God of War III promised the seemingly impossible back in 2010. While hardly shocking by today’s standards, so much of what was shown in promotion was unbelievable. Grabbing dudes and running with them, having enemies pile up on you, commandeering beasts in battle, seeing the actual incisions you make on a Gorgon’s body – all promises I thought the final product would fail to keep. It turns out, though, that they weren’t playing it up. Here was a game of immense detail and massive scope for its time, blowing anything else that dare call itself epic out of the water. Five years on, though, the shock has worn off. God of War III Remastered brings the culmination of Kratos’ revenge to the PS4, showing off ideas ahead of their time, while making existing flaws more obvious than ever.
The story of God of War III is spectacular, interesting and dense. The way it’s told, however, is contradictory and shallow. The repercussions of Kratos’ actions in the first game are brought to light here, rationalising the plot of the second game and the motivations of the characters now. It does an excellent job of weaving through the story laid out by its predecessors and pulling a concluding plot from them. We see what happened to characters and places we’ve already known, as well as learning about what was happening parallel to the first two games. As a conclusion to the arc, GoWIII does a good job of fleshing out the entire story of the series.
Another great plot idea GoWIII has is redeeming Kratos through his relationship with a new character; Pandora. It’s just a shame the relationship is greatly underdeveloped and hardly makes sense within the context of the game. Kratos kills everyone and everything else in the game. Bad guys, good guys, innocent bystanders – he kills them. It’s hard to think “he’s not so bad after all” when he grows to care for one individual after he’s needlessly murdered countless others. What makes these choices more confusing, is that the character isn’t too far gone to redeem until THIS game. They wanted to pull him away from the edge but push him off and stomp his fingers before trying. The idea that Kratos sees his daughter in Pandora is such a great idea, and it makes perfect sense that a young girl would be the person to turn his insane bloodlust around. It just isn’t told well. Had a bit more thought been put into how these characters grow to care for each other – rather than just insisting that they suddenly do – God of War III could have easily had the best story of the series. Unfortunately, it ends up being a series of great plot points strung together by weak storytelling.
God of War II boasted polished, perfectly controlling combat, but rather than making no attempt to fix what ain’t broke, III builds right on top of II’s solid foundations. Grabs allow Kratos to run enemies into their comrades, certain monsters can be ridden and used to smash through the hordes, and if enough baddies get close, they’ll pile on you. Touches like these do a lot to keep the combat involved and interesting. Having since become fiercely unpopular, quick time events make up a considerable piece of God of War’s DNA. Tapping shoulder buttons to pull something apart or rotating the analogue to pull off a tricky manoeuvre adds a real-world physicality to moments that otherwise wouldn’t be interactive. Still, things can drag a little. Certain enemy encounters and boss battles had me feeling like I was just wailing away waiting for something to happen. Waiting for a damage sponge to fall critically slows down a game so focussed on intensity and conflict.
The standard attacking, dodging and magic using can be used with Kratos’ standard blades, or three other unique unlockable weapons. While the previous games had alternate weapons, they always felt like secondary options. Each of GoWIII’s selection feels as fleshed out as the Ghost of Sparda’s trademark blades, while retaining an individuality in gameplay and their own corresponding magic attack. You’ll also earn some extra items with combat and exploration applications. Switching between weapons adds potential depth, but there’s rarely incentive to use anything other than your favourite. Seeing as the Blades of Exile are the first weapon you get your hot little hands on, they were my choice to upgrade first, meaning they were my best option for most of the game. It’s a shame the game doesn’t force the player to utilise their entire arsenal. Certain enemies hold shields that can only be destroyed with a specific weapon, but otherwise the choice is yours. More specific enemy types to necessitate the use of each weapon could have made for some significant depth and diversity in combat gameplay. I would have loved to have used the other weapons more, as well as items during combat, I just had no reason to.
Outside of combat, GoWIII holds some of the most interesting content of the series. Climbing on and through Titans is epic. Fighting a boss in a 2D fighting game style is awesome. Flying through a vertical tunnel with the Icarus Wings is intense, and moments like a perspective puzzle or a weird rhythm game split up the action. The usual stuff has been improved, much like the combat. You can rotate pushable objects and move them much faster than before, climbing offers more Uncharted-style platforming as well as different combat situations, and there’s plenty of swinging around on your chains.
The absolute coolest thing about GoWIII is the design of its setting. Though the game is totally linear, the playable area is very comparable to Symphony of the Night or even Zelda. You’ll be heading through certain areas that split into multiple paths a fair bit, heading back and forth through areas as you acquire gear you need to progress. The geography is given tangible context in a way unlike I’ve seen in any other game. I always know where I am relative to everything else, despite having no map. Landmarks are always visible or recently passed, and travelling through Mount Olympus is exciting and interesting as a result.
It’s a real shame then that we weren’t trusted to explore this place on our own. It’s a Metroidvania-style game through and through, just without the control over where you go next. Had GoWIII allowed players to move through this environment as they please, rather than following the strict track they lay out, I imagine it would be considered one of the best games of its generation. This linearity isn’t just a disappointment, but a terrible fault in certain places. You know those moments where you’re presented with a couple of paths, and you know one is the correct path while the other holds a secret? All you can ever do is go down one and head back for the secret if your choice proves to continue, right? In GoWIII, there’s no going back. You take a step too far and a door closes behind you. Were you just about to open that chest but wanted to see what was this way, first? Too bad. Reload your last save or keep going, knowing you’ll never be able to get all the Gorgon Eyes. You can never go back, and there’s never any reason for this.
I’d not seen a game nearly as beautiful as God of War III when it launched (though Uncharted 2 came soon after). As I find is the case with most of these remastered ports, some things translate well while some don’t. The environments look stunning, and Kratos himself is grossly detailed. All of the other character models, though, along with a bunch of blood and smoke effects, just look old. Zeus’ hair might as well be made of cardboard, but his palace is gorgeous. The audio side of things is a similar story. The soundtrack here is absolutely phenomenal, pounding your ears with huge, foreboding melodies and reacting to the awe of Mount Olympus as you do. Some of the voice clips, though, have been poorly ported. When Hermes talks, in particular, it sounds like he’s speaking through a laptop microphone in a bathroom. I came across a fair few little bugs and imperfections like this that I’m sure weren’t part of the original release – I can’t say this is the definitive version of the game.
God of War III was and is a great game. While the visuals and scale won’t impress like they once did, it’s still an enjoyable adventure full of decapitations, impalements, and eye-poking. The interesting and beautiful environment is one of the most fully realised I’ve come across, it’s just a shame you’re not allowed to explore it as I’d like to. Combat is up there with the best, but the puzzle-solving and adventuring outside of battle has much more to offer than the likes of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. The Remastered release has its problems, but if you’ve never played the PS3 classic, or really feel like paying to see it again, you’ll have a great time with this one.
DISCLAIMER: this game was supplied to us by the publisher, and reviewed on PS4 across 10 hours of gameplay.