By Joshua OstroffEpic as a critical adjective had been attached to many a videogame before the first God of War burst forth a half-decade ago. But the bloody mythological exploits of vengeful anti-hero Kratos ― a Spartan warrior driven mad (in both senses) after being tricked by Ares into killing his own family ― made all prior usage seem suspect.
God of War perfectly married the grandiose narratives of Greek mythology with the wanton death dealing of hack'n'slash action games while creating in Kratos a new, and very angry, videogame icon. When the sequel arrived in 2007, at the tail end of the PS2's life cycle, it laid claim to being the console's biggest, boldest and baddest-assed game.
Needless to say, the final chapter of Sony's epic franchise, and first on a now-gen console, carries with it expectations as heavy as the weight of the world on Atlas's shoulders. Knowing this well, God of War III begins with one of the greatest opening set pieces in gaming.
There's no subtly on hand here, like the atmospheric reveal of BioShock's Rapture or the slow emergence from Vault 101 in Fallout 3. Instead, it picks up precisely where the previous game ended, with Kratos storming Mount Olympus on the back of the colossal titan Gaia. Consider it a clever visual nod to the series' past entries by having the Spartan warrior standing on the shoulders of giants.
After battling Poseidon to the death, causing a biblical flood that drowns untold millions, and doesn't bother Kratos a whit, Zeus casts his rebellious son back down into Hades. Yes, again. The rest of the game involves climbing out of hell and back up the mountain to extinguish the Flame of Olympus and banish the pantheon of Greek gods once and for all.
The graphics, cinematography and high-end production values are yet another landmark for the series, and although the gameplay is familiar, the sheer scale and intricacies of the violence will gobsmack you.
As intense as the previous chapters were, the improved visuals of part three make it that much more visceral as you traverse the ornate puzzle-platformer environments, slicing, dicing, decapitating and disembowelling everyone standing in the path of your revenge. And that is the only rub.
Anti-heroes are great and all, but Kratos is by now so brutal, so insane and so unsympathetic that it's a little hard to get behind his increasingly sadistic quest. Whether intentional or not, you begin wondering why you're so hell bent on killing the gods and slaughtering their followers.
Yes, the tale ultimately explains why the Greek gods are now mere myths, and the game is an astounding experience. But when all is said and killed, God of War III is all spleen, but no heart. (Sony)