Thursday, June 09, 2011

God of War III Review

Sure, it was released over a year ago. But I played it this week, and I want to talk about it now. Nobody ever said blogging needed to be timely. And besides -- anything to take my mind off bar review.

God of War III is an okay game. I mean that -- it was okay. It wasn't bad, but I certainly don't think it lives up to the massive critical acclaim and accolades it seemed to near-universally receive.

One of the better qualities of the game was the opportunity to really immerse yourself inside (and then summarily dismember) the Greek mythological corpus. You face a bunch of enemies, from generic skeleton warriors to Minotaurs, Medusas, and Sirens, to a variety of Gods and Titans. The death toll ends up including some of Greece's greatest hits: Poseidon, Hades, Helios, Hermes, Cronos, Gaia, and Zeus, among others. More or less, if you meet someone, eventually you'll kill them.

Yet the most lethal enemy of the game was not any of these deities. It was, instead, the double-jump button. I'd say at least half of my deaths were caused because I apparently did not hit the "x" button at the precisely right moment, turning what should have been a magnificent glide to the next platform into Kratos gingerly hopping off a cliff. The second most fatal element of the game? Confusing camera angles, which made it unclear what direction to jump or where to go. And number three -- still not in the realm of sentient beings -- is the inability to distinguish between background rendering and potential areas to jump to. There were several times where I thought I was jumping onto an arch, but instead merrily glided against a wall until I fell to my death. Oh, you mean it's that protruding ledge which is part of the game, and this one was mere artistry? I'm sorry -- I've been spoiled by Assassin's Creed and just assume a natural relationship between things I can touch and things I can interact with.

This last flaw showed up again and again, to infinite frustration. Even where it wasn't deadly, it could be maddeningly as you tried to pick a path forward and got stuck in a room because you couldn't figure out where the game's invisible wall ended. And boss battles often required you to hit a particular, exact spot on the creature's body, without much of a hint as where that might be. I don't mind having to piece things out on my own, but it feels ridiculous to whack my blades against a fiend's body over and over again only to find that only this six-cubic inch area does any real damage. That being said, battles are often extremely immersive, and the Kronos fight in particular is massive in scope and beautifully rendered.

The games graphics are good but not eye-popping, and focus primarily on lovingly detailing each geyser of blood that comes out as you pull out a Centaur's entrails through its midsection. I don't have a problem with the over-the-top gore per se, but anyone who praises the game's verisimilitude is kidding themselves. This game has a shtick, and it focuses most of its processing power on providing the goriest entertainment available on Playstation. Shock value is the name of the game, here. That's true with the sex mini-game, which is almost deliberately gratuitous (though I enjoy getting to bang Aphrodite as much as any other dude). And it's also true with the relationship between Kratos and the various innocents whom he encounters and, mostly, butchers. I wasn't sure what I was even supposed to think about the civilian "servants of Olympus" -- was I supposed to kill them? Try to avoid killing them? Did they think I was an enemy or on their side? Occasionally I was forced to kill them because they were in my way, but mostly their presence seemed fuzzy. And that doesn't even get into what you do to the Poseidon Princess.

None of the characters seemed to have all that much depth to them. Their actions weren't dictated by logical reasoning, but rather by whatever will give an opportunity to fit in another bloody battle. Which reminds me -- Pro tip: Do not tell your erstwhile ally that he was "only a pawn", even if you think he's about to fall to his death so it won't matter anyway. Even if it's true, why not just keep up the charade? This all goes double if the ally in question has a knack for cheating death and whose entire life is centers around extracting bloody vengeance against all who have wronged him.

These are a lot of complaints, which I lay out only because the line on this game is "one of the best ever", and I think that's just clearly false. It's got fun, button mashing action, and it's set in a very cool mythological universe that's fun to explode. But it lacks in variety, and many of its key elements have been done better by other games. Hell, even the concluding "free humankind from divine direction" was already given to us by Final Fantasy XII (whose boss music instinctively started playing in my mind whenever a boss battle begun). It's a fun game, but to my mind, only above-average.

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