God of War III starts off incredibly well, and initially was everything I'd hoped for.
The epic scale has been dialed up, and everything that happens on the screen is amazing. For the first two hours anyway. After that it slowly devolves into God of War II, only a lot prettier. This saddens me to say, but except for a few stand out moments they could have made this game for the PS2. The scale and scope is no more or less great than previous God of War games, and it actually reminded me of Halo 3. Both God of War and Halo were highly successful series on the previous console generation and are now giving this generation a shot, and while God of War III certainly does a better job than Halo 3, it still does not raise the bar as much I was expecting.
What makes things worse is how surprisingly unpolished some of the game is.
I experienced sound glitches, game crashes, and major framerate drops during some cutscenes. In addition, some save points took a while to respond, and the pacing of some timed challenges were off; requiring a lot trial and error until you find the perfect way to get through it in time. For such a major title, this is disappointing. Another issue is the unresponsive controls. This is a design choice kept from previous God of War games and I don't understand it. If I am in the middle of a combo and suddenly need to dodge an attack, well that is just too damn bad because Kratos needs to finish his attack animation, and will get hit in the face. One thing I loved about the combat system in Bayonetta (a game in the same genre released earlier this year) is when you pushed the dodge button, you dodged, no matter what buttons you pushed before. It not only improves the pacing of combat but also means you take a lot less cheap shots.
(Update: This review was based on "review code" provided to Gameplanet by Sony. Since publication, we have received notification from Sony that the faults we identified in regards to game stability and frame rate may not exist in the final retail version of God of War III. We will update this review when we have received a retail copy and can confirm if these faults exist.)
Beyond that, this is still the same combat system you know and love from God of War II. There are new weapons to play with and master (although I imagine most people will stick to Kratos's usual chain blades - expect for the few times when the game forces you to use one of the other weapons) and new powers to use. In truth there has been very little evolution from the last game and the same combos that worked for you then will work for you now. There is one very cool move I should mention that allows you to hook your chains into an enemy and pull yourself to them. Not only is this effective in combat but it looks damn cool.
And looking damn cool seems to be a big part of what God of War III wants, and just like Kratos, it usually gets what it wants. Besides the impressive graphics, lighting and environmental details, the game uses interesting camera angles throughout to bring you into the action, and better display the world. This is best shown off during the grapple kills. This is a gimmick from the first God of War game where you can initiate a mini quick-time game to kill an enemy. As always, the animations here are very cool and display the game's violent nature. This is also displayed by Kratos becoming completely covered in the blood spilled by his enemies.
The number of enemies they manage to get on screen sometimes can be impressive but they pale in comparison to the Titans. These giant creatures steal the scene, and it is a shame they are not seen in more of the game. I would have loved it if the entire game was based around these massive beings, but instead you get less location variety than in the previous titles and will revisit the same areas multiple times throughout your journey.
The story picks up right where the last one left off; with Kratos riding the Titans who are climbing up Mount Olympus to destroy the gods. While the first game had uniquely directed cutscenes, the third game uses more traditional storytelling techniques. The exception being the opening of the game and a sequence towards the end. These two parts have a unique artstyle that stands out from the rest of the game and look awesome. As for the plot itself; this game ends the tale of Kratos, the Titans and the gods of Olympus. You will meet (and kill) plenty of characters from Greek mythology and as the trailer says - in the end there will be only chaos.
Now here is the hard part... I hated the end. I mean hated. The fact that this is how they've chosen to close off the entire franchise just makes matters worse. It felt anti-climactic and all I could think was "that's it?". They really could have benefited from a short epilogue to give a bit more closure to everything that happens. With that said, the story leading towards the end is just as good as the previous games, and will keep you gripped all the way throughout your journey.
The combat, platforming and puzzles are split out nicely and you never feel like there is too much of one or the other without a break. While the puzzles are kept basic and should not challenge anyone too much, I found this a good thing because it keeps the game moving and won't slow you down as much as puzzle segments can in other games.
For some reason (probably because it is my job) I could not help but notice faults throughout my experience with God of War III. This saddened me because going into it I was expecting a near-perfect experience like the other games. Don't get me wrong; this is not a bad game, nowhere close. However, with a few exceptions, I do not see how the series has benefited from being on the PS3 hardware. The grand, epic scale the series is known for is there, but compared to the game's amazing opening hours, the rest of it feels a little too old and familiar. I honestly believe this game could have been just as good on the PS2. Sure, the environments wouldn't have been as detailed and you would fight fewer enemies at a time, but otherwise almost nothing else would have to be different.
It is sad that this is the final game, and it's really not how it deserved to end. At roughly ten hours in length - and packed with bonus challenges, unlockable difficulty settings and plenty of other bonus materials - it starts strong but ends with a fizzle. That is not good enough for Kratos and certainly not good enough for God of War.