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God of War III
Score: 97%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
God of War III on the PS3 is simply beautiful. The God of War series has always set the bar very high for production values, even back when it was on the PS2. But on the PS3, the developers were able to push so much more out of the system than they ever could on the last gen stuff. Naturally, we'll revisit Hades, but the land of the dead is far more detailed and rich this go round. Additionally, Kratos will travel inside the body of Gaia, down the River Styx, through Daedelus' labyrinth, through crumbling Greek cities, deep within the Earth, through Kratos' own psyche a la Max Payne and he'll even traipse through Aphrodite's chambers.

The first thing I noticed was the increase in blood spatter. Ok, God of War in all of it's iterations has always been an ultra-bloody game, but God of War III pushes it even beyond those limits. In one scene where Kratos seems to lose control while killing one god in a long line of his god-victims, you get this crazy 2nd person perspective that's really brutal. Let's just say that the developers got really creative. Another new implementation has to do with how lighting is handled. When Kratos walks out of a dark area into a very bright area, much like the human eye, Kratos' vision will then have to adjust to the change and he'll be temporarily blinded. They also use this to great effect in Kratos' battle with Helios, the sun god.

Voicework has always been stellar in the God of War series, but they totally pulled out all the stops for God of War III. T.C. Carson is back as Kratos and is always superb, but how about Malcolm McDowell as Daedelus, Adrienne Barbeau as a totally drunk Hera, Rip Torn as Hephaestus and finally, none other than the man himself, Kevin Sorbo, as Hercules. How awesome is that? It's just fantastic. In fact, the coolest unlockable special feature is a hefty video on the voicework, which is great to see. Lastly, the background music consists of sweeping orchestral pieces that befit whatever area you are in. Whether it be melancholic strains or rousing battle tunes, the music always fits the bill.


Gameplay:
Kratos is back in God of War III and bloodier than ever. This time he is out to kill Zeus, who is battling things out with his fellow gods against the Titans, although Kratos has no problem dispensing with any and all who get in his way - or just killing them because he is done with them. Along his journey, he will rid this world of many gods and at times, it just feels like you are slaying them left and right. To aid him in his quest, he will earn plenty of goodies. He'll typically wield the Blades of Exile, which can be heavily upgraded and definitely get the job done, but he'll also acquire a pair of metal lion heads he'll wear on his fists called the Nemean Cestus. These beauties can crush metal, plow through enemies with shields and kick some serious ass. He'll also earn the head of Helios which will blind enemies and illuminate areas previously hidden to access places he couldn't normally go. The Claws of Hades and the Nemises Whip also serve their own purposes along his journey, as do Hermes' Boots, which give him super speed and allow him to run up walls. Everything can be upgraded with the blood orbs Kratos earns by killing enemies, smashing urns or just finding chests that contain them.

They do something different with magical abilities this go round. Certain abilities are tied to specific weapons, like the Army of Sparta can only be used when you are equipped with the Blades of Exile. Each weapon has its own magical ability linked to it, so don't expect to be able to call upon a certain one unless you have that weapon equipped. If you find a particular magic that you like, you'd better hope you also love the weapon it goes with. However, certain items like the Head of Helios, the Bow of Apollo and Hermes Boots, all deplete your Item Bar instead of your Magic Bar and this bar refills by itself over time (and rather quickly, actually). So basically, they give you these items to use whenever and wherever, without having to search for chests to refill them like you will for magic and health. That's a good thing. Kratos can still rage out and become invincible by using the Rage of Sparta, in which he uses his old favorite, the Blades of Athena, to deal massive damage.

Besides the very meaty Story Mode, once you have beaten it, you'll open a myriad of additional fun stuff like unlockable videos on all aspects of the game (like the previously mentioned one on the voicework), plus all of the game cinematics and additional costumes like Fear Kratos, which deals quadruple attack damage, but so do the corresponding enemies you'll be fighting. Challenge of Olympus includes challenges like Population Control (no more than 50 enemies on screen at once), Bare Hands (don't use weapons while the timer runs out), Get Stoned (get turned to stone 10 times by Gorgons without dying), El Matador - Ole (don't get gored by minotaurs or piled on by enemies), Knockout (score 1000 points by knocking enemies out of the arena), Hades' Kids (get 5 Cyclops to spawn) and finally, Simply Smashing (kill all the urns before the timer runs out). If you complete all of these challenges, Combat Arena opens up.


Difficulty:
God of War III's difficulty levels include Spartan (Easy), God (Normal), Titan (Hard) and Chaos (Very Hard). I played completely through on God level and it was the perfect difficulty for someone who just wants to enjoy the game with a typical, yet still healthy amount of challenge. There were a couple of times where the game asked if I wanted to bump it back to Easy difficulty, which only affects combat. Strangely enough, this almost always happened in an area where there was no combat, like when Kratos is flying straight up through a tunnel-like area and has to dodge incoming obstacles. If you are new to the series, you may want to try it on Spartan/Easy, but personally I think it's a better option to try it on God/Normal difficulty and then let it bust you back down to Easy if you can't cut the mustard.

Titan/Hard difficulty level is a good bit more challenging than God/Normal level, but Chaos/Very Hard is just plain brutal. Only the hardcore need apply. However, if you don the Fear Kratos costume, you can slay enemies much quicker so that might just be the ticket to defeating that difficulty level... or even just lasting more than a few minutes in it - meep!


Game Mechanics:
God of War III offers a bevy of new mechanics including the ability (and often, necessity) to ride harpies across chasms by goading them into coming near you, hooking into them and jumping on, then beating them the whole way across and finally, slaying them and jumping off. I really despised this mechanic, actually, and while I could do it, it didn't come naturally to me at all. Another new addition is the ability to break down and then jump onto large creatures like the Cyclops and use them to decimate the smaller enemies milling around. True, they don't last forever since you already beat them down pretty badly before climbing aboard, but they do help to clear a room. The kills now for larger creatures have a good deal more flourish and ultra-violence than before. Expect to see more brutal gorings, eviscerations and very creative ways to kill.

Another change comes in the form of the quick time events that pepper the God of War games. In the past, it was sometimes hard to process the buttons you had to hit in enough time to hit them correctly. One wrong move could spell death. Now, not only do you have an extra second or two in which to hit them, but the button will appear on whichever side of the screen that would correspond to the button on the controller. Triangle appears at the top, Circle on the right, X at the bottom and Square on the Left. Plus, the screen flashes a bit on that side as well. It's just a nice little visual assist that really helped and I liked it a lot.

One detractor was the fact that Kratos had so many weapons and items at his disposal that, at times, it felt a bit clunky. You'd press (L2) and one of the face buttons to activate either the Bow of Apollo, Helios' Head or Hermes Boots, but sometimes I'd select the wrong one by accident in the heat of battle and when you want to shoot an approaching harpy and instead just shine a light on it, it's not cool. Also, I'd find a magic item I really liked, but wasn't too crazy about the weapon associated with it, but the two are joined so you don't get to pick and choose there.

Once again, as Kratos goes about his travels, he'll find chests that could contain health, magic or blood orbs, but also Phoenix Feathers which increase one's Magic Meter, Gorgon Eyes to increase your Health Meter and a new addition, Minotaur Horns to increase your Item Meter. You can also find other special items like Hera's Goblet and Daedelus' Scroll which you can use once you have beaten the game to grant certain additional abilities.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed God of War III all the way through. The story was fun, even if it really was just an excuse for Kratos to obliterate everyone he encounters (well, almost everyone), the combat was fierce, the surroundings were epic and the game was a flat-out blast to play. Sure, sometimes the number of goodies made things a bit clunky, but overall, God of War III is a must play for anyone who loves a good action/adventure with incredible battles. Highly recommended.


-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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