At the heart of any consideration of God of War 3 lies the hoariest of debates, a dispute as gnarled and fissured as a Titan’s fingernail, as intense as the flames of Tartarus, yet as monotonous as the River Styx. If you’ve played the demo, you probably have an inkling already. I’m talking about our old friend “innovation versus refinement”. Giant conceptual leaps versus deft baby steps. New stuff versus not so new stuff.
The third God of War is as far to the right-hand side of the equation as you can get. It looks big, talks big, wears big, meaty shoulder guards a-drip with gore and shaders, stalks cavernous, creatively lit environments murdering enormous, billion-polygon enemies, but its technical and cinematic accomplishments are essentially sleight of hand. And the conjuring trick is getting old.
Playing this game, in an age of morally faceted space opera and physics-driven sandbox ingenuity, is a little like making conversation with the school bully right at that point in time when bulk and muscle cease to predominate in the politics of the playground. The chunky bastard still has a certain handshake-crushing charisma, and that pubescent growth spurt has added several cubic feet to his BMI, but his day has come and gone. He just doesn’t know it yet. Besides, there’s a hot chick in the year above.
There are some benefits to keeping the brute company though. For one, you get to play more or less the exact same thoughtfully paced, gratifyingly pissed-off hack and slasher your great grand-daddy once fed into his wheezy old PlayStation 2, right down to the challenges and battle arena that spawn post-story-completion. Which means you’ll once again be picking bones with the gods in the form of the eternally-at-boiling-point Kratos, failing to spare the whip on battalion after battalion of anomalous mythical no-good-niks, square-buttoning them until they detonate under the pressure of bottled-up experience points, right-stick somersalting through gaps in the throng to buy your weapons some cool-off time – time enough, perhaps, to let rip with one of your slower but vastly, vastly more satisfying overarm triangle blows, rebounding particle and bad guy alike skyward, allowing them a brief mid-air respite before star-hopping into their midst to continue the punishment.
Larger and less easily broken opposition rears its head (or heads) with clockwork punctuality, and evasion accordingly becomes more of a priority till at last, by dint of much hit-and-running, the Minotaur or Cyclops or whatever collapses beneath the weight of a huge, spinning circle icon. You rush in jabbing the button, and Kratos promptly launches into the sort of scripted micro-Armageddon that might otherwise be achieved by stuffing a cruise missile full of beef and firing it into a paintball factory. Further jabbing is required. You oblige, Kratos bellows a lot, tendons snap, arteries gush, the orchestra thunders to a halt and your health and magic bars sop up the remainder of the victim’s lifeforce.