This week, Zero Punctuation reviews God of War III.
And so we conclude the adventures of Kratos, the ancient world's most determined atheist. He's come so far since God of War I; the grumpy bastard spent the entire first game acquiring the power to kill just one god, and now he's casually knocking them off like squealing Olympian popcorn. I've always liked Kratos, although I suspect he wouldn't like me because I'm alive. In a medium saturated with generic dark-haired, clear-skinned, hypocritically violent, self-righteous white boys assigned the role of hero by virtue of being the handsomest guy in the plot--usually voiced by Nolan North--it's nice to play the admittedly ugly, hate-ridden fuck with no heroic qualities and who crushes people's skulls against jagged rocks as a form of greeting. I'd like to see Nathan Drake get locked in a room with Kratos and see how far smug wisecracks get him when his head is getting sandwiched between a concrete floor and and a foot that kicked so much ass that it permanently smells of fart.
Anyway, it's God of War III, and Kratos is continuing his never-ending quest to seek forgiveness for being such a big murdering bastard. Which certainly will be never-ending until he realizes that the first step would be to stop murdering things for five minutes. The action picks up with God of War II's disappointing cliffhanger ending, with Kratos--who never really mentally grew out of the sulky teenager mindset--blaming all his problems on his dad, Zeus. Realizing that the sensible, level-headed thing to do would be to pop up to Mount Olympus and sit down with the guy to discuss their mutual grievances, Kratos instead opts to storm the place with an army of murderous Titans and try to ram his sandals down Zeus's beard.
At which point the storywriter said, "Shit! Whose idea was it to put a thrilling climax at the start of the game? Now I have to contrive some unconvincing way to drag this out for another six or seven hours!" Whereupon Kratos falls off the mountain. Whoops! Clumsy sod. He dies, goes to Hades, gets stripped of his powers, and has to fight his way out of the underworld, because that's what always happens. Kratos has enough stamps on his Hades loyalty card by now to get a free coffee and damnation.
As entertaining as it is to watch Kratos dehumanizingly go about his day job, God of War has only gotten sillier. In God of War I, Kratos was the closest he's ever been to relatable. Okay, you could murder the odd innocent bystander for health, but they were very screamy and annoying. Kratos was occasionally remorseful rather than crazier than a shark with a can opener, and more importantly didn't seem to be a bigger jerk than the guy he was trying to kill. Fast-forward to God of War III and Kratos is channeling Judge Death. He murders people who are flat-out offering him the things he murders them for. He murders the gods of the sea and the sun, causing untold damage to the world, in order to get his revenge on Zeus. Revenge for what? Stabbing him in the heart in God of War II? Kratos had walked off that little papercut inside 10 minutes (fighting his way out of the underworld, natch). And Zeus only did it because Kratos couldn't stop murdering things.
What I'm saying is the quest for redemption thing is starting to ring a bit insincere. There's a whole sideplot where you have to rescue a little girl and she reminds Kratos of his dead daughter and that he thinks he can be redeemed through her, all the while still holding the disembodied head of Helios, which he tore off to use as his own personal flashlight. It seemed like the heroic thing to do would be to stop playing before Kratos can completely fuck everything up.
Gameplay is what I've come to expect from God of War sequels: completely unchanged, full of that faithful old hack-o, slash-o, button mash-o combat where you swing your chains about until everyone around you is missing their front halves. Virtually all the monsters have been airlifted from previous God of Wars and given a HD makeover, so their intestines wobble and glisten realistically as you make them into balloon animals. God of War combat has always been nice and clean and pretty (well, clean and pretty in a bloodcage, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Clash of the Titans sort of way), but it's always had the opposite problem to Dante's Inferno in that it's got a little bit too much variety. The game constantly heaps new weapons and magic spells onto you, but they go unused, because the default weapon is the one I've got accustomed to and been upgrading all this time. It's like when your nan knits you a jumper for Christmas that looks like a rainbow threw up on a bramble patch, and you have to wear it once or twice to not seem ungrateful before throwing it away. Of the four available weapons in God of War III, three of them are chains with spikes on the end. Thanks, grandma, but I'm okay with chains with spikes on the end. I suppose a bazooka's too much to ask.
Of course, the delicious chewy center of God of War lies in its spectacular boss fights, and God of War III certainly seems to be doing its best to nostril-fuck the PS3 hardware. The point where you kill Cronos is the most spectacular, if a little difficult to believe, considering he's the size of a pregnant aircraft carrier and realistically you'd need a team of workmen with pneumatic drills just to give the fat bastard a hangnail. That said, the actual challenge of the fight is basically go here, than here, then quick-time event, then win. Then cake. It seems the smaller the boss gets, the harder the fight, probably because the screen isn't being filled with giant limbs covered in big attack-telegraphing Christmas lights. But even the hardest boss doesn't come anywhere near the challenge of the final boss fights from God of War I since we're on the PS3 now, the overweight, sleepy sheepdog to the PS2's live, energetic whippet. The puzzles are actually really well-designed, though, and it's nice to see the effect being made to get past "push block onto switch" or "push sword into face."
God of War III's fun, I suppose, but I'm not sure why it exists. In God of War II, your quest was to kill Zeus. Sure enough, at the end of that game, you fight Zeus and almost kill him. In God of War III, your quest is still to kill Zeus, so basically Kratos has just spent the best part of two games largely piddling about, killing the same grunts and dropping in and out of Hades over and over again like he keeps forgetting where he left his fucking wallet. You spend most of the game hunting a mysterious McGuffin artifact that will help out in some unspecific way, again, but at the end of the game--lo and behold!--the power was in you all along, so you might as well have just sat around teabagging Helios for the last six hours and gotten the same result. God of War III feels like a game that only exists because God of War II decided at the last minute not to end properly. The longer we spend in its world, the more it feels unreal and preposterous, like suddenly noticing that your taxi is being driven by a balloon with a face drawn on it.
Runs around screaming in his underpants: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I guess it must be hard to see eye to eye with your dad when he's nine foot six
The Grim Reaper takes a lot of smoke breaks when Kratos is around