Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: God of War 3

If you're an old fogie like me and grew up with D&D in the mid-80s, you'll remember the publication (or your discovery) of Deities and Demigods. Now, purportedly the purpose of listing all the deities is to provide the DM with background for the mythos behind his game, rather than providing the deities as monsters to kill. But if so, why provide stats?

Anyway, God of War 3 does something very similar to Deities and Demigods. Many of the deities from the Greek mythos are lovingly brought to life and animated on a computer, precisely so you can hack and slash at them and kill them. The protagonist, Kratos, is amazingly one note, alternately growling and grunting, though he does get more than a few lines. In any case, you wouldn't be playing God of War (any of the series) for the story. It's a bare skeleton on which to hang set-pieces.

The mode of play in God of War is the brawler. You have a choice of 4 primary weapons with which to beat up your opponents. I write these words casually, but having played Devil May Cry, I'm amazed at how much more accessible God of War is. The controls are just right, and the complexity of the game is such that even a neophyte can pick this up and play. The same could not be said of Devil May Cry, which I gave up on pretty quickly.

I've come to the conclusion that the Sony LA studios (which includes Santa Monica as well as Naughty Dog) are delivering video games as an experience, rather than the "we'll make tough games" which is what my impression of the older-style video games are. The difficult part of doing these types of game well is pacing, variety, and player experience management. If you get pacing wrong, the game doesn't flow and feel like a cinematic experience. If you concentrate too much on one type of game play, then the game feels repetitive, and again doesn't feel cinematic. If you make the game so hard that the player dies often, then you frequently break flow for the player, and the game no longer provides a roller-coaster ride experience. That Sony Santa Monica and Naughty Dog both manage to deliver these experiences consistently is the main reason I think Sony's stock is under-rated.

What sort of variety does God of War grant you, other than the basic brawling game play? To begin with, the game grants you several set pieces that give you scale. It opens with a fight sequence on the back of a Titan, and the camera pans, zooms in and out all throughout the experience, which is exciting, cinematic, and very satisfying to play through. Not all the boss fights are so dramatic, but by and large they are very well done. The game provides several mini games in the form of finishing moves that are guided by Quick-Time events. These are much hated by game journalists and reviewers, but God of War does them correctly, and actually enjoyed them, as opposed to the ones found in Tomb Raider. And yes, there's a sex QTE mini-game (the camera pans away, so even though it's a rated M game, it doesn't venture into interactive porn). The environmental puzzles provided by the game are also fun, and interesting enough, scaling from the trivial to the intensely difficult by the end of the game. Finally, there are also several flight sequences where you navigate an asteroid field as the Millennium Falcon. Oops. Wait, no, Kratos sprouts wings and has to fly through obstacles. These aren't as much fun, but they do break up the sequences nicely.

The cut scenes are rendered beautifully and look like they're rendered by the game engine. So much so that during the first flight sequence I thought I was in a cut-scene rather than in-game, and died because I didn't realize I could control the character!

 What are my criticisms of the game? Well, it's rated M, which means lots of blood and gore. Definitely not for the pre-teen. The finale fight was kinda anti-climatic, after everything you'd been through. The story, as previously mentioned, serves merely as a justification for killing everything in sight. The use of Greek mythos, however, is fairly true to the source, though unfortunately with the M rating, you couldn't really use this game to introduce your child to it.

All in all, I think it's a fun game, though not for the faint of heart. I enjoyed it. For me, it came just a notch below the Tomb Raider Reboot, and just above Drake's Fortune. Recommended.
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