Throughout its development process, Sony Santa Monica kept God of War III closely under wraps. Details were few and far between, and all we had to go by was Stig Asmussen’s quiet assured look during interviews when he talked about the latest (and final) chapter of Kratos’ quest for vengeance. Given how the odds were stacked against him, it spoke volumes of what was in store for us.
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The weight of the franchise is a great one to carry; two directors before him had done a fantastic job of taking the franchise and its protagonist to astronomical heights. All this made it very easy to forget that God of War III is Santa Monica’s first game on the PlayStation 3. After three long years of building a bomb from scratch, Santa Monica has finally arrived in style, riding the back of a gigantic titan, with Kratos in tow as he climbs a mountain to begin his final assault on the Gods of Olympus.
In fact, the game begins at the cliffhanger we were left dangling off with God of War II. Riding atop the Titan Gaia, Kratos is seen huffing and puffing in the general direction of the top of Mount Olympus. His star-studded audiences, however, are unfazed, and begin their counter-assault, with one of them foolish enough to take on the fallen god and his colossal ride head on. Needless to say, it does not end well for him.
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Between these two events, God of War III delivers what is undoubtedly the single most breathtaking set piece I have ever seen; and I’m not just talking about video games here. And it is both a gift and a curse. On the bright side, it obliterates any doubts you might have had about God of War III in a brutal and spectacular symphony of chaos and destruction. It also teaches you how to survive on smaller doses of oxygen.
On the downside, it becomes the yardstick to measure the rest of the game by. Expectations, which have been over the top as the game has drawn close to its release, are raised even more by the first 45 minutes of the game to a level where they simply cannot be matched consistently throughout the nine-hour journey, except in some of the grand set pieces that come later on. God of War III is all about setting the bar for scale in video games, be it through the massive titans, which are a whole lot more than passive backdrops, the incredibly well thought out boss encounters, or the gargantuan puzzles that the game throws at you. But the general gameplay segments (which stick very close to the established formula) interlinking these moments can be a little underwhelming in the face of what the game is at the peak of its grandeur.
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This isn’t helped by the fact that the pacing isn’t as spot-on as the previous two games. The trademark God of War experience is all about juggling between action, puzzles and the story moments expertly, and the latter loses its way slightly around the middle. It is towards the end when the story really picks up, culminating with a powerful finale that Kratos so rightly deserves. Don’t let the last few lines dampen your excitement though. Even at its slowest, God of War III is head and shoulders above anything that the alleged ‘competition’ (I’m looking at you Dante’s Inferno) has to offer.
The primary reason for that is the excellent work that Santa Monica has put into the gameplay, and more specifically, the combat. The combat of God of War III is the best in the series, retaining the core of chaining together light and heavy attacks in over the top combos, but adding enough around it to make the fans of the genre squeal with delight. The biggest change comes from the implementation of alternate weapons. Apart from the standard blades of exile, the player will go on to acquire three more weapons through the course of the game, which are just as diverse in the combos they deliver.
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The fact that certain enemies are more vulnerable to specific weapons, and that each magic attack is linked to a unique weapon, will ensure that the player will experiment with different weapons to figure out the optimum way to bring down his enemies. Add to the mix additional moves like grappling into the enemy, or using a smaller enemy as a battering ram for crowd control, and we have a deep combat system with enough scope for experimentation that retains its accessible nature right through. To top it off, the QTE segments make a return, serving as the goriest and most violent finishing manoeuvres in gaming for both larger enemies and bosses.
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