the size differential between Kratos and his foe, with things like fighting a boss while hanging off his arm, then hiding in his tinea until he bites his toenails, at which point you can dive into the bosses’ guts to give him some chain-bladed indigestion until he barfs you back onto his arm, and so on.

Going Meta: re assessing the Cave of Assessment

I enjoyed this game so much, it makes my Cave of Assessment look inadequate.

As I look around, it needs a bit of renovation, maybe some stalactites or a nice little patch of lichen.  The problem I have is with one of the categories of assessment – “Story”.  Simply put, I think Story is not a significant enough element of video games to be its own criterion and should instead be folded in to the “Atmosphere” category

I do this because the standards of video game writing and stories are generally low compared to, say, movies, TV or books.  They’re so low that I am genuinely surprised by anyone who plays a game just for its story.  You could count the number of games with solid, well-told stories on two hands, max (do I feel a Top 10 list coming on? I’m not that desperate yet.)   It seems many videogame fans have lower expectations of game stories as they are happy to praise even half-baked storytelling like Metal Gear Solid 4* — I guess these are the same geeks who dig anime or comic books for their “well-written” stories, or JRPG fans, or both.

I like stories in games, but am under no illusions that they are the best part of a game – as long as they’re not too painful, I accept them as a vehicle for placing game events in a certain order.  I don’t want to overemphasise story as it’s not a crucial factor of why I play games.

God of War III’s story is its weakest link, but as a vehicle for the action it is fine.  I was getting a bit tired of Kratos’s “Go to Hades, escape” routine – if only it was so easy for everyone to escape Hades.  Kratos goes to Hades regularly more than a drug mule goes to Bali.  At least this time Kratos gets to face off against Hades himself, meaning that it should be the last friggin time he’ll have to visit there.  Anyway, for me, to nitpick the story of God of War III is to nitpick stories in games generally, which I have done above anyway.

So as I sat in the Cave and reflected upon God of War III, I realised that much of the satisfaction I got from the game was from learning the game’s controls and mechanics and applying them in situations of increasing challenge.

I loved the combat in God of War 3 because the combat became a puzzle in itself.  It does the basic thing of giving you enemies with blocks and attacks that force you to master the various fighting techniques available.  By the end of the game you will be clearing entire chambers full of Medusae, wraiths, Minotaurs and harpies without realising how far you’ve come since the early days back in Hades.  For the final battle with (SPOILER ALERT) Zeus, you will have to pull out all of Kratos’ tricks.  The combat controls are fluid and the strengths and weaknesses of the different enemies force you to use the controls intelligently.

Thus I think a crucial aspect of God of War III’s success is its game mechanics — the relationship between the controls and how the environment is presented in order to encourage the player to use the controls.  Therefore, I have ditched the crusty, saggy beanbag of “Story” from the Cave of Assessment and installed the fold-out couch of “Game mechanics”.

OK, now I can admit that all that redecoration of the Cave of Asessment is for one ulterior motive as shown below:

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 10
Atmosphere: 10
Addictiveness: 10
Overall:

10

Yeah that’s right, I wanted to “ten” this game, and I did.  Now, go kill Zeus.

– Felix

*Don’t get me wrong, I loved Metal Gear Solid 4, but I loved it in spite of its overblown and lengthy story, not because of it.

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