|God of War III|
|Genre||Greek Mythology Disembowelment|
|MtAMinutes to Action||3|
|Buy from Amazon|
History lesson #1: the ancient Greeks were crazy. Sure, they essentially
laid the foundation for western society, but they also worshipped more
gods than anybody could possibly remember, all of whom led lives with
more dramatic twists and turns than a daytime soap opera. I doubt Days
of Our Lives ever featured a giant man made of rock who married his
sister and ate his kids, after all.
History lesson #2: in 2005, God of War tore its way into the still-beating hearts of PS2 owners with its brutal take on Greek mythology. The game introduced us to Kratos, Spartan servant of the gods and the kind of pitiless killer that most actual Spartans probably strived to be. God of War sold bajillions of copies, spawned equally-successful sequels on the PS2, PSP, and PS3, and even had its own terrible SpikeTV special for rabid fans to embarass themselves in front of the world. Not bad for fanfiction, is it?
History lesson #3: the action-packed start to God of War II is actually responsible for the creation of The First Hour. The game certainly started with a bang, thrusting the player into an intense situation right off the bat that dropped jaws to the floor. Does God of War III have the same inspirational power?
NOTE: I am starting the game on Titan mode, the most challenging of the three difficulty settings immediately available. I played the original game on its toughest difficulty because I'd heard it was more rewarding and regretted the decision. I then played God of War II on the suggested normal difficulty and found little challenge. So I flipped a coin and decided on Hard mode for part three. The specifics of the game are largely unchanged from one mode to the next: Kratos simply takes more damage, deals less damage, and receives fewer Red Orbs for upgrades.
(minutes are in bold)
00 - I start a new game on Titan Mode. "My fight ends now," says an extremely-detailed Kratos. Someone is talking. It's Zeus! He's talking about how awesome Mount Olympus and its residents are.
01 - Kratos seeks to destroy all that Zeus has created! The titans are along for the ride -- or vice versa, I suppose, since Kratos rides upon the shoulder of a titan whose fingernail dwarfs him. Zeus pledges that he and his pals will wipe out this plague!
02 - Helios, the sun god, jumps on his Chariot and into the fray. Hermes, the messenger god, runs down the mountain. And Hades, ruler of the underworld, launches himself into the battle as well.
03 - Gameplay starts, with Kratos riding on Gaia, the earth titan. A dozen of Zeus' warriors immediately appear and swarm the Spartan. They gang up on Kratos, but moving the control stick around shakes them off. Square and Triangle deliver weak and strong blows to the crowd. The game controls exactly as its predecessors did, right down to the same combos.
04 - Titans are tearing off pieces of the mountain and throwing the cliffs themselves at Zeus. Poseidon jumps into one Titan and knocks it into the water. Enormous horse monsters launch out of the sea, latching onto Titans, including Gaia.
05 - Kratos continues to journey along Gaia, fighting enemies along the way. Kratos can grab smaller foes and use them as battering rams into others, a very cool addition to his repertoire. As he fights, other titans are climbing in the background. The scale is incredible, and the camera is shaking, so much so that it's actually kind of hard to see what's going on.
06 - The giant water horse monster attacks, spewing Kratos back with water. The monster seems to be having little trouble with Gaia, pulling the Titan around with Kratos along for the ride. The fight continues while Kratos is hanging from Gaia.
07 - Climbed back to steady ground on Gaia to do battle with the horse. It uses strange talons protruding from its back to attack areas of the arena. This is a pretty epic tutorial, and no pushover on Titan mode.
08 - After swiping some blades into the horse, a quick time event prompt causes Kratos to rip the monster's lower jaw off, and the monster falls into the ocean. Kratos is flung off of Gaia onto Mount Olympus, and scales a portion of the mountain himself.
09 - Hades pulls Titans down in the background with his sickle chains. This game captures the feeling of conflict better than most war games do. Another horse monster rises from the sea to assault Gaia. This side of the mountain is snowy and looks pretty amazing, providing a pretty backdrop for Kratos while he decimates his enemies.
10 - As much as I love all the craziness going on in the background, the shaking camera makes it difficult to concentrate on combat. Even so, Kratos makes short work of the soldiers and archers that approach.
11 - A little podium is on the mountain: it points out the Chain of Balance, which secures the bond between Olympus and the Underworld. Stepping up to it allows you to fully enjoy the gorgeous scenery.
12 - A fiery Titan in the background is being assaulted by Helios, and falls from the mountain. Kratos continues to climb the mountain and destroy those in his way. Gaia is, yet again, accosted by a sea-horse, and their scuffle destroys a bridge Kratos needs to get across. Fortunately the Wings of Icarus return from God of War II and Kratos can glide across the chasm.
13 - Heading into a tunnel in the mountain now. Reflections in the water on the floor look excellent. A centaur emerges from a gate, looking to trample Kratos. When it charges with its spear, a QTE prompts a half-circle on the control stick, though it's pretty tough to nail.
14 - After many swipes with the blades, the centaur finally offers a finisher: Kratos stabs the beast several times before finally gutting it. Its internal organs spill out from its abdomen. Awesome.
15 - Skeleton enemies rise from the ground, but are easiliy cleaved or ripped in half. A switch in the corner is glowing, and pulling it lowers a plank from a crane.
16 - I didn't make it there in time and the platform returned to its original position, so I have to pull the lever and try again. This time is successful, and it raises back up and allows access to top of wall. A red treasure chest and the first save point await. It seems we've entered the Tomb of Ares. A huge shadow blocks the light from outside: it's Gaia. Surprise surprise, she needs help fending off sea horse monsters. What a powerless Titan!
17 - Kratos shoves the monster away by button mashing, and swings from the mountain onto Gaia. Time to finish it off. Kratos slashes the monster as the talons assault from each side. It's sort of difficult to tell which parts of the monster can take damage, and even harder to judge how close Kratos needs to be to hit it.
18 - The monster rears back and swipes its talons across the ground, hiting for big damage. Some more hits weakens the horse, and grabbig it triggers a QTE. Kratos blocks its spike attacks, swings around it with his chains, and rips one of its talons off, tossing it aside.
19 - The monster continues to fight, though a QTE prompt shows up once its head starts leaking water. Kratos rips its chest open (by pounding on the shoulder buttons). The camera zooms in on talon lost earlier. Kratos grabs it and hurls it into the monster's exposed chest, causing it to fall off of Gaia.
20 - Kratos climbs up the weakened Gaia, and actually enters the inside of the Titan's body. It's an interesting site, sidling through thick brushwork that pulse like veins and organs.
21 - A short walk ends at the Heart of Gaia. Something on the wall is flashing. It's a tall stone column that can be pulled. I guess it needs to be put somewhere so it can be climbed.
22 - I'm moving it around room, looking for where to put it. Pushing the right control stick while holding an object will spin it around. Ah, now I can see patchwork along one side of it that I can climb. I'm still not sure where to put it, though.
23 - Okay, now I see patchwork on the wall that looks to be climbable. I have to put the piece of wall into the impression on the other side, continuing a wall climb patch. Like in the other games, Kratos can still kick puzzle blocks around, but pushing them forward is quicker anyway.
25 - After a long climb, Kratos exits the heart of Gaia. More enemies show up and are quickly wiped out with a few battering ram attacks, though it's puzzling as to how or why these soldiers are inside the Titan's body.
26 - Another bout of climbing later, Kratos emerges from the back of Gaia's head. Another horse monster approaches, but Gaia has a hold on it and crushes it. But another watery being appears: it's Poseidon, in a watery giant form! He and Kratos exchange words and the first epic boss fight begins.
27 - One of Poseidon's attacks electrifies the ground, one section at a time. It's hard to avoid, however, and does huge damage. And I'm dead! Luckily I restart right at the fight. Poseidon also stabs at Kratos with talons from the background and thrusts his trident into the ground, causing Gaia to scream.
28 - After weakening the god of the sea, Kratos jumps to Gaia's hand as Gaia slams Poseidon against the mountain. The fight continues, and Poseidon adds a few flicks and punches to his repertoire.
29 - I'm starting to recognize patterns and cues, but still not sure how to dodge some attacks. It's very difficult to see attack ranges with so much going on at such an epic scale. As such, I die again! Thankfully, I restart at the current stage of the fight rather than the first.
30 - Looks like I'll have to be more defensive here, as attempting even a small combo leaves Kratos little time to escape Poseidon's attacks. I'm dead, for the third time.
31 - Frustration begins to set in, as I am not sure how to dodge some of these attacks. Kratos falls in battle once again.
32 - Dodging in this battle is incredibly important, not only the direction but where you start and end the roll. I think I've got the hang of it!
33 - I'm dead. Again. "You will never defeat us!" proclaims Poseidon, and I'm thinking he may be right.
34 - Finally, some progress! A QTE prompt appears, and Kratos savagely assaults Poseidon before ripping off his chest plate, exposing his heart.
35 - Poseidon takes the attack back to Gaia's hand, and the fight is similar to how it started. Only now Poseidon sends a shockwave attack along the ground, which of course kills me immediately.
36 - Still trying to dodge that lightning attack. Still failing: I die twice more.
37 - I'm starting to rationalize my deaths by blaming things: first up, the camera perspective, which makes it hard to judge attack ranges and timings, both from Kratos and his opponents. Two more deaths.
38 - The game offers to switch to Easy Mode? This is an insult to my gaming prowess! I decline. Adding injury to insult, the game kills me again.
39 - Finally! I've beaten Poseidon to weakness, and Gaia sends a huge punch into his oceanic manifestation, hurling Kratos through its heart and taking Poseidon's human-size form with him into the side of Mount Olympus.
40 - As his water summonings wash away, Poseidon lies bloody and broken on the ground. Poseidon tells Kratos that, for each god he destroys, another will rise to oppose him. Kratos doesn't seem to mind killing gods, and approaches Poseidon.
41 - Kratos brutally beats Poseidon with headbutts, punches, and kicks in a quick time event. In a sick twist, all of this is seen from Poseidon's perspective. After tossing the battered god to his knees, Kratos delivers a satisfying death blow: he crams his fingers into Poseidon's eyes, and the screen turns black.
42 - The dead god falls into the ocean and causes an enormous tidal wave. Cities are flooded, mountains are buried, and citizens of Olympus are crushed in the waves. Gaia offers Kratos a lift to Zeus on her enormous fingernail. Save point.
43 - A cutscene sees Gaia climbing up Olympus with Kratos on her shoulder. Zeus looks down on the pair, and curses Kratos for bringing this war upon the world. Kratos cares only for his revenge.
44 - Zeus declares he will tolerate Kratos' actions no longer and tosses a lightning bolt at Gaia, causing the titan to fall from Olympus, along with Kratos. She barely catches herself on a cliff, and Kratos is slipping from her back. She refuses to help Kratos, saving herself instead.
45 - Kratos falls from Gaia and Olympus, down from the mountain straight into the underworld. A cool, stylish cutscene plays as Kratos thinks on his journeys with these divine beings and declares his lust for revenge once again.
46 - Kratos fell all the way to the River Styx. Demons emerge from the depths of the river and rob Kratos of his extended health and magic meters. His red soul supply is stolen as well.
47 - The Spartan shambles onto the shore in the Realm of Hades. Dead men and women are falling from somewhere far above to somewhere far below, screaming all the way. But Kratos has been here before. Twice. Guess we'll try and make it three for three.
48 - The voice of Hades welcomes Kratos to his realm once again, and seems entertained by the thought of Kratos suffering here.
49 - The spirit of a woman appears: it's Athena! She sacrificed herself to save Zeus in the last game, and Kratos is distrustful of her here. She claims to help Kratos so that he may stop Zeus from destroying the world with this war, and gives Kratos the Blades of Exile, which will lead to the Flame of Olympus, which is the only McGuffin that can stop Zeus.
50 - A podium offers a view of the underworld. "Hades: here is the end of the great journey all must embark on, none can turn back." Like everything else in the game, the underworld is beautiful, in a rather bleak and frightening way.
51 - Kratos swings across the abyss onto a path full of skeleton enemies. The offer little challenge, but the weak Blades of Exile seem to pack less oomph now that they're fully downgraded.
52 - Apparently pressing block and grab results in a long-range grapple that sends Kratos' body slamming into an enemy, shoulder first. A save point sits next to a stone circle. It's a Hyperion Gate, but requires the soul of a god for passage. Another path forks, let's go right first.
53 - The right path leads to a group of red treasure chests, but nothing else. The other leads to a statue of Hades, who taunts Kratos further. Steel bars raise from the ground and trap Kratos in a small arena with skeleton warriors.
54 - Athena informs us of the Army of Sparta magic, tied to the Blades of Exile. It summons fellow Spartan exiles into a phalanx around Kratos, and they attack enemies. It's pretty effective, and definitely cool. With Kratos' blades and the new magic, the opponents are taken down fast.
55 - The barrier disappears, and the path re-opens. One section is blocked off by spiky bramble, and is currently impassable. A chain suspended over a chasm offers passage, and Kratos climbs hand-over-hand across it.
56 - Like in the other games, fighting while hanging occurs. Also like the other games, it kind of sucks.
57 - Kratos comes to a large pair of doors and forces them open, though a Gorgon waits inside! It screams and some skeleton enemies nearby are turned to stone.
58 - The Gorgon warps its snakelike body around Kratos, but mashing the shoulder buttons will escape its grasp and counter attack. The stone vision is more instantaneous than in the other games, lasting less than a second and instantly turning anything seen into rock. After a battle, Kratos rips its head off, instantly turning all nearby enemies to stone.
59 - Another Gorgon appears and larger beasts accompany it. Blocking the Gorgon's vision allows Kratos to reflect it to all nearby enemies, though failing the QTE causes Kratos to turn to stone.
60 - After defeating the monsters, Kratos comes into a prison chamber. One prisoner calls to Kratos: it's Pirithous, who offers his divine bow to Kratos if the Ghost of Sparta frees him. Too bad for Pirithous, our first hour is over.
Minutes to Action: 3
What I liked: "Epic" is used as a marketing buzz word for most games these days, but no game comes close to the grandeur of even the first hour of God of War III. Climbing Mount Olympus on beings the size of skyscrapers and assaulting the gods themselves is unlike anything in any other game. And it's all amazing to look at: the tech behind the game must be remarkable, but the art design and grand set pieces are what really set the game apart from all others. All of this is combined with steady tutorials that are unintrusive but informative enough that beginners won't be lost.
What I didn't like: The game may actually be too epic. At times, the grand scale makes it difficult to get a feel for the minutiae of gameplay. Judging distances is a quite a task when the camera angle is prioritized for cinematics and not for functional use. I made some mistakes during the battle against Poseidon, but I also felt as though I wasn't being given a sufficient view of the action to figure out what I was supposed to do. Still, perseverance and a bit of luck got me through without too much fuss.
Video: Grand, gory, and graphically excellent, God of War III is a visual feast for those who hunger for authentic Greek debauchery.
Audio: You won't find yourself humming the music at work, but it's suitably atmospheric. The sound effects work well with the brutality and the voice acting is appropriate for a grand adventure through myth.
Story: Kratos' vengeance against those who betray him continues. It's not the freshest premise, but it's executed well.
Gameplay: Very little changes here from God of War II. Kratos spends most of his time hacking up harpies and slicing centurions, with some moving-block-style puzzles on the side.
Challenge: Titan mode is far from a breeze: I died eleven times in the first hour alone, and I'm a very capable action gamer. I'm sure Normal mode provides a healthy trial for most gamers, and Easy should allow almost anyone to get in on the action. Note: the first hour instills a bit more anger than the rest of the game does. God of War III proves to be far less cheap than the original, though a few moments of frustration will inevitably set in. If it ever feels too cheap for you, the option to switch to Easy mode presents itself after dying about ten times in a row. Don't worry, I won't judge you.
Fun Factor: God of War III's enjoyment comes primarily from its grand setting, its brutal displays, and its mythological base. It's a game that's as much fun to watch as it is to play.
Would I keep playing? Yes. I'm pretty picky with my action games, and God of War has never really impressed me with its combat, but I'm eager to walk the last leg of Kratos' bloody journey just to see the sights.
Words from beyond the First Hour: Having finished God of War III, I think that this is one of the few experiences in gaming where the first hour sets a precedent that the remainder of the game just can't match. There are certainly a few moments throughout the 8-hour odyssey that will impress and delight, but even the long-awaited final battle doesn't quite have the same spectacle that the tutorial does. That's more a testament to the beginning than it is a knock at the ending, however: when a game based on Greek mythology begins with the Titans at Zeus' doorstep, how could it possibly build itself up to a more dramatic climax? It can't, and God of War III doesn't, but it makes a decent effort.
All in all, I think God of War fans should be pleased; the final chapter of Kratos' quest for vengeance manages to be the most satisfying, despite a few hokey plot devices and core gameplay that was just a notch or two above adequate five years ago. It also provides the Ghost of Sparta with some closure, allowing Sony to either take the series somewhere fresh before players realize they've been using the same combos against the same enemies for four games since 2005 (soon to be five games), or retire the series from the spotlight altogether.