It may be all about angry men with big swords and bigger scowls, but there's always been something strangely poignant and intelligent about the God of War series. It waltzes elegantly through a plot that really, when you boil it down, should have been quite predictable, taking a brutish and brainless protagonist and endless halls of zombies and occasionally transmuting them into something genuinely interesting.
That's what previous God of War titles have done, anyway, and God of War III turns out to be no different. With effortless ease it draws you in and engages you in exactly the same way that EA's Dante's Inferno tried to do. But where Dante failed miserably, Kratos succeeds. His goatee and permanent frown may make him look like a cross between Ross Kemp and Joe Kucan, but dammit, the character has gravitas regardless.
I am Kratos, see me flex!
Not that the effort that's gone into Kratos' performance is the first thing you'll notice though. In fact, for the first few levels of the game you'll be hard put to even pick the grumpy Greek out from all the exploding scenery. God of War III wastes no time in ramping up the action; it's so eager to show you giant stompy monsters punching each other that we suspect Michael Bay may have helped direct the brawls between takes of Transformers 2.
Little time is wasted in telling the story either, with God of War III following on directly from the previous title and opening with the start of Kratos' assault on Mount Olympus. With the aid of Gaia and the remaining Titans he saved in God of War II, Kratos seems on the verge of victory as he ascends to the home of the Gods on the back of the colossal Gaia. The remaining Gods look down on the advancing army, visibly shaken at the destruction being wrought by Kratos' anarchic lust for vengeance.
It really is an astonishing opening to a game, with titanic battles and the scenery itself shifting under the feet of the Gods. The levels twist and turn between stages of boss battles as Kratos runs all over Gaia's body doing battle with Poseidon. One moment he's sprinting along her arm, swords held high, and the next he's dangling from her feet or being tossed to a nearby precipice to help clear a path. It's sometimes easy to get lost in the confusion, but even then it's impossible not to be awed by the sheer scale of violence.
This is madness!
That's just the opening though, and while God of War III definitely returns to those heady heights regularly, the bulk of the game isn't quite as grand. We mean that in a good way though; it'd be simply fatiguing to have the pace of the introduction replicated throughout, and just because Kratos slips into a slightly steadier pace for the core of the game it doesn't mean the game loses any of it's initial beauty or wow-factor.
In fact, the increased focus on platforming and puzzle-solving helps break up the action appreciably, giving those who fancy a break from button-bashing a chance to recover between epic boss battles. There's a feeling that Sony has tried to level the playing ground a bit, making the different skill settings better suited to their audiences. It's an understandable adjustment given the level of difficulty the series has developed a reputation for. At the same time, long-time fans will be glad to know they'll still be challenged.
Fans will likely approve of how consistent Sony has opted to keep Krato's third outing too, with his initial abilities including some of the later ones from God of War II; it's not just a case of wiping the move-list and forcing you to unlock the same old combos. This time Kratos starts out with the protective benefits of the Golden Fleece and the Wings of Icarus already in hand – which means that Kratos' arsenal is forced to grow into even more unusual and noteworthy areas.