Whenever a good form of entertainment is released upon the masses, there's that small part of everyone that wonders how long it will be before they find a way to mess it up. It's an inevitability, after all, in the modern world. Popular, good entertainment makes money, which motivates the powers that be to make follow-ups and sequels knowing their established fanbase is ready to give them more money. At some point, something bad gets made, and they still make money because of hype and expectations. This gives the powers that be the wrong idea, makes them think that the people want bad things, meaning they churn out a couple of these before the franchise either dies or is forced to turn things around due to a lack of money.
This is particularly prevalent in film, with Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix, Star Wars, Spiderman, X-Men, Terminator, The Godfather, Shrek, and any Disney film that ever got a direct sequel all limping to the finish line. Television is far from immune. Star Trek, Family Guy, Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and countless others all jumped the shark before biting the dust (some of which remain wobbling along). Video Games fall victim to this as well, Sonic the Hedgehog was milked for every cent he could produce in lesser games for quite awhile, Megaman's recent exploits in video games haven't been up to standard, if Resident Evil 5 is any indication that series is ready to collapse, and I personally feel even Call of Duty would have been better off ending some years ago.
God of War 3 could have fallen victim to this, it was probably more prone to it that some of the above examples. Consider, if you will, the delicate nature of this genre. It's not easy to make a good Action/Adventure/Platformer/Puzzle game. The control has to be fluid, the camera has to be positioned properly at all times, the environment has to be detailed and intricate, the platforming has to tie in with the action elements of the game, and the puzzles have to be delicately put together. So many things can go wrong. These games are never a slam dunk.
Also, consider how this sequel came to be. God of War II was all ready to conclude the main series. The plot was ready to wrap up. The characters were ready to reach the end of their adventures and arcs. If I had to guess, and this is just a guess, at some point during the development of the game's finale, someone at Sony realized that it might be a good idea to stretch into a third installment, give God of War trilogy status, and make a little (read: a lot) more money. So a bunch of stuff happens, and God of War 2 abruptly ends right in the middle of what seemed to be the climax of the franchise. Does this bode well for God of War 3? Not especially.
And yet, somehow, Sony has outdone themselves. This game has surpassed the expectations set by God of War I and II, proving to be a better game in most aspects, and almost all the aspects that most matter. So I am happy to say that, if Sony does end this series at three main installments (which seems likely) they have not crapped out at the end. This trilogy of games was non-stop, balls to the wall fun from start to beginning, and with some very minor exceptions I was never not enjoying myself playing them. And with regards to this third installment, I mean those words with an even greater emphasis than with the first two.
So now that we know the game is great, let's discuss why. God of War was always the master of the intro hook. The first hour of the first two God of War games motivates a gamer to keep on playing like no other, in every way possible. Kratos picks up right where he left off, leading the Titans up Mount Olympus to take on the Gods in an epic clash to decide the fate of the world for the foreseeable future. Seeking revenge on Zeus for stripping him of his god powers in the second installment, Kratos will see the entire planet burn to the ground if that is what it takes for him to claim vengeance. And if you've played a God of War game, you know Kratos has a way of accomplishing the impossible in the bloodiest way possible.
Zeus sends Poseidon down to handle this assault on his mountain, who kills one Titan in a single shot and takes on the other three with the powers of the ocean. And now, you take control of Kratos as he runs across the massive body of Gaia, beating the crap out of Hercules's army and Poseidon's demonic water horses. After a big, epic battle all across the massive stone landscape of Gaia, Kratos knocks Poseidon into his human form and brutally beats the life out of him. Then, Kratos and Gaia confront Zeus, but the King of Gods needs just a single bolt of lightning to send the pair falling down the mountainside. Gaia manages to grab on partway down, but betrays Kratos by allowing him to fall into the underworld. There, Kratos has much of his power stolen, but immediately begins attempting to break out of hell, something he is quite well versed in.
So to wrap it up, the first hour of the game sees you lead a quartet of Titans in a battle against Mount Olympus, battle a God across the landscape of one of those Titans, beat that god to death with your bare hands, be thrown from the mountain by the King of Gods, then betrayed by a Titan to the underworld, which you will now forcibly break out of by killing Hades.
Does any game make you feel more like a badass than this one? I've yet to see it.
The story follows from there, in a somewhat typical yet original way, integrating Kratos into shockingly accurate and well done Greek Mythology settings. All par for the course in this series, of course. Also par for the course is the audacity and brutality this game offers, although this title takes things up to eleven. Some of the kills and finishes in this game have to be seen to be believed. You'll feel like a true man after stabbing out the throat of a minotaur, slashing the guts of a centaur open, or ripping a sinewy, bloody eyeball from a cyclops's head.
And all of this is accomplished with amazingly fluid controls, so every amazing move you pull off feels natural and flowing. This game is both fun to watch and fun to play, a combination occasionally hard to pull off, but these guys have it down.
The game also looks beautiful, this series always needed a Hi-Def treatment. A step up from the graphics in the first two God of War games, I found myself even more engrossed in the experience thanks to how great everything looks and feels. But that of course was well expected.
Now, personally, I don't really like puzzles in non-puzzle games for reasons that I won't get into here. However, I thought the puzzles in the first two God of War games (with the possible exception of maybe the final one in II) were excellently integrated into the action, as well as fairly simple to understand, and actually pretty fun to do. I had some concern about the puzzles in this game, but I'm happy to report God of War III does exactly what I want when it comes to in-game puzzles. The game never halts so you can do a slide puzzle, or force you to solve a riddle, but the puzzles are integrated into the other elements of the game so well I find myself enjoying figuring them out and watching them come together. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this series is the puzzles, and God of War 3 excels with them.
Also, there's something to be said for balance. The first God of War overpowered Poseidon's Rage, the first magical ability you get in the game, making much of the adventure very easy. And just when PR wasn't so effective, Hades's Souls made the game basically a cakewalk. It's for that reason I didn't use very much magic in the first God Of War. Here, the magic is properly balanced, as well as the weapons, to ensure everything is useful but nothing is overpowered. Props to Sony for understanding this issue and fixing it.
Problems? Well, the game feels shorter than the first two, which isn't terribly surprising since I suspect SCEA had the plot ready to end with II and then they tacked on some stuff at the end to stretch it out. I was honestly surprised the game ended when it did, I kept thinking they'd find another way to stick me somewhere that I'd have to fight my way out of. Not a huge issue by any means, but the game is over quickly and there's not a ton of extras. I mean, unless you count wanting to play through the game again because it's so fun.
Also, a very minor gripe with the new QTE system. The buttons are now spread out to the four 'walls' of the television screen. Triangle at the very top, X at the very bottom, etc. This was to show the action better, but I actually find that it has the opposite effect. I want to watch Kratos gore some unfortunate badguy with his epic finishing moves, but having to constantly wait for a button to pop up on the sides, top and bottom of the screen takes my attention away from the actual action. The old way, in my mind, worked fine and was actually better than this.
But none of these issues really bothered me at all, they were very easy to overlook and deal with. I'd recommend this title to anyone, and suffice to say it's one of the best games I've played in recent memory. Let it be known that this is one franchise that won't be driven into the ground before someone takes it out back and shoots it.