In Greek mythology, mortals usually ascend to godhood for acts of great valor or sacrifice, like Hercules enduring the torment of his 12 labors. Kratos, hero of Sony’s God of War franchise, snatched his divinity from Ares in the series’ first game. In the second game, Zeus kicked the angry warrior off Olympus for showing favor to his mortal brethren. Sick of being a pawn of the gods, the Spartan escaped the underworld and freed the Titans to have a final reckoning with Zeus and his pantheon.
Kratos’ story has always been about vengeance and the series’ jump to the PS3 affords Sony’s Santa Monica Studio the chance to create an epic finale to his saga. GOWIII picks up mere moments after the last game, with the Ghost of Sparta advancing on Olympus on the back of Gaia. You’ll immediately get a larger sense of scale from the game’s opening moments and in some battles, Kratos is just barely a couple of pixels. But the sense of proportion isn’t the only thing that’s gotten bigger. Players will find themselves knee-deep in violence so graphic that Kratos’ skin often gets covered with gore, a touch that drives home just how fearsome and committed he is.
God of War III pretty much follows the combat/puzzle/boss battle model established by its predecessors. The platforming in GOWIII gets a malevolent twist. You can snare enemy harpies, prod them with a sharp blade to cover long gaps. Using enemies for platforming purposes isn’t the only way you’ll subvert them. Leashing and wielding the attacks of a giant cereberus or Cyclops against your foes feels like another way that Kratos id bringing the age of Zeus to its end. Several new moves–like grabbing an enemy and using him as a battering ram against others and painful-looking Quick Kills–add to Kratos’ repertoire of mayhem. Kratos will also pick up new weapons, too. Some of them play similar to the iconic chained blades he’s had since since day one. But, even in those cases, care has been taken to animate them with different move sets that feel fresh. Other weapons like the Bow of Apollo give finally add ranged attacks to Kratos’ capabilities. Overall, there’s more configurability in terms of combat as you acquire new weapons. The Claws of Hades, for example let you summon the enemy wraiths that once attacked you, like a Cereberus Mongrel or an Olympus archer.
But the most chilling implements Krato deals damage with are his bare hands. Like the killing of Poseidon I mentioned in this preview, every instance where Kratos gets his hands on one of the Olympian gods leads to gasp-inducing sequences. The celestial beings here feel like a knowing update on Bulfinch’s Mythology: sarcastic, selfish and petty. They have all the foibles of humans: Hades comes off as a sadist, Helios lies and Hephaestus grieves for his lost daughter. That makes Krato’s violence against them fall into a moral gray area that makes you wonder just what kind of man are you controlling. It’s an uneasy feeling that extends into the repercussions that killing the gods sends rippling through the look and feel of the world. The seas flood when dead Poseidon is cast into them and the skies of Olympia grow heavy with clouds when Kratos has his way with Helios. It isn’t only immortals who suffer his wrath either. One ledge-shimmying sequence has Kratos kill an innocent who’s in your way so you can sidle past him. It makes you wonder if will Kratos recover his humanity? Does he even want to?
Those questions won’t be as irritating as more mundane concerns, though. You still can’t control the camera in GOWIII and the lack of a player-controlled perspective still feels limiting, especially in a game where scope, scale and art direction are so important. The camera issue also points at how locomotion isn’t GOWIII’s strong suit. More precise movements like climbing and jumping occasionally feel awkward and stiff. At one point early on, I yelled at my screen, “Why is the jumping still so freakin’ bad?! Yes, I got used to it but I felt I could’ve saved 10 minutes of frustration if I’d only be allowed to move the camera. But the developers retain control of the camera because they want your eyes on one place, which is Kratos’ savage slaughter of all who stand in his way.
Mostly, the brutality in God of War III feels thematically consistent. Kratos is literally tearing the gods apart–he puts out Poseidon’s eyes and hacks away hunks of Hades’ muscle. Athena prophesies a twilight for the Olympians and Kratos is bringing it closer with every gory ounce of godflesh. One thing’s for sure, though. By the time things end on Mount Olympus in the series’ bigger, bloodier finale, you’ll understand how one man–when sufficiently driven– can be a force of nature all unto himself.
Official Techland Score: 9.0/10