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God of War Ascension: The Kotaku Review


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Initial post: Mar 12, 2013 1:39:15 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 12, 2013 2:49:46 PM PDT
Waldo says:
For the first four and a half hours of the new God of War, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the game was made by malfunctioning robots.

They were given the God of War formula and with swiveling clamp-hands, they made what is technically a God of War game. Kratos is angry! Chain-blades must be swung! Beasts will be gored! The first level must be as epic as Mount Olympus! You will be given extra attack moves! And then more attack moves! And then more-the ones you'll never use!

And...then you'll... be....riding a giant... flying... snake. And... remember the big slides in Super Mario 64? Kratos will slide down some slides. And then...

Does.

Not.

Compute.

At about the halfway mark of the game's 10-hour campaign-as the made-by-robots theory struggles with the I-guess-this-studio-spent-their-effort-on-the-new-multiplayer-mode-that-nobody-asked-for theory-you discover something new.

You discover that the game is weird, warped, and way better in its second half. This second half almost entirely absolves the first-half, which transitions from the snake section to the doling out of a bunch of elemental powers (fire! ice! lightning! and, uh, denizens of the undead!) and then to the granting to the player of what I thought was God of War's big new gimmick: Kratos' ability to turn a pile of rubble back into, say, the bridge it once was, and the corresponding ability to turn a bridge into rubble.

Look, we're never going to get an official Lego God of War, so let's settle for this? Actually, let's not. The offering is half-baked. Kratos can't rebuild any old rubble sitting around. He can only rebuild the rubble that glows green. He can only use his new magic to un-make structures that are green. This would work in an abstract puzzle game, but in a game that is richly rendered with all sorts of rubble and structures that beg to be made or unmade, this is just another video game invisible wall.

And then the game makes you backtrack through a bunch of areas you cleared and has the audacity to describe that reverse run as a handful of official story chapters.

Maybe we should move on to the good part.

The good part: the second half of the game mostly takes place in and on a giant skyscraper-sized statue of Apollo. Levels are named after Apollo's body parts. You're playing The Foot of Apollo! The Forearm of Apollo! The Ribs of Apollo! (Not making this up.) And as you play, you gain a few more ridiculous abilities that may or may not have been swiped from Zelda games. (Hint: Elegy of Emptiness). But you stop caring about the game's problems because you begin to enjoy-at least I began to enjoy-how good the game's combat feels.

You've been given a ludicrous arsenal, and though you are probably neglecting the weak ice moves, you're taking advantage of five hours of practice and five hours of being armed with new powers to switch from chain-blade attack to block to dodge to.... the game's refined grapple system.... the new melee moves that let you disarm enemies and use their weapons on them...the rage mode....the special magic... even that dopey decay/restore magic is good in combat. Moves chain together. Almost nothing is mapped to a many-button (dialed) combo. Almost all of it is a couple of button presses away. And it all feels so good to use against a crowd.

The game is sick with whatever disease the new Zelda games have. Its developers feel obligated to spend a stupid number of hours early on starting you from zero and giving you your proverbial bow and bombs and boomerang. And, as with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, it's only after you get past what amounts to newbie initiation that your move-set has enough new stuff in it (and enemies that compel you to use that stuff) that you get a sense of what Ascension is supposed to feel like. It feels like chaos, controlled.

The robots probably wouldn't have thought of some of Ascension's better tweaks to established God of War combat. The new disarmament system introduces some good risk-reward, as you first try to grab a knock a weapon from the hands of an enemy and then have to take the time to grab it while the enemies nearby are probably still trying to attack you. For all of Ascension's tiresome fealty to the God of War tropes of old-the slow-opening treasure chests, the red, blue and green orbs, etc.-the development team improves the button-combo finishing moves. No longer will you simply press a few buttons, when prompted, to stylishly kill a cyclops or gorgon. Nope. Now you will engage in a "mini-game". You/Kratos will hold the enemy with one hand, stab the enemy via rapid button presses with the other while occasionally needing to dodge the flailing enemy's counter-attacks using the analog stick. The sense of intimate struggle in these moments is Ascension at its best. Its violence is lurid as ever, but now it feels uncomfortably close. It feels like a struggle. And that feels like an improvement.

Ascension's story is as unnecessary as most prequels. Six or so games in, we don't need any further explanation as to why Kratos is so angry or how he broke from Ares. The game's villains, the Furies, are a step down from the Greek heroes, gods and titans of games past. Adding to the nonsense is the fact that this prequel is told and played mostly in flashback. That's right: it's a prequel that nests its own prequels. Spoiler (not really): at the end, Kratos is mad and a bit sad. Same as he ever was.

As you play the game, you may notice that it looks amazing. The series remains king of all games with fixed cameras. The cinematography is astounding, as you retain control of Kratos in combat while the camera glides from distant, epic scenes to close one-on-one battles.

You might also notice that the game contains a lot of breasts. They've got blood and entrails, too. But so do so many other violent combat games. God of War games are the ones that toss in a sex scene and then let us all marinate about why one censored sex scene per game is forever more scandalous than each game's many bloody eviscerations. I didn't even find a sex scene in this game, just a harem scene and an extraordinary amount of toplessness. The harem scene? It's gratuitous, but, hey, it's Greek mythology and Kratos is topless too. Or something. Most of the game's female enemies are topless, too. I'm not sure if it's meant to titillate but it remains one of God of War's less justifiable elements: that it can have its female toplessness and its male loincloths, too. Some private parts must remain private? To satisfy the ratings board? Maybe. But when a close-up kill include the slicing of a half-woman/half-snake from her neck to her breast, my takeaway is that I'd rather the sexualization of video game characters and the gory rendering of the death of game characters not be mixed. Please. Unless you're trying to elicit a reaction that's more "ugh" than "awesome!"

Sexy-death weirdness aside, Ascension pulls together nicely. Its back half justifies the training-wheels of its first half and then ends abruptly, properly leaving players wanting more. The "more" that is offered is a new-game-plus that, as with previous games in the series, lets you play through the game again with some of the moves you've earned and special combat modifiers.

The "more" is also the game's new multiplayer mode, which I've sampled but not soaked in. These multiplayer modes let you play in two-player (or solo, oddly) endurance runs against hordes of enemies or in competitive team or free-for-all battles against other players. Battles are set on levels that are packed with traps and platforms. Some good touches are imported from the single-player game: many of the combat moves, the disarming stuff and the ability to jack a giant troll and ride him like a bulldozer over other players, to name a few. These multiplayer modes justify repeat playing by tying weapon, armor, item and magic unlocks to the accruing of experience points. The foundation seems good. We'll see what players make of it in the weeks to come.

There's something quite tired about Kratos that makes all of these God of War games feel at least partially like factory productions. The loyalty to Kratos' two-note demeanor feels in need of a shake-up, and the game suffers from a wearying checklisting of recurring enemy-types. Plus it all takes place in the same over-familiar setting, telling the same style of story, reusing the block-pushing puzzles (enough! no more of them! please?). For the love of God of War, Sony developers, can we go to Egypt next? Or something else that actually feels fresh?

But for all my belly-aching, there's no denying that this new game feels good. There's no denying that its combat tornadoes into something gloriously varied and responsive. And that's why, despite its shortcomings, it feels like a success.

Should You Play This Game? YES

WHY: Even though the first half of the game is as tired as the next Zelda quest that has you fetching a bow-and-arrow, the game alters and refines the series' combat into an arsenal that feels, by halfway, glorious to wield. Plus, the camerawork's amazing.

God of War: Ascension
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Platforms: PS3
Release Date: March 12

Type of game: Third-person ripping of Greek deities into bloody bits. Now also with multiplayer.

What I played: Ten hours, 20 minutes to clear the game's campaign. A sampling of multiplayer modes, but only enough to rank my fighter to level three.

My Two Favorite Things

A varied arsenal that, at last, feels accessible and balanced, encouraging a winter weather system's worth of attacks.
The camerawork. Still the God of Cinematography.

My Two Least-Favorite Things

The sexing-up of enemies that I am then required to cleave into bloody bits. Gross.
Block-pushing puzzles. Give me a micro-transaction to skip them, and I'll pay double.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

"Unless you're going to say he got angry because of midichlorians, I'm past caring."
-Stephen Totilo, Kotaku.com

"Watch the game, and you'll just think the players are sick. Play the game, and you'll understand what feels so right."
-Stephen Totilo. Kotaku.com

http://kotaku.com/5990207/god-of-war-ascension-the-kotaku-review?utm_campaign=Socialflow_Kotaku_Facebook&utm_source=Kotaku_Facebook&utm_medium=Socialflow

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 1:41:19 PM PDT
MrFoxhound says:
Sounds like someone wrote this review a little too soon after getting through the Trials of Archimedes.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 1:44:07 PM PDT
got mayo?™ says:
No IGN review yet? Moriarty and Miller must be 69'ng over it...

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 1:46:29 PM PDT
MrFoxhound says:
Ugh, what a terrible mental image, thanks.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 1:48:10 PM PDT
got mayo?™ says:
I'm positive it looks grosser in person.

Seriously , nearing 5pm ET over here and no review from 9GN on a big release. Odd.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 1:49:11 PM PDT
MrFoxhound says:
The SP review is up, but no score. They're going through the MP now.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 1:52:27 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 12, 2013 1:56:30 PM PDT
"Even though the first half of the game is as tired as the next Zelda quest that has you fetching a bow-and-arrow,"

What? I don't know about GoW, but starting from zero and getting the Bow, bombs, boomerang, hookshot etc. etc. in Zelda is one of the many reasons why the games are so fun.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 1:53:43 PM PDT
That's what they're calling it, eh?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 1:53:50 PM PDT
MrFoxhound says:
Not really. You'd think after a while, like once over the last 30 years, ol' Link would keep a stock of common items that he's sure to need. At least empty, glass bottles.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 1:57:47 PM PDT
Lucanus says:
Except it isn't the same Link every time. :P

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 2:41:13 PM PDT
MrFoxhound says:
Yeah that was a pretty clever way for them to make the player jump through the same hoops.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 2:45:58 PM PDT
As a kid, I never understood why Mega Man would just forget the abilities he stole from his enemies... It wasn't until Mega Man X came out (I believe it was X3) that Capcom AT LEAST left his upgraded armor when you started. I believe he got stripped of it and its abilities shortly after, though...

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 2:52:02 PM PDT
uncledonnie3 says:
I'm pretty sure it's because it's a video game.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 3:01:13 PM PDT
Stupid Mega Man video games... -_-
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Discussion in:  Video Games forum
Participants:  8
Total posts:  14
Initial post:  Mar 12, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 12, 2013

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