God of War 3 is a solid game—good but not great—that never reaches the level of the original. All of the elements are there, but it somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. Held back by a weak story and a tragic hero who is neither tragic nor hero.
All of the things that God of War is known for are present: great score, brutality, twin blades, Greek mythology, and over-the-top action. You’ll fight across the surface of Gaia as she scales Mount Olympus. You’ll cut your way out of Kronos’ gut. You’ll take Hermes’ boots with his feet still in them, and use the head of the Sun God as a flashlight. You’ll even get to role in the sack with Aphrodite—before and after killing her husband. The kind of stuff that can only happen in a God of War game.
That’s all well and good, but there are a lot of things that just fall flat. We’re once again fighting with the same twin blades, using the same combos, and ending fights with the same quick time events. Sure you get some other weapons along the way, but as in previous games, they’re never as good or have as wide a variety of moves. The enemies are variations of things we’ve seen before. The boss battles aren’t particularly remarkable, and the puzzles aren’t particularly puzzling.
The biggest things holding the game back however, are the clumsy story and continued unlikability of Kratos. In the first God of War, Kratos actually is a tragic figure. The story involves Kratos saving Athens from the God of War in the hopes of receiving forgiveness for his sins. (Actually he wants the nightmares to stop, but assumes forgiveness will do that.) He’s a monster on a hero’s errand, and we get to learn how all this came to pass. Ultimately, he fights both Ares and his own inner demons in what is one of the great final boss battles in all of gaming.
In GoW3, Kratos is on a mission of revenge, pure and simple. He happily destroys everyone and everything in his way, be they man or god, beast or bystander. He plunges the world into chaos and darkness without any care at all. Athena urges him along this path for reasons of her own, and the whole thing hinges once again on Pandora’s Box. The history of the box, its purpose, what it contains, and the key to opening it are where things get clunky. For instance, Kratos needs the power that resides in the box so that he may kill a god; thus allowing him to take vengeance upon Zeus. But he kills like six gods along the way and never wonders “hey, maybe I don’t need the stupid box”. I think this is a case where action dictated the story, rather than story dictating the action.
As for Kratos, he never becomes a hero and never finds redemption, which is fine. Redemption isn’t always possible. But at this point, we’ve got two full games since the original that are nothing but a shitty dude doing shitty things for shitty reasons, and it’s wearing thin for me. If you liked the first two, go ahead and play GoW3; it’s more of the same. I found it better than the second but not as good as the original. If you’re new to the series, then like I said at the beginning: it’s good but not great. If you’re a lover of hack and slash, then go for it, otherwise, I’d say pass.
As a side note, I’d like to talk about one particular scene in the game where Kratos shoves a bare-breasted princess around until finally using her as a wedge to hold up a large contraption. She screams momentarily, before being brutally crushed.
I’ve played a lot of games, seen all kinds of violence, and all manner of horrible things done to scantily clad female characters. This is the first time I ever recall thinking, damn, that was a bit much. Most games that aren’t serious, I don’t take seriously. I don’t have a problem dismissing silly things from my consciousness. But this made me stop and wonder, what the hell was the point of that? I understand Kratos is a merciless, brutal character and the developer is trying to portray that, but at the same time, it’s hard to play the role of someone so despicable. The whole thing struck me as cheap shock value entertainment.