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God of War: Ascension Review

Posted by Matthew Hewson On Friday 5 April 2013Comments Off

Available on PS3 l Published by Sony l Developed by Sony Santa Monica l Classified R18+ I Supports 1-8 players

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Kratos is back and though I would like to say better than ever, that would be a lie. The fourth console version in the God of War series is a bit of a step back when compared to the third entry. The same old combat is there and is as enjoyable as ever, but a host of minor problems mar the rest of the experience. The addition of multiplayer does little to change my impression that this is an unnecessary sequel.

REVIEW IN FULL > I loved God of War 3. The sense of grandeur, the lightning quick combat and the simple tale of a (very angry) man against the gods of Olympus entertained me like few action games ever have. It was a game that set out to impress in both scale and gameplay and it did just that. I remember thinking at the time that there was no way that a sequel could top this (especially in this console generation) and you know what? I was right.

If I couldn’t tell who was who on a 55 inch television, then there was something seriously wrong.

The story was the first of many small missteps that soured my experience with this prequel. Yes there was a plot (something about Kratos trying to break his bond with Ares) but it just seemed to get in the road. I couldn’t discern any plausible reason for Kratos to be travelling all over Ancient Greece, apart from giving him an excuse to fight a plethora of crazy creatures.

The second (and perhaps biggest) misstep involved the camera. In previous games, Sony Santa Monica struck the perfect balance with the fixed camera angles, however this simply wasn’t the case here. The number of times the camera zoomed back so far that I couldn’t tell which of the onscreen characters was Kratos astounded me. In an attempt to show all the amazing backdrops (and they were amazing) the developer sacrificed the ability to actually see what was going on. If I couldn’t tell who was who on a 55 inch television, then there was something seriously wrong.  This viewpoint was even more of an annoyance during platforming sections. Here it became almost impossible to judge leaps accurately, causing me to swear in frustration more than once.

The enemy design in this entry was also uninspired. There just seemed to be a lack of variety. Old favourites like the Cyclops, Harpies and Goat Folk looked great, but the new adversaries seemed more than a little generic. One in particular left me wondering what was going on. I am by no means an expert on Ancient Greece but a giant elephant with gold chains seemed out of place to me. If Kratos had been battling the gods of Hinduism, it might have felt more plausible, but in a story set in Europe? If you’d like to cherry pick some examples to prove how wrong I am, here’s a link to get you started, but it just felt at odds with the overall atmosphere of the game.

The final problem I had involved the only significant addition to the GoW formula. It wasn’t so much that the multiplayer was bad, but as was the case with Tomb Raider, it just seemed tacked on. The combat was tight and there was quite a bit of fun to be had initially with the team-based, objective-focussed gameplay, but that sense of enjoyment wore off quickly. Add this to some significant match making problems, a confusing upgrade path and some serious lag issues and I soon came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be back until it had been patched.

I found the puzzles to be quite inspired, especially after Kratos gained the ability to manipulate time.

It was a shame that these problems soured my experience with Ascension, because lying beneath these issues was the same quality I have grown to expect over the years. The combat was as enjoyable as ever and there was some serious fun to be had with the new god powers. These abilities basically replaced the different weapons found in previous entries and allowed me to imbue Kratos’ blades with the powers of various gods. Each God offered different combos, special abilities and magic, so it added a nice level of variety to the already entertaining combat. I found the ability to take enemy weapons for a short period another fun addition and it made sure that there was always a new way for me to dismember my mythological opposition.

I also found the puzzles to be quite inspired, especially after Kratos gained the ability to manipulate time. More than once I found myself stumped, only to have that satisfying “aha!” moment which allowed me to move forward. I was forced to shift blocks, use an alternative reality, mend bridges, connect water tunnels and do much more to solve the brain teasers in this game. These puzzles were simply the best the series has ever seen and were a real highlight of this entry.

Unfortunately Ascension just didn’t reach the lofty heights of the previous game. While the combat and puzzles were top notch, there were just too many small problems to justify this entry. Anyone looking for a new Kratos experience would be much better served by the HD remakes of the PSP games. If Ascension had been positioned as a large expansion, it could have worked well, but as a standalone AAA title it simply fell short. I am sorry to have to say this, but perhaps Kratos should be retired to the hall of heroes past, lest his reputation be ruined forever.

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