Genre: Action Developer: Sony Santa Monica Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Classification: R18+ Release Date: 14th Mar 2013 Platforms:
Average of 2 Ratings
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Kratos isn't the most likable character. His position as 'anti-hero' or 'bad guy protagonist' depends on your stance regarding the establishment, but even if you rebel fiercely against Olympus you'd still be hard pressed to like the Spartan Warrior.
His idea of gratitude is killing someone quickly, his snappy comebacks involve his hands and your throat and his way with the ladies has all the chemistry of that VX gas stuff from The Rock. He's the poster boy for brawn over brains, and he spent three entire games attempting to destroy the world - with your help.
It's a good thing I'm not playing God of War games for their story (outside of a passing curiousity towards Greek mythology) right?
Like any sane person, I play God of War for the power fantasy. I want to be a man-sized dude fighting mountain sized enemies and killing them in brutal ways. I want to feel responsible for the extinction of the satyr. I want to press the square button a lot, and the triangle button just a bit.
Unsurprisingly, God of War Ascension delivers this - but not without some hiccups. First, let's get the threadbare justification for Kratos' rage out of the way - GOWA is set a little while after Ares tricked our musclebound d-bag into killing his own wife and child, but before the events of the first game. Kratos needs to kill the Furies so he can kill Ares, because the inter-personal relationships of Mythical Greece involve only three things - killing magic beings, tricking demi-gods into killing their families and morphing into farm animals to bang queens.
Along the way he gets tricked some more, he kills hundreds of people/things and he learns a little about himself. Not much though, because he still has to be a dickhead when the first God of War starts.
With that out of the way we can move on to what Ascension does well. Kratos' chain swords take on four different powers in Ascension - fire, ice, lightning and the undead summoning abilities of Hades - and these modify his powers at the push of the direction pad.
Once you get into the rhythm of switching between powers you're able to spend more time watching the game in action - which is where God of War games typically shine. When you're operating on auto-pilot you're able to really see the beauty of the game's animations - the way Kratos effortlessly transfers from combo to combo as you chase those little red orbs.
While you're chasing the red orbs and the gorgeous combos though, Ascension is trying to outdo what it thinks you want from a GOW game by giving you epic fights in epic situations - and GOWA stumbles here. It tries so hard to be huge, to make Kratos look tiny compared to the challenge he faces, that at times it can be difficult to tell which bipedal sword-bearing thing is the one you're controlling.
This only becomes a problem when you goof up - when one of the dozen plus enemies attacking you gets a strike in - but it can make getting back into the rhythm very difficult, especially during boss fights. It seems like Ascension is a victim of the series successes - the fight with Gaia in GOW 3 was so huge that Sony Santa Monica may have lost sight of playability as they strove to rival it.
Also, while in combat the animations are gorgeous, outside they're iffy. My Kratos routinely climbed walls using only his left arm, flinging himself upwards in a weird canned animation - and surely I can't be the only person sick of action games and their stubborn adherence to invisible walls. If I'm already stuck in a narrow area, why further limit me by way of these imperceptible boundaries.
The game seems keenly focused in other areas - the puzzles, for example, are still fantastic combinations of well timed movement and logical thinking. None of them stumped me, but there were definitely a few which had me pausing before acting. As you start to really unlock Kratos' power the game begins to meld combat and puzzle beautifully - it returns to the essence of the God of War experience.
The area they really excelled in though was the multiplayer - a very competent combination of first person shooter style arena combat and God of War's own melee combat (modified, naturally).
Players begin by picking a god to align themselves with - Ares, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus are your choices - and through that choice they begin their career. While in SP they have access to all four powers at the push of a button, here they have the power of their god alone.
As is the norm for multiplayer games these days, players upgrade their abilities as they compete with others, spending level up points on new abilities and completing objectives to unlock new armour and weapons.
You can participate in CTF, a Domination style mode called Team Favour of the Gods, a boring as hell Free For All mode and Trial of the Gods, a two player wave based co-operative mode which seemed brutally difficult.
Free for All mode was pretty awful - just a clusterflump of killstealing as players race for points. Because Ascension isn't the only recent game to combine melee and arena style combat, it's hard to not look at games like Chivalry for examples on how this mode could easily be improved with either an organically created or developer forced Duel mode.
CTF is exactly how it sounds, with the addition of the "Bonus Flag", which spawns in the middle of the map and is the perfect antidote for defense heavy stalemates. One interesting thing I noticed was that "Sudden Death" mode doesn't actually involve sudden death - players still respawn, but if a flag gets capped it's game over. I guess that's a sort of Sudden Death, if you ignore the death component.
Trial of the Gods is a timed battle between you, a friend and a heap of enemies - like an arena based version of Horde mode - and it's quite tough. The challenge wasn't from the enemies but from the time limit - if you haven't spec'd for as much DPS as you can, you will struggle to make it very far at all. Still, it's a fun way to test your build (and show off for friends).
Team Favour of the Gods is where the game really shines though. The Domination (or Conquest, for Battlefield fans) mode allows players to more organically pair off against one another as they attempt to control the three points. Because players are chasing total points for their team, the maps' interactive elements play a much larger role here - and they can be the difference between winning or losing.
Take the Desert of Lost Souls, for example. An arena featuring the titan Polyphemus as an occasional map hazard - he will attack players as they fight near two of the capture points - you're more than able to kill him (and earn stacks of points for it) if you pay attention to powerup announcements. You can trigger fires and spikes, you can fire catapults at the horse of Troy, and in the level based on God of War 3's Labyrinth if you get to the right spot you can tumble the entire set of cubes.
The way the maps ebb and flow - while still conforming to arena multiplayer tropes like fixed power-up spots and hidden areas of access for players with map knowledge - makes Team Favour an especially great way to play the game.
If multiplayer came at the expense of God of War's singleplayer I ultimately feel it was a good move. If it wasn't already obvious, I feel little love for Kratos or his story, so - with the exception of the puzzles - multiplayer successfully delivers everything I really want from a new God of War game. If only the singleplayer were as good.