A quest for revenge. Blood spilled on the cliff sides of Mount Olympus. Betrayal from an ally. Untold numbers of casualties slain by the Blades of Athena, etched into Kratos’ flesh and chained to his arms. A boss battle. The slaying of a God at the hands of a vengeful Spartan and the resulting condemnation to the depths of Hades.
At that point, the opening hour of God of War III draws to a frenetic close. If anybody could point me in the direction of a more frantic and exhilarating opening hour of gameplay anywhere else, I am open to suggestions.
The word “epic” barely does these opening sections justice. Beginning almost at the exact moment where God of War II ended, you find yourself hitching a ride up Mount Olympus on the giant shoulders of Gaia, a mountain sized and earth-like Titan leading the climb to destroy Zeus. Experience of the previous games and knowledge of the back story is probably necessary to understand why this is all happening, but it won’t require the most keen of Ancient Greek mythologists to figure that Zeus and the other Godly residents of Mount Olympus will be waiting at the summit.
Following on from previous entries in the series, God of War III sets its stall out early and offers little room for players to break into the games stride. Just like the original games, Santa Monica Studios waste little time in throwing new players in at the deep end. Faced with a lengthy fight against God of The Sea Poseidon barely 15 minutes in, God of War III provides a tutorial section in the only way God of War knows how; a great big fuck off boss battle against an impossibly powerful and huge opponent on the grandest and most epic of scales. You’ll take up the challenge with the same arsenal of weaponry and combination moves that you finished God of War II with, but in equal tradition, it won’t be long until Santa Monica strip you of all but your most basic abilities once again, leveling the playing field and forcing you to re-earn all that you previously strived so hard to achieve on PS2.
It’s visually stunning, which is probably the first and most obvious thing I took from my early experiences with God of War III; particularly having only recently played the up-scaled PS2 “remakes” on PS3. The original games were always very good at creating a huge sense of scale and enormity by pulling the camera away from the action, but thanks to the new high definition overhaul and added power of the Playstation 3, this effect is improved tenfold. The entire world around you will move as you carve your way through waves of undead soldiers and the battlegrounds will constantly change as Gaia struggles to work her way up Mount Olympus. There are times when Kratos will literally have to cling on for his own life, even as those seeking to protect the Gods keep on coming. At times you’ll appear barely as a speck against a backdrop of carnage as the camera pulls and swings to emphasise the size of the task at hand, rarely dropping a frame and never becoming a distraction. It’s truly breathtaking, in some ways comparable to the superb scale of Uncharted 2’s opening scenes but with so much more going on.
The second thing I immediately noticed about God of War III is that yes, this is very much the God of War of old in HD. Those looking for radical alterations or dramatic changes to tried and tested formulae will be thoroughly disappointed. The final chapter in Kratos’ story makes no concessions for new audiences and does little to compromise on what made the previous games so popular. God of War is a series that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a hack ‘n’ slash, third person adventure with quick time events, simple puzzles and basic exploratory elements. For those against any one of these traits, God of War III isn’t content just to annoy you, but will actively set out to make your life a misery. For the rest of us, it’s an instantly familiar and instantly brilliant experience.
Santa Monica Studios have also succeeded in creating a headache for the likes of our friends in Australia and Switzerland. God of War III is brutally violent. As you tear enemies limb from limb and dismember literally every living soul that stands in your way, Kratos’ already scarred and battered body will become visibly splattered with the blood of his enemies. Within the first hour you’ll also encounter the new first person kill sequences, offering a disturbing view of Kratos’ rage through the eyes of his victims. It’s delightfully glorious and pulls absolutely no punches in how it presents the level of on screen mutilation. Particularly with the opening first person death sequence, I challenge you not to wince.
So there it stands in all its glory. Like Kratos himself, God of War III stands as a hulking brute with no pretensions about where it’s going or what it wants to be. New features are few – at least so far – and there is literally nothing about God of War III to like for those against the hack ‘n’ slash genre, but for fans of the Playstation 2 predecessors, God of War III is everything it needs to be. Graphically stunning with a pulsating 5.1 audio score and a joyously fluid and satisfying combat system, the hairs on the back of my neck were stood on end from the menu screen to the first save point.
During the first hour Kratos rose, fought and fell. God of War III has made its intentions perfectly clear from the offset and the story has been laid bare in front of me. I genuinely can’t wait to destroy everything in my way to get to the finale of it. Rarely have I experienced such an explosive and epic opening, and it’s been some time since I enjoyed an hour of my gaming time as much as I did this one.
Get ready, Zeus. I’m coming for you.