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GoW 3. Epic, cinematic presentation and graphics, same clunky combat.

God of War 3 is a graphical showcase and a decent action game. Even if you dislike judging games based on graphics, GoW3 has an epic cinematic scale that is worth experiencing at least once. As good as the game is as an interactive movie, the combat system is very similar to the first two God of War titles, with the same control scheme and only a few new items to play around with.

Even after two previous titles, the combat still lacks the polish, fluidity, and responsiveness of other current gen action/fighters like Ninja Gaiden II or Bayonetta. The controls are too stiff for fluid switching between offense and defense. It's like comparing the stiff no-strafing controls of an old Resident Evil title to a modern shooter. One reason for this is the fact that dodge is tied to the right analog stick. There no way around the clunkiness of this control - either you take your left thumb off the left stick, or your right thumb off the front buttons. There are also some attacks that are impossible to dodge cancel out of (any of the L1+button moves), adding to the combat stiffness. Both dodging and blocking have a start up and recovery delay so you need to anticipate when to go on the defensive ahead of time. It's amusing how they give you a L1+X shortcut for weapon switching instead of using the D-pad, but don't give you a dodge shortcut that would dodge in the direction Kratos is currently facing.

You can set the difficulty to Chaos where getting hit with a strong attack more than 1-2 times equals death, but that usually just means you have to spend more time on defense waiting for an opening, since the controls are too stiff for fluid switching between offense and defense. Since there's no score system, you can spend as long as you like on most encounters. Equipping a certain handicap item that constantly drains Kratos health can make the game even more difficult. The 2-3 hit deaths do exasperate camera and control issues that can be shrugged off on the lower difficulties. The games poor auto-aiming will cause Kratos to attack a target that neither he nor your analog stick is facing towards, just because it happens to be closer to him - this becomes a bigger issue on higher difficulties when it's important to keep dangerous enemies locked down or juggled.

The game usually feels playable and fair because enemies are balanced around the control systems limitations, but it's often a matter of trial and error finding which enemy attacks are blockable/dodgeable or not. The enemies are impressive with different attacks and behaviors that must be learned, and there's plenty of enemy variety. Unlike other action/fighters the accessories and weapons don't make much of a difference in playstyle, although the speed boots provide some fun juggling options. Some of the extra challenges are fun although I was annoyed that they made some of them exclusive to the collectors version of the game with no DLC available. The GoW staples, quicktime events, are still here. I don't mind the simon says button pressing, but sometimes I feel like I'm missing out on the well done executions because I'm too focused on hitting the prompts.

You can go into jump glide mode in a single jump, even though there is never a need to single jump or single jump into a glide during the entirety of the game. Thus its only purpose is a control pitfall that will annoy players who accidentally hold down the jump button too long when they meant to do a double jump. This is a very basic design principle - if there's no need for a control, don't implement it.

The developers decided to take away player camera control to provide a more cinematic experience - while this usually works well, it does cause issues. Some pits along the game are bottomless, and some are shallow and hold treasure. The only way to find out is to jump down, since the camera never lets you see what's down there. This discovery by death is yet another example of basic design failure (or a crass way to get you to buy the official guide, I'm not sure). The uncontrollable camera gets in the way of adequate combat control when the camera shifts and inverts the players controls unexpectedly.

Even the most demanding graphics zealot will be satisfied by the games visuals. While there are a few blocky shadows and some occasionally stiff animation it's easily the best looking current generation console game. The programmers were able to offload much of the graphics work to the Cell SPUs, providing incredibly impressive post processing effects. Most of the areas, models, and animations in the game are absolutely amazing and lifelike. The gore is very realistic and the camera doesn't shy from Kratos' acts of extreme brutality. The music is good and fitting, although it sometimes gets too ambient. The Greek-themed cinematic movies are very cinematic and well done. There's some needless immersion breaking whenever you pick up items that state "beat the game to use this item". For all the effort the developers put into an believable, epic cinematic experience, they sully it by constantly reminding players that they're playing a video game that's meant to be beaten.

Voice acting is decent but spotty. You would think with the millions spent on graphics and cinematic presentation, they could spring for some decent voice actors, but a good half of the voices made me feel like I was watching a corny B movie. Even Kratos himself hams up a couple of lines, and his accent is not Greek, to say the least.

There's no recap of the first two games plots, which will probably confuse people who haven't played the earlier titles. The plot for GoW3 is a Greek tragedy, known for its one dimensional entities that are caricatures of human traits and behaviors. Like all tragedies, the ending is refreshingly not the usual video game sunshine and rainbows. Don't expect much in the way of plot and character development, even by the hamfisted ending. At least there are no cheesy Hollywood style one liners - Kratos is all business and prefers killing to talking.

The game has some glitches and bugs. If you get a little too curious exploring the terrain you may get stuck and have to reload, or encounter graphical issues. I've had the game freeze once while the music continued to play, requiring a power off, and I've also unintentionally gotten Kratos stuck under the floor. There's also a glitch that lets players play through the game with maxed weapons and invincibility on any difficulty. Hopefully a new patch will fix these issues.

GoWs weak point has always been its combat, and that isn't any different here. The epic experience this game has to offer is definitely worth the 5-8 hour playtime, and maybe more if you want to tackle the extra challenges and Chaos difficulty. I wouldn't recommend this game over Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden II for combat system, but it still holds its own considering how cinema-focused and epic the game is.
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About mjemirzianone of us since 1:31 AM on 05.18.2009

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