The harrowing of Hades.
The gruff, cynical anti-hero is a well-worn and much-loved trope in literature, films and video games, but it's still a comparatively-rare instance when you stumble across the implied bonus capital letter, and find yourself with a genuine, mythology-worthy anti-Hero on your hands. The bitter, bloodthirsty protagonist of SCEA's God of War cycle of games would think little or nothing of wiping out you, your man-beast minions and your patron deity all before breakfast. By this time, he has enough blood on his hands (mortal, monstrous and divine) to stain the Mediterranean red—and he signs his name with a capital K.
[image1]God of War III—oddly not the 3rd game in the series but the 4th, if you count the mobile one, which you should because it's part of the story arc—finds our (anti-)hero Kratos at the culmination of his quest for vengeance against the Olympian pantheon. Having already offed the odd legendary figure, Fate and/or full-on Greek god in previous adventures, Kratos has finally decided to stop screwing around with the also-rans and go right for the Big Z himself—and gods help any of the people, property or places that stand anywhere near along the path to Zeus (even the ones that would seem to be in more or less in Kratos' camp, philosophically speaking).
The God of War series has always been about intuitive, satisfying combat, striking environmental visuals and epic, visceral battles, and none of that has changed in essence—but when speaking of God of War III, you could rightly say “this one goes to XI”.
Kratos has retained his fluid-but-punishing style of fighting, whether by his trademarked far-reaching chain-blades, the rock-smashing, lion-headed gauntlets of Hercules, or any of the other weapons/items he "liberates" from the forces of the Olympian host throughout the game (all of which can be upgraded by spending the red energy orbs constantly available throughout the game). However, Kratos also has a veritable spell-book of new magical attacks/summonings that can be activated with the touch of a shoulder button, be they a mere momentary summoning of, spectral archers or a massive, ground-pounding attack called from on high that stuns and damages practically every enemy in the immediate battleground.
Certainly the most elegant, understated aspect of the combat control scheme is the fact that, once Kratos has plucked all the weapons and items off his various foes—including the aforementioned lion-gauntlets for example, or the glowing purple implements that can claw hidden foes out from the ground (or floating spectral enemies from their hazy, immaterial plane) into Kratos' immediate fist-space for a proper corporeal beat-down—he always has immediate shoulder/face button access to all them on, the fly. In other words, no menu-drilling to break up the action just because you need to momentarily switch between wailing on a pack of three-headed hounds with chain-blades and running up a wall with a neat item like the winged boots you ripped off the legs of the fey, extremely-annoying Hermes a few battles back.
[image2]Another very neat, albeit grotesque, item is the handy-portable head of Helios (ripped, naturally, screaming off of said antagonist's body). When activated, it can provide either a momentary, stunning flash of light to disable enemies, or a larger, charged-up nova-blast that creates a lingering illumination (some of the game's areas get suprisingly dark). Helios' decapitated noggin (which emits a rather creepy scream each time it's whipped out) also provides a way of illuminating hidden, godly secrets throughout the game, such as cloaked chests (look for the subtle stirs of gold-dust) or even entire murals or doors camouflaged into the environments' walls.
God of War III also packs a lot of wow-factor into locales and creatures, both of which can be---well, here's that word again, Epic, in scope and presentation. Before Kratos' ultimate date with Olympian destiny, he'll hack, slash and not occasionally puzzle his way through the Underworld and the pits of Tartarus, tangles of various passages both sub-terranean and sub-marine, the bed-chamber of one apparently sexually-insatiable goddess—another God of War sex mini-game that somehow seems surprisingly daring and yet shamefully tame at the the same time, a game-design feat which is harder to pull off than you might think—and an interesting spatial 'take' on the famed Labyrinth that seems inspired by, of all things, the Cube movies.
More intriguing still is an isolated puzzle-segment in the bitter, boozy venue of Hera's slowly-dying Olympian Gardens: It challenges players to look through a special crystal that turns very select, aerial views of the mazelike Gardens into physically-impossible—but nevertheless navigable--M.C. Escher-esque tricks-of-perspective paths. It's not a large segment of the game—but it's absolutely brilliant while it lasts.
And of course, there are those much-lauded large-scale creatures and bosses—and here's another area where God of War III really pulls out the stops. I don't want to give too much away here, but suffice it to say that you'll have entire sequences where the creature/Titan/foe or what-have-you in question is so gargantuan that, even as it moves, it changes the entire environmental play-space for Kratos and his enemies, who are in turn having their own, smaller-scale running battles; we're not talking just an isolated fighting-area here, but an entire, traverseable, outsized-boss game-region on the move (occasionally being attacked by other outsized-boss types). In terms of games that present creatures as meaningful, non-abstracted bodies measurable by practical scale, it's safe to say that God of War III has the biggest freakin' creatures you've ever seen, bar none, wham-boosh, thank-you-Zeus.
[image3]I've really gotta give it up to Sony for not pulling any artistic punches here, when it comes to the brutal presentation of Kratos' vengeance. If God of War III is—in terms of its literally Epic bosses—the gratuitously 'biggest' game under Sony's belt, it's also by far the most unapologetically, jaw-droppingly gory, violent and visually sadistic. Those pansy-ass, occasionally news-making segments on 'violence in video games' you might remember from the sillier days of the Jack Thompson regime were just garden-variety embarrassing. In light of God of War III, they almost take on the sort of golden-moldy naivete of old, warbling, black-and-white 'duck and cover' filmstrips on why hiding under public-school kindling is a sensible defensive response to getting H-bombed.
Here is a game where you will: Messily eviscerate foes athwart the gut—and not necessarily from the outside; gouge out various and sundry ganglia-tethered eyeballs with your bare hands; jam an enemy's recently (and very roughly)-amputated claws point-first into parts of the body diametrically opposite those whence said claws originated; and beat the living shit out of at least one foe so brutally—in point of view, no less—that blood not only splatters the screen, but actually totally smears it, occluding the view from edge to edge. All of this is in perfect keeping with the game's vengeful subject-matter—Kratos is fueled by rage and raw brutality, and even a skimming of his backstory will confirm this to the densest inquiry—but it's still pretty attention-getting when you play/see it.
All the while, God of War III pulls off another damned-impressive stunt: Making the oft-reviled Button-Press/'Quick-Time Event' seem not only not lame, gimmicky and distracting, but also totally engaging and integrated with the experience. Before long, you'll forget the nature of the act and consider it just another crucial piece of the action—and that's all any director or game-producer could want.
Once you've managed to beat the game, you'll unlock new challenges, a costumes option, an ultra-hard Chaos mode (although after the main Difficult mode, it's hard to see why that would seem anything like a good idea), and a decent selection of making-of videos: One of the highlights is the behind-the-scenes of the voice acting production, including sessions with Rip Torn as Hephaestus, Kevin Sorbo (yes, that Kevin Sorbo) as a very different Hercules, and an amusingly diva-cranky Malcolm McDowell as Daedalus, griping on camera about the need for additional 'coverage' on his audio takes: “Don't tell me we're going to use two fucking tapes? Why don't you just use a bit of proper tape? Come on, that's nonsense!”
[image4]A confession: I haven't been the biggest fan—and that's putting it fairly charitably—of either Greek Mythology in general or the previous God of War games in particular, and I confess to having had a reservation or two about how enthralling, or not, I would find God of War III; but once the game got rolling-- which doesn't take long in a game that lays the first Epic Boss on you almost immediately—I was snared certain-sure.
I'm 'reaching' just a bit to even gripe about some very few and far between camera/viewpoint issues; mostly, these occurred in isolated, on-rail flight segments, where a winged Kratos has to dodge obstacles or falling debris, and the 'smash' effect of hitting one or both would obscure the view of the next upcoming thing the player didn't want to hit. It's also possible to become disoriented in terms of control when Kratos is using his blades to clamber on the underside of a surface, coming towards the camera (particularly after the environment itself has shifted onscreen—yeah, it doesn't come up terribly often).
There were also some (again isolated) segments--where Kratos needs to sling his chained blades into the flesh of an airborne harpy or three to navigate a chasm--that I found more than a little annoying...but the disconcerting fact that I just seemed to unaccountably suck at those isolated segments in particular may have disproportionately to do with it...so there's that.
Players who are up on neither their classic Greek mythology nor the dramatic particulars of the God of War franchise might feel the tiniest bit 'at sea' in terms of Kratos' sweeping tale of vengeance, but the game does an admirable job of filling in the justification blanks via helpful explanatory/backstory cinematic sequences (some of which oddly owe, at least visually, to the silhouetted opening animations of a James Bond movie as much as anything else). In any case, Kratos' grim story of brutal determination and the game's overall non-stop mechanical and presentational excellence make for a gripping, gorgeous and gory experience with an unforgettably gruff, ass-kicking hero; whom the gods would destroy, they would first make bad.