Review: God of War III – Remastered (PS4)

The God of War franchise has dominated on the PS2, PS3, and PSP. The story isn’t exactly rich, nor the gameplay redefining, but there were few games that instilled the same sense of adrenaline and awe. Some criticize these games for being little more than mindless button mashers, which is valid to a certain degree. But the success of Santa Monica Studio’s mythological demigod has proven that simplicity doesn’t have to be a negative talking point. Games can be memorable for a variety of reasons, and as long as the complete package delivers more often than not, things will likely turn out for the best.

Unless you’re talking about a remaster, of course. That’s when things tend to go south, as the mere mention of them nowadays make people foam at the mouth. “Grurfrgh! Why do I have to rebuy it again?! JERKS!” Ermm… you don’t. But despite the vitriol these projects draw, the Ghost of Sparta had yet to conquer the PS4, so the devs seemingly thought it would make sense to bring God of War III to Sony’s latest home console.

And despite what some would have you believe, it does make sense. With a new God of War game in early development, porting an established title to the PS4 allows the devs to sharpen their toolset. It also allows the people who jumped the Microsoft ship to experience this game for the first time. Really, the only time I think it’s worth complaining about a remaster or port, is when it’s something nobody asked for (Dead Island, I’m looking at you). Otherwise, weigh your love of a game against how extensive the porting process was (for my in-depth opinion on remasters, click here). At the same time, studios should offer rereleases at an exceptional value, and I’m not convinced God of War III Remastered has done that.

For the uninitiated, the franchise revolves around Kratos, a ‘brawn over brains’ type that commanded the forces of Sparta. Inevitably, his bloodlust lead his army to defeat against a horde of barbarians, but rather than accept his fate, he called upon Ares for aid. The god of war was willing to grant Kratos the power he desired, but at the expense of becoming his indebted servant. He agreed, being the bloodthirsty fool he was, and was provided a pair of chained blades that were imbued with fire. The wielding ends were permanently seared to his forearms, but as promised, they made Kratos an unstoppable killing machine.

Predictably, Kratos got a bit more than he bargained for, as he became a blind ball of rage under Ares’ influence. After one such episode, he was horrified to find his family laying lifeless at his feet. So, in his most ambitious vow of vengeance yet, Kratos went after Ares himself… but that wasn’t enough. After an assault on Rhodes, the gods grew tired of his defiance, so they stripped him of his power and left him for dead. However, Gaia, who has her own agenda in this, saves Kratos from his fate in the Underworld.

And now with God of War III, the epic finale begins with Kratos hitching a ride atop none other than Gaia, as they mount their assault on Olympus with Titans in tow.

Not unlike its predecessors, the plot is bare bones, if not formulaic. Once again, Kratos, seemingly at the top of his game, is smacked down and goes through the wringer to regain all his lost power. There’s a couple of twists that try to lend greater meaning to preceding entries, but they ultimately fail to evoke… well, anything.

Worse, character development is as stagnant as ever. Once upon a time, it wasn’t unreasonable to have a few shreds of sympathy for the demigod, but now? We’re brutally bludgeoned with the idea that Kratos has become the bad guy. This time, the consequences to his actions are literally tearing the world apart, but despite seeing what his vengeance has wrought, he couldn’t care less. Of course, that’s the point. In the end, Kratos was no better than the gods he was thwarting. It’s about tragedy more than redemption. Even so, couldn’t the writers have found a better way to incorporate his loss of self than by making him so one-dimensional?

But really, these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things. People don’t play God of War for the finesse of Shakespearian writing, but for action so big it puts major motion pictures to shame. Well, this game accomplishes that feat and then some. That ride on Gaia is no mere cut-scene, but the first playable portion of the game. Upon taking control of the series’ protagonist, you’ll be on the earth-mother’s arm, hacking and slashing your way through enemies as it tilts and sways. Before long, the camera zooms out to show her fending off watery tendrils summoned by Poseidon, and as she does, Kratos must dispatch foes as he dangles by his blades. Eventually, Poseidon calls upon Hippocampi, powerful monsters with horse-like heads, arthropod-inspired limbs, complete with the body of a serpent. Once it’s clear that Gaia is fighting a losing battle, Kratos steps in. As a result, we’re treated to an epic battle of god vs. demigod.

And that’s just the opening act.

This entire game settles for nothing less than tossing Kratos from one massive set-piece to the next. It was nonstop spectacle at its finest upon its initial release five years ago, and there hasn’t been a game that’s topped it since. If there’s one area this game DID revolutionize in, this is it.

Of course, all the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ would mean nothing if the controls were crap. But the gameplay itself, while not perfect, does a great job of making us feel like an extension of Kratos. When those chained blades are swung with surgical precision, it isn’t long before that feeling of epic badassery swells from within. You’d be surprised how long you can keep the same basic combos rolling off your fingers before they begin to feel tedious. However, to keep things fresh, Kratos earns new weapons and abilities throughout. Some add to the game’s ‘wow factor’ – you can make it rain arrows when in a pinch – but for the most part, there’s only a couple of enemies or puzzles that require their use. Furthermore, your primary blades become overpowered long before the end credits roll, so the other goodies feel more like bells and whistles than essential companions. Still, I can’t say the option to change things up wasn’t appreciated.

After all is said and done, God of War III is the undisputed king of gratuitous action. If you’ve never played this game for whatever reason, now is absolutely the time to buy.

But, what if you’ve already got a last-gen copy sitting at home? It was probably the best looking title on the PS3, so is it worth upgrading?

I’m a huge fan of the franchise, so I, personally, don’t regret spending the 40 bucks. The increased resolution of 1080p adds a touch more in the way of color and contrast, but the best part of this Remaster is its buttery smooth framerate. Not once did I experience a perceptible loss of frames.

That said, I can’t in good conscience recommend a purchase.

God of War III REMASTERED? Gotta love marketing and how it messes with consumer psychology!

This is a port. Nothing more. I know it’s still an arduous effort for the devs – especially since the game was originally designed for the PS3’s cell architecture – but a remaster, this is not.

Nor does it represent great value for its asking price, and ultimately, other studios have offered better. The Halo: Master Chief Collection delivers 4 games – or 5 if you were eligible for Halo 3: ODST – for $60. The Final Fantasy X collection has 2 games for $40. Saint’s Row 4’s port came with all DLC and an expansion for the same price. Even the Ultimate Edition of Gears of War comes with digital copies of the entire franchise… also $40, and it’s a true remaster, at that. So why didn’t Sony Santa Monica go above and beyond for the adventures of Kratos? Ascension could have been ported, not to mention the first couple of games which were already given an upscaled treatment. Hell, even the option to own – a term I use loosely – these games via PSNow would have sufficed. I understand this studio is hard at work on another game, but asking $40 for what’s essentially a straight port is a hard pill to swallow.

In order to justify a purchase, you either have to be a huge God of War fan, or someone who’s never played the third installment… which, to be fair, is the intended target audience anyway. However, if you fall somewhere in-between on the spectrum, you’d be wise to wait for the price to go down a bit at your local retailer.

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