It's a good thing that God of War 3 is coming in a trilogy pack, even if the only people who are going to fork out for the ultimate edition are already fans of the series. GoW3 makes no attempt to accommodate new players, kicking things off with Kratos riding the back of Gaia as the titan climbs Mt. Olympus. People who played the previous games will understand what this means, people with an interest in Greek Mythology will probably be able to work it out and everyone else will just be confused.
Those who understand the story are in for a treat though - and God of War 3 should be treated like a game for its fans - and screw the haters. The focus for GoW3 seems to have been trumping the previous games - in the size of the battles, graphics and story - and it manages to do this with surprising ease.
Driven by vengeance, Kratos' plan this time is to kill Zeus - the king of the Gods - and anyone who gets in his way. The opening sequence on Gaia is barely a taste of what's to come - by the end of the boss fight against the God of the sea you'll be sold on the rest of the game. Poseidon has some interesting tricks up his sleeve, but it's what happens when Kratos busts through his defence which will keep God of War 3 a talking point for years to come.
The graphics are outstanding - an interesting combination of realistic biology (like sinew and muscles tearing during evisceration) and cartoony colourisation and character design masterfully avoids allowing the game to fall into the uncanny valley. The game relies on the in-game engine for most cut-scenes - an easy choice to make when it looks as good as it does. When it doesn't the game becomes almost full cartoon, but the direction remains consistent throughout, meaning the artistic differences meld well with the game.
The story is a little lacking, though for most of the game it's exactly as epic as you would expect. The coherent plot takes you through the Underworld, around Olympus and through the beautifully created Labyrinth to deliver the action game you want from GoW3 - sadly when wrapping the entire series up it falters a little. The reliance on abstract explanations for the motivations and actions of Mt Olympus's inhabitants is a let-down - while the Gods of Greek Mythology have always been slaves to their human instincts, the way the game wraps up relies a little too heavily on this aspect of their being - especially Kratos' altered attitude.
Gameplay is deliciously difficult - an emphasis on intelligent use of the weapons you have at hand means most battles don't play out the same way. I never found myself able to rely on just one weapon set - especially when the others delivered such varied combat. Beyond Kratos' new Blades of Exile (similar to the Blades of Athena) is a pair of hooked weapons with summoning magic powers, gauntlets made for delivering heavy close quarters damage and a set of electrified swords good for stunning enemies. Mapping each set to the directional pads once again makes it simple to switch from weapon to weapon, even mid-combo.
Combat requires some pretty heavy concentration and can leave you somewhat exhausted. Boss battle checkpoints are before and after the fights - with multiple phases, long lengths and heavy hitting bosses these can be quite exhausting. It's nice to see the game did not concede to add mid-boss fight checkpoints. The action is spaced out by some decent - if not especially challenging - puzzle gameplay, giving the player a breather as you murder your way through the Pantheon of the Gods.
Traditionally there have been two types of quick time events - the ones which remain in one place the whole time and which last for a decent amount of time before disappearing, and the ones that move around the screen so as to not impede the focus of the action and disappear quickly. The second type are the bad kind, in case you hadn't worked it out. Moving the QTEs around the screen allows anyone watching to stay focused on the action, but anyone playing has to search the screen for the next action.
God of War 3 does neither - it pushes button commands to the edges of the screen, allowing players to use their peripheral vision to watch for the simon says controls while they marvel in the splendour of the cutscene QTEs typically impede. It's so brilliantly simple it makes you wonder how we've waited so long to see it.
And then God of War 3 features gesture based controls. Flick the right thumbstick half circle down right. And you're reminded that it's not perfect. It's fortunately still the 'good' kind of QTE but gesture based controls are so wrong for GoW3 - like putting wheels on your PS3... just unnecessary.
My biggest concern going in was the fixed camera situation - God of War 3 has stuck with fixed cameras and perspective sensitive controls. Most of the time the gameplay isn't affected at all - there are only a handful of moments where items are hidden from view thanks to the limitations of the camera.
It is affected when attempting to interact with the game world with something other than your weapons - you have to be standing directly in front of chests to hold R1 and use them, and the same goes for the points of interest throughout the game world. If you're even a little bit off when interacting you'll do nothing at all - when you decide to take a chance at a health chest mid-way through a lengthy battle this can end in tragedy.
Quibbles over positioning and the curious decision to include gesture based quick time events are barely a dent on the impression God of War 3 will leave with you. The reality is the game delivers exactly what any fan of the games could want - epic battles, loads of gore and a plot vehicle that sees Kratos take on the mightiest characters in Greek Mythology.
It's a fitting end to a series which hasn't ever really failed to deliver - even if the conclusion isn't quite as epic as it should have been. If you're a fan of the series you'd be mad not to get God of War 3, if you're a fan of Greek Mythology you'd be mad not to get God of War 3 and if you're new to God of War but you're a fan of action games - consider finding some way to get your hands on the other games as well.