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Brutal 'God of War III' is all the rage

Published:Saturday | March 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Lou Kesten, AP Writer

Kratos is one angry guy. Once a Spartan warrior, he was tricked into killing his own family by the god of war, Ares. Since then, he's been on a mission of vengeance against not just Ares, but the entire pantheon of Greek gods.

Ares got his comeuppance in 2005's God of War, with Kratos assuming his title. But the bruiser never got along with the big cheese, Zeus, who bounced him down to Hades in 2007's sequel. Zeus, we learned, was Kratos' father - and in God of War III (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, US$59.99), Kratos is determined to make Daddy pay.

Before tackling the king, Kratos has to take out lesser deities like Poseidon, Helios and Hermes, not to mention his half-brother Hercules. There's also a bestiary full of fantastic monsters like centaurs, gorgons and Minotaurs, some of whom (like the three-headed dog Cerberus) will give Kratos a ride once he's beaten them silly.

God of War III begins with a spectacular set piece. Kratos is climbing Mount Olympus on the back of Gaia, the mother of the Titans, when they're attacked by Poseidon. The warrior is dwarfed by both Titan and deity, and he has to scramble across Gaia's body to get to Poseidon's weak points. The perspective shifts nimbly between tiny Kratos and massive Poseidon, managing to be awesome without being overwhelming.

blood-drenched combat

The opening battle redefines 'epic', at least as far as video games are concerned, and nothing else in God of War III quite surpasses it. There is plenty of the blood-drenched combat this franchise is known for, with every severed limb and gouged-out eyeball presented in gory detail. There's even some morbid comedy: For example, once Kratos has disconnected sun god Helios' head, he can use it for a lantern.

Kratos does encounter some puzzles, especially after stumbling into Daedalus' labyrinth late in the game, but none are particularly demanding. And the journey, from the heights of Olympus to the depths of Hades and back, is stubbornly linear; I would have liked the freedom to explore the spectacular settings more.

Indeed, what's most dissatisfying about God of War III is its insistence that you do exactly what its designers want you to do; you can't even adjust the camera angles. Sure, you can switch among four different weapons, but three of them feel almost identical. Visually, this is a dazzling showcase for the PS3, but the core gameplay hasn't evolved since the first chapter.

Your enjoyment of God of War III is likely to depend on whether you really want to spend 12 hours or so with its surly protagonist. His single-minded focus on bloody vengeance is wearying; when he did take a break, for an extremely awkward sex scene with Aphrodite, I found myself hoping he would then take a nap for a while.

At the end, the developers at Sony's Santa Monica, California, studio try to soften Kratos a little, but at heart he's just a big dumb jerk. I've enjoyed his adventures over the last decade, but I won't be sad if I never see him again.

Rated: ★★★