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God of War III

God of War

Revenge. That’s all Kratos cares about anymore. It’s what drives him, what keeps him alive against impossible odds. Ever since he lost his status as the God of War, his goal has been simple: kill Zeus, the greatest god in the Pantheon and the one responsible for everything. Nothing else matters. Not the other gods, nor the Titans seeking to regain their former glory. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of innocent Greeks trapped in the middle. Death didn’t stop him. Fate and time couldn’t hold him back. They’re all just obstacles. Pawns. Collateral damage. Kratos has bigger things in mind. He intends to wipe the forces of Olympus from the face of planet, and he will annihilate anything that gets in his way.

Sound familiar? It should, you’ve played the God of War series. Kratos has been on a revenge-fueled murdering spree for a while now. It’s a great throwback to traditional Greek tragedies; Senecan drama make the bloodiest video games look like nothing. While such a one-track mindset made story kind of boring in the last game, God of War III does a decent job of fleshing out the concept beyond a vendetta. Kratos fights and kills beings that govern the very fabric of existence. Sure, it makes him a badass, but the game makes a point of exploring the consequences. For example, he decapitates the god of the sun; while he gets a cool new item, the rest of the world descends into a chaotic, rainy darkness. Things don’t really pick up until the latter half of the game, but it works well in the series’ overarching theme of personal gain versus responsibility.

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You’ve got to get there first. Ascending the peak of Olympus is not an easy task, and Kratos will have to fight his entire way up. If you’ve played any of the previous God of War games, you’ll have no trouble getting a handle on the combat mechanics. Rather than focusing on new ideas, the game designers decided to refine the old. Kratos wields a pair of magical cleavers that are chained to his arms. Depending on the order of the buttons you press, he can do anything from a simple swing to devastating multi-hit combos. If you weaken certain enemies enough, you can trigger quick-time events and pull off some spectacularly gory finishing moves. You don’t just beat a cyclops into submission. You stab your way up its massive body and rip out its eye with your bare hands, optic nerve and all. The basics are essentially unchanged from the previous games, but they’re executed far better. Everything is faster, slicker, and more responsive. The combos are visually stunning, but you won’t appreciate their awesomeness until you’re slicing and dicing through small armies of minions at once.

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It’s not all recycled, either. One of the best ideas has Kratos impaling his victims from a distance and throwing them around. Another allows him to grab an enemy and charge around with it as a living battering ram. Those are clever extensions of established ideas, and they work well with the flow of the gameplay. These are overshadowed by the other weapons, though. You’ll get knives that can fire electrical currents, claws that can summon undead spirits, and gauntlets that dish out tons of damage with reduced range. The problem is how similarly they handle to your default weapons; aside from their magical abilities, three out of your four primary weapons are basically the same, but with different combos and altered offensive styles. Unless you’re willing to experiment with your arsenal, there’s little incentive to switch between them. You should, though; you can toggle among the weapons in battle, which makes canceling moves and extending combos a breeze. If you keep upgrading your blades throughout the game, you’ll be nigh unstoppable.

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It’s not all combat, though. Between all the skirmishes with undead soldiers, chimeras, centaurs, you’ll contend with puzzles to progress through certain areas. They’re not particularly intricate or difficult; compared to the stuff in God of War II, the solutions are practically given to you. You might have to push a block into a certain place, activate a platform, or flip a timed switch. Some of them are a little gimmicky and don’t fully utilize your abilities. For example, you’ll gain the ability to move with temporary bursts of speed. It’s an awesome idea (especially considering Kratos’s relatively sluggish jogging animation), but it never evolves past running up a wall on predetermined points. It would have been interesting to see it better incorporated into the gameplay. Another area has you hitting buttons a la Guitar Hero. Now that messes with the immersion. But while they lack in inspiration and creativity, the puzzles rarely take away from the pacing and atmosphere of the game. They‘re around just long enough to test your critical thinking, then reward you by unlocking the next area. God of War III finds that perfect balance between action and problem-solving that the previous titles tried to make.

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Besides, you’re not going to play this for the puzzles. While they provide structure and transition between the various stages of the adventure, they’re nothing but an afterthought. You’ll be too busy being mesmerized by the ridiculously epic scope of everything else. God of War III takes place on a scale that towers over everything else in the series. You’ll have to spend an entire level crawling around the body of a creature the size of a skyscraper, and fly up a crevice that spans the length of all of Mount Olympus. Kratos has to fight monsters that are thousands of times bigger than himself; he could spend an entire boss battle dodging his enemies’ massive fists, slowly chipping away at the fingernails and using the skin as a makeshift platform. Not to mention the spectacular, jaw-dropping acrobatics you’ll get with the quick-time events. It’s thrilling stuff, especially when you know one misstep could kill you instantly. It’s complemented by the sheer amount of gore. Kratos doesn’t kill a boss; he rips off its limbs, pounds its faces into hamburger, and leaves the battlefield drenched with blood. Combined with the finer details – the scales on the gorgons’ tails, the gleam of the armor, and the superb lighting effects – you’ve got one of the most polished and awe-inspiring experiences on the PS3.

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The God of War trilogy is finally over. It’s only fitting that it go out with a bang. It takes everything that made the previous game so awesome and refines it. It continues the story, but it makes the effort to give more meaning to Kratos’s journey and its eventual ending. It takes the previous established combat mechanics and makes them faster, tighter, and more fun than ever. It’s not all perfect, though. Some of the new weapons, despite having additional abilities, seem too similar to the default blades. Not all of the abilities are fully utilized, either. The puzzles are easy and brief enough that they don’t deter from the overall pacing of the game. Besides, you’ll be too busy getting your mind blown from the insanely over-the-top battles to care. This experience is what the series has been leading up to all this time, and it does not disappoint. There may not be any more Greek myths, but God of War III gives us a tale that outclasses them all.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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