Friday, March 15, 2013

REVIEW - God of War : Ascension.

If you go into God of War: Ascension anticipating some of - if not the - most gorgeous graphics on the current gen and some brutal, gory fatalities, you won't be disappointed.  As Kratos strolls his way through flickering lamplight, as he dispatches a foe with the camera zoomed in to the point where he and they fill the screen, one is regularly and often awestruck by how remarkably beautiful this game is - and that's a big part of the God of War formula.  But it's not the entire formula.

A God of War game is not merely gorgeous - it must be gorgeous on a level that no other developer could even attempt.  It must be epic on a scale that no other action game can imagine, and it must take the standards of your run-of-the-mill hack'n'slash and crank everything to eleven.  It must be polished to the point where one could reasonably tweeze their eyebrows by staring at their reflection in its heavily lacquered sheen.

Ascension's got its moments, there's no denying that. Fantastic moments of riding epic mile-long snakes through the mountains around the Temple at Delphi, wicked-cool opening moments of fighting a living prison the size of Everest, but it packs few surprises.

It doesn't leave one agape, as previous console entries have (okay, well, the final-final-final boss is perhaps best described as a photorealistic leviathan).  It doesn't feel like an event of a game, and doesn't leave much of an impression.

It's a footnote in the God of War canon.  A B-side.  Slightly better-looking than God of War III, but far less interesting.  It takes just as long to complete, but is less ambitious, less inspired.

Less enjoyable.

Perhaps this is what Sony Santa Monica gets for creating an impossible-to-follow standard of quality - and let it not be said they have entirely rested on their laurels.  God of War III was severely hampered by a grab system that would regularly get the player killed, but in Ascension the thing has been entirely corrected, and makes for a new sense of empowerment as you fling one of your blades into an enemy across the room, yank on the chain and send him flying into a hulking monstrosity.

Another central change to the combat is less uniformly successful.  Kratos no longer has immediate access to his old bread-and-butter combos, and must fill a rage meter (that immediately empties when you get hit or end combat) in order to use them.  It's possible - perhaps even likely - that I suck at God of War, but this system essentially denied me the use of Kratos's trademark combat abilities for about ninety-five per cent of my fights.

On the bright side, when you're not just spamming Plume of Prometheus every five seconds, you have to learn to lean on all the other tricks Kratos has in his repertoire, and - aside from a terrible parry mechanic - this makes for more challenging, more involving combat, even if the player is often denied the beautiful impact of Kratos's full fury.

Slick combat and ridiculously attractive graphics are nothing to sneeze at.  Strengths like this don't simply congeal out of thin air - and they are appreciated - but they don't stop Ascension from feeling unnecessary.

The story is a snore, that's for certain.  Since God of War, fans of the series have known that there is one chilling story at the heart of the franchise - and given that a lot of the media surrounding the game has referenced it, one can be forgiven for hoping the game would explore it - but no.  This is not the story of how an ambitious young captain with the Spartan army sold his soul to an omnipotent psychopath and made the ultimate mistake, condemning him to servitude and madness.  It's just another game detailing how pissed off Kratos is about his mistake, and all the supernatural nasties who'll suffer as a result.

I've played that game before.

You can feel it trying to recapture some of the cooler moments of the series' past (it often recalls the grand vistas of God of War II and the Temple of Pandora from God of War), but it's more of a hindrance than a help to the game, hammering home the awkward feeling that these tales of a warrior from ancient Greece are stuck in the past.

Pushing boxes around for the millionth time.  Nudging the analog stick to the right so Kratos will slowly scoot along a ledge...

Santa Monica, you're an industry leader who's not leading.  You're rehashing - and not even to the same level you managed in the past.  You are as bound by formula as Kratos is by these chains.

So this is it.  This is your Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time.  This is your Tomb Raider: Underworld, your Devil May Cry 4.  This is the point at which your formula - which was excellent, once - has exhausted itself, and you need to put down the Kool-aid and step away.

Take some time off, go out into the woods and just chill for a bit.  Reflect on what's important to you, what would actually inspire you, what you would feel genuinely passionate about.  Find something you would really get excited about - because it's not this.  Not any more.  It's time for a break.

After fighting another army of goat-man soldiers and another bunch of three-headed hellhounds who've had their color palettes tweaked a bit... I know I'm ready for one.


  1. did it end with the exact same fight with Zeus again, he asked pretty sarcastically?

  2. Actually no. Mechanically, I didn't feel the fight was as good as the one(s) at the end of God of War II, but visually it was pretty fucking spectacular. "Photorealistic leviathan" does a pretty good job of it - I was honestly stunned by how good-looking it was.