This review was originally published 06/16/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.
The first two God of War games on the PS2 were epic action adventures that gave players an amazing sense of scale and grandeur. The action was fast and fluid, and the platforming mostly worked. The games were also insanely difficult, but never to the point where you felt you wanted to throw the controller down in disgust (well, except for the log-tight-roping in Hades in the first game).
God of War III promised bigger, better, more. After all, how could fighting off the minions of the gods on the backs of immense Titans as they climb up the side of Mt. Olympus on your way to a final confrontation with Zeus himself possibly go wrong? Well, unfortunately, we’ll never know. The game’s previews promised that amazing premise, implying that a majority of the game would be these breathtaking action sequences and combat on the backs of the Titans. But instead, this is only about the first half an hour’s worth of gameplay. Then it’s back to the traditional God of War gameplay that you’re used to. This wouldn’t be bad, if not for the fact that the game doesn’t execute itself quite as well as the previous games.
The epic battle between the gods and the titans lasts all of 10 minutes, then it's back to same-old.
Other reviews are celebrating the game’s sense of scale and scope, but I found that it wasn’t nearly as expansive as the previous games. Most of the game has you going back and forth between Hades and the top of Mt. Olympus. You’d think that’s a pretty big ascent, but it’s not. You fly straight up the middle of the mountain (or fall down it) several times, and other instances of travel from top to bottom or vice versa are done via teleportation portals. So while it’s convenient, it trivializes the journey, and it fails to mimic the first two games’ feelings of epic trekking through exotic locales.
But rest assured the gameplay is still classic God of War. If you liked the first two games, you’ll like this sequel. The developers managed to add a few new gameplay mechanics that all work fairly well, and the new weapons are mostly very interesting and useful and do add variety to the game’s combat. Boss battles also live up to the high quality of the game’s predecessors (except, sadly, for the final battle with Zeus, which seemed just cheap and too long). The battle with Hades especially stands out in my memory.
The game also manages to push the brutality up to the next level. Combat and quick-time events are much bloody and graphic. Kratos guts minotaurs, tears the wings off harpies, rips the eye out of cyclops’ skulls, and rips off the head of Helios (the god of the Sun) himself to use as a flashlight. Best flashlight EVER! And all this is happening in crystal-clear 1080p graphics. Early in the game, there is a boss battle with Poseidon, which is good in-and-of itself, but in which the brutal climax is excellently captured in first person -- from the point of view of Poseidon. It is both scary and satisfying to see a Kratos beat-down from the point of view of the person being beaten on, especially considering that as gruesome as it is, you are still rooting for Kratos. I tip my hat to the game’s designers for this particular sequence. Bravo gentlemen. Bravo.
God of War 2.5
Sadly, the game follows its predecessors a bit too closely in almost every other respect. In fact it feels like it is stuck in last-gen. The dev team knows what made the first two games successful, and stuck to that without wavering -- sometimes to the game’s detriment. Sure there are some new weapons, but nothing truly NEW has been added to the game. The jump to next gen just makes this particular style of combat seem antiquated and uninteresting.
The inclusion of so many action-modifier buttons just makes it feel like I have less control, and since there is so much going on on-screen, it’s hard to tell if something isn’t going as planned, and therefore hard to adjust. There’s an interesting late-game puzzle that requires some M.C. Escher perspectives to solve, which is probably the game’s puzzle highlight, but it’s nothing that other games haven’t done before.
Despite the jump to next-gen, gameplay is virtually unchanged from the previous games.
The game also somewhat messes up the quick time action events occasionally, since the Circle button prompt occurs at the EXACT SAME LOCATION ON SCREEN AS THE COMBO COUNTER! What the heck? I missed several Circle prompts because of this, since that area of the screen already has text displayed on it, it was often hard to notice when the prompt showed up. And it’s not like they were running out of screen space. They could have easily just moved the combo counter up on the screen a few dozen pixels or so. But they didn’t. I went into this game expecting more than a few cheap deaths, but this sort of thing is inexcusable considering the amount of real-estate available in modern HD displays.
While on the topic of unnecessary cheap deaths, I also had a problem early on with the double-jump not registering, and Kratos falling to his death. This only seemed to be a problem in the early game, however, so wasn’t a huge deal.
I also seem to recall that, in the first two games, if you got Green or Blue orbs, but your health or magic (respectively) was full, the game would replace them with Red Orbs. I might be wrong; maybe they didn’t and it’s just wishful thinking on my part. But it would have been a nice favor! Sadly, GoWIII does not seem to do that, and they always seemed to put the Green and Blue Orb chests in areas where I would least need them. In fact, there was even one place towards the end of the game where there was a platform/climbing sequence involving spikes and fire where if you hit the spikes or fire, you die. But then in the next area, there was a Green and Blue orb chest. Even though there were no enemies. There’s no reason for that to be there since there was no way for your health to drop without Kratos dying. This is especially frustrating considering that there are several parts of the game where you are forced to wade through hordes of enemies with NO health pick-ups in the middle, effectively forcing you to play PERFECTLY for long periods of time with no checkpoints.
There is another sequence towards the end of the game that forces you to fight several waves of enemies in a rotating cube filled with spikes. It reminded me of the oft-ridiculed Hades Log-Walking segment from the first game. I would have thought the Santa Monica Studios people would have learned their lesson not to include something so ridiculous, but they didn’t.
I guess my criticisms for the game maybe aren’t justified. Maybe I’m being too hard on it. Maybe it does deserve all the praise it’s getting elsewhere. After all, expecting an epic masterpiece is a bit much and somewhat unfair. And God of War III is still a fine game, and worth a playthrough for any action player. It’s just not an "epic masterpiece," and I’m not going to pretend that it is.