maanantai 18. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - God of War: Ascension | PS3 | 2013

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 12, 2013
DEVELOPER(S): SCE Santa Monica Studio
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

When David Jaffe created God of War, he expected a good game for a good purpose. Years later, the whole of the God of War trilogy is hailed as three of the finest video games of these last couple of generations, if not of all time. The ending of God of War III left very little hope for the arrival of a fourth major installment in the series, but in 2012, God of War: Ascension was announced, with former designer Todd Papy in the creative helm. Kratos returns to us fans that have missed him so, but we have to face reality: this is a prequel to everything truly epic he has ever done, which is... well, just about everything. God of War: Ascension is definitely Kratos' longest journey, but his most ambitious one? Not by a long shot. God of War: Ascension is almost exactly what I expected from it - a good game that definitely meets the standards of an entertaining God of War installment as far as gameplay goes, but lacks a good story, and a potentially earth-shattering poetic climax to go for. And, Kratos himself isn't quite what he used to be... or was to become.

Fury of the Furies

T.C. Carson : Kratos
Troy Baker : Orkos
Jennifer Hale : Alecto / Lysandra
Nika Futterman : Megaera
Debi Mae West : Tisiphone
Adrienne Barbeau : Aletheia
David W. Collins : Castor
Brad Grusnick : Pollux
Robin Atkin Downes : Scribe of Hecatonchires
Linda Hunt : Narrator

Breaking a blood oath to a god leaves one, man or titan, any being below a god, at the mercy of the three Furies, the guardians of honour. The choices for a traitor are to continue a life of servitude under the oath, or be condemned to eternal torture. Kratos is about to learn of the Furies' hospitality first hand when he severs his ties with Ares due to the god of war luring him into killing his family. Encouraged by Orkos, the runaway son of the Furies, Kratos sets out to face his captors instead of hiding from them, to truly break free of his bond.

When he's pissed, he's pissed. Pissing him
off takes a little more effort now, though.
The storyboard designers really needed to dig deep when they started making this game. The body count in the previous God of War games included just about every figure in Greek mythology you've ever heard of; now they were making a game with no gods, no titans (except for one, who we see, shall we say extremely close up), just a few cameos by some guys and gals you might find on Wikipedia, but probably had no knowledge of before this game arrived to educate. That does an immediate number on the game, without a shadow of a doubt, right off the bat. In God of War, you were a servant of Olympus, going against Ares. In God of War II, you took on none other than Zeus, and in God of War III, not only did you face Zeus again, but the whole cavalcade of who's who on Olympus, plus a few titans to boot, plus Hercules. Hell, even in the handheld games you faced off against Morpheus (albeit indirectly), Charon, Persephone, and Thanatos. Now you face off against three relative unknowns from the less promoted side of Greek mythology, who resemble the three Sisters of Fate from God of War II a bit too much. Not enough to make the same impact as clashing against those three, though. Having a subpar cast to stand in for the ensembles of the past doesn't spell an end for my interest in the story. What does, is the regression of Kratos' personality.

This version of Kratos does not have constant visions or nightmares, apart from the illusions wrought by the Furies - he's quite sane. Just a very, very sad and lost individual. During the 10+ hours it takes to beat the game, his sins are hardly mentioned or their consequences exploited - if this was your first time with the franchise, all you would know was that something horrible happened and you're out to break free of Ares' hold. There are no innocents to be abused here to get to your goal, with the exception of a few corpses to disgrace, and Kratos even makes a true friend over the course of the game, someone who he first perceives as an enemy - we all know that in the future, this guy wouldn't have lived for five seconds to explain himself. Some might say this is a refreshing take on the biggest bad-ass there ever was for us to control, but the Kratos I knew was a raving lunatic, an impulsive, merciless and excessively violent psychopath with zero tolerance, and extreme love/hate relationship with himself. I loved him the way he was, and everything about 'im. All that's left to love about him here is the way he moves, and his resourcefulness. He still knows how to work his way around puzzles, and he still knows how to inflict some serious pain. The moment you see Kratos stabbing someone with their own spine, is the moment you know you're going to enjoy this game, be the God of War experience (trademark sign here) as disappointing as it may.

We get a small glimpse of Ares in multiplayer
training, and he looks better than ever.
Although the game looks nice, one can't help but feel a little chill, as if the game didn't look much better than God of War III, released three years ago - and that chill has a point. The more cinematic battles and other dynamic sequences of the sort are directed a little better, but all in all, as much as they try, they don't have much left in terms of consistency and making progress. Every major game in the series has been out to outdo the previous one, starting with an epic, excessively flashy intro sequence that will immediately take your breath away, in both audiovisuals and gameplay. God of War: Ascension doesn't have that, and it lacks climaxes altogether; there are a few that were probably meant to nail your jaw to the floor, but they might've forgot they've already pitted us against a titan with minimal resources in one of the greatest boss fights ever, and started up that very same game by having us confront the god of the oceans while we were navigating the body of another titan. OK, you're in for an epic surprise once the intro sequence ends, but it's not such a surprise if you paid enough attention to the opening cutscene that tells the legend of the first to break a blood oath.

The music by Tyler Bates (whose impressive credentials include the movie 300 and the video game Rise of the Argonauts) is phenomenal, and all special editions of the game come with the digital soundtrack for one to enjoy - and listen to for buffing purposes while writing a long-ass review (...what?). Many tunes from the previous games re-emerge, some of them remixed to set the game even further apart from the rest of the series, but to great results. The voice acting's good (albeit rare), it's just too bad we're not interested in how the characters are portrayed, sadly but truly including Kratos himself. What's an amusing little novelty is that you can choose to switch the game's spoken language to Greek for atmosphere, right off the bat, just like in Ninja Gaiden II in which you were given easy access to change the spoken language to Japanese.

If you've played any God of War game before, you know the drill. You're to kill a lot of folk, solve puzzles, gather key items from fallen foes to solve some more puzzles, and perhaps to kill some more folk. Throw in some impressive set pieces with violent scenes that keep your stomach in constant rotation - with the QTE's once again placed smart so you won't miss any of Kratos' crazy antics - and you've got yourself a God of War. There are a few changes to the details, though.

Do not deny me my audience.
First of all, mana use is restricted to four outbreaks of whatever godly power you choose to use, at max. It's kind of a return to the roots of the franchise - during your travels, you find wall carvings of the gods, with an altar in the front, and upon interacting with that altar, you gain an elemental power associated with the god, the Lightning of Zeus serving as an obvious example. There's a regular magic attack tied to this power, in this case a lightning shield to give you some personal space you oh, so often need, as well as a Rage attack. God of War ripped a page off Castlevania's playbook for a change - instead of having Rage for a constant godmode that lasts as long as the meter has spunk left, Rage can only be triggered for one single powerful magic attack once the meter is full, and if you take any damage, the meter goes down, just like Focus in Lords of Shadow.

Secondary weapons are not scripted or permanent, they can be picked up and discarded from your inventory at any time - the most usual way to gain them is to swipe them off enemies. Besides physical attacks with your bare fists or feet, there really isn't anything new to Kratos' basic combat abilities, nor are there many new types of enemies - it's pretty much a random collection of the past, with not even that much of new kill animations to boot. The least they could do was to tie in a special kill animation for each secondary weapon. It's funny, that while God of War: Ascension feels really detached from the series in just about every possible way, it also feels like it's the exact same old... I can't really say if it's a good or a bad thing anymore.

Telling you everything about Kratos' tools would summon spoilers into the mix, but since it's thoroughly described in the game's manual, I guess I could tell you about the Amulet of Uroborus, which is this game's time-bending tool in the vein of the Amulet of the Fates in God of War II. With this trinket, you can reassemble or disassemble the environment in a quite flashy, innovative way. You can even stop time in the middle of de/reconstruction, to create platforms to climb from the rubble. If this Amulet could be used in every single spot in the game, Kratos' journey would be over quickly as there would be no obstacles anywhere - they don't even offer us a good explanation as to why it couldn't be used, while in God of War II, the Amulet of the Fates only worked under the gaze of a Fate statue. So yeah, it's a bit on the side of random dumbness, and this was a crappy explanation, I know, but it's still a cool little trinket, which is there to prove not all imagination was lost when they started making this game.

Some ancient church tower or a huge f'n
snake? This is God of War - take a guess.
On to the final subject of the single-player campaign, and the subject of the worst criticism the game has had so far - criticism so overwhelming that Santa Monica has agreed to work around it with a patch. That is the game's difficulty level. The game WILL prove extremely easy for a God of War veteran... BUT, in the very last chapters, actually just before the final puzzle and boss fight, a certain sequence suddenly spikes through the roof when it comes to challenge. The game's usually very generous autosave system and power-up dropouts are thrown straight out the window, and what follows is 10 to 15 minutes of the worst (and most confusing) carnage perhaps ever seen in God of War - worse than the hallway leading to Pandora's Box, worse than the final round trip to the Loom Chamber, worse than trying to keep the chains holding up the cubes in the Labyrinth intact, worse than the final battle with Zeus. That bad. I survived on about the 13th try - actually the second half of the battle is easier than the first one - and you could say I'm not that eager for a patch anymore, but let's face it. Spiking the difficulty level of the game that suddenly and mercilessly is a sign of bad judgement on the developers' behalf. It almost frustrated me to the point of not wanting to complete the game, and that has never happened with God of War games, ever, despite some sequences that have not only wrecked my brain, but also, my controller's integrity.

Even with all the facts well known, starting with the one that they've simply done it ALL, one could interpret the game's lackluster story as the developers' increased interest to invest in multiplayer. As is well known, I'm not that much of an enthusiast when it comes to online playing, but in this game's case, I had to make an exception - I just HAD to see how God of War, a franchise pretty much built around the concept of "one man", translates to a multiplayer game. It first hits you as kind of like a role-playing experience. Too bad you can't customize your character at all when it comes to his physical appearance, but you can equip your character with all sorts of armour and weapons, gained through experience points and via DLC. The multiplayer experience starts with a blood oath to a god of your choosing - all of the four gods (Ares, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) have different classes to offer to your character. It all seems pretty cool... until you get to the game, that is. It might be fun in very small doses, especially since there are some classic sceneries to be viewed there in the multiplayer room - including the Desert of Lost Souls - but regardless of your class or even the multiplayer mode, the only thing you can do to survive the mayhem is mash buttons 'til your brains fall out. There's no room for trial, only error, if you want to go for a more advanced, fruitful, and diverse experience. If I wasn't a fan to the core, I'd say God of War goes to waste in multiplayer, and vice versa.

That's got to be somewhat unpleasant.
Although multiplayer was a huge investment over the single-player campaign, it does very little to affect the Trophies of the game, something that I'm thankful for. Actually, there's only one Trophy directly tied to multiplayer, and it's effortless to get. The rest... well, there's no challenge room in the game, so you won't be bothered by a high-level Trophy that seems impossible to get, but there are some extremely hard ones we might or might not have seen in the previous games, like being able to perform a 1000 hit combo, or being able to sustain the Rage meter at the very top for over two minutes. Overall, God of War: Ascension might be the easiest God of War game to plat, if you happen to be in luck and overcome those two obstacles on your way to the shiny-shiny.

God of War: Ascension is a satisfying action-adventure. ...Yet, this is not what I expected to say about any piece of this here franchise back when I first played the original game, moreover when I first got my grubby little hands on its masterpiece of a first sequel, or when I headed into putting an end to both parties involved in round two of the Great War. It's got fantastic gameplay on its side, perhaps the best overall controls and control scheme in the whole series, but in turn, crummy character and storyboard design, an ambitious but ultimately stale multiplayer, and several small inconsistencies which disturb the balance all the way and finally end up severing the game from the rest of the franchise.

+ Fantastic music and increasingly satisfying cinematics (nothing too "epic" in the usual sense of the word, though)
+ Great gameplay; satisfying combat, grisly kills, smart use of QTE's, innovative combined use of mana and Rage
+ There's not one lousy secondary weapon forced upon you like in all previous games
+ Innovative key items
+ Still great puzzles, downside to which mentioned below

- General randomness in almost every element, most of all level design
- The combat sequences can get really confusing with the cinematics occasionally skyrocketing a little too over the top
- The story is way below the usual par, including Kratos' stake in it; all of it results in a severe detachment from the God of War franchise
- It's way easy, counting out the huge 10-15 minute difficulty spike in the end, which is a flaw in itself
- The gameplay tutorials will either drive you crazy with their appearances in every turn (accompanied by a sound effect), spilling the most important beans to everything you might want to figure out yourself, especially in the case of puzzles, or don't show up at all - your choice
- The much promoted multiplayer's a disappointment

< 8.1 >

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