- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer:Santa Monica Studios
- Players: 1 (offline), 1-8 (online)
- Site: http://www.godofwar.com/verify_age/?next=/
Everybody’s favourite angry bald man called Kratos is back, this time in an origin story of sorts. The Ascension tag is alluded to during play via the fact that progress almost always means moving upwards; but it also takes on an unintentional – and undoubtedly unwanted – meaning. Though released in 2013, this seems to be a Kratos that is only just beginning to find his feet gameplay wise – and has a long journey ahead of him before he reaches the glory of God of War III.
In terms of plot this is essentially fan service as, despite being a prequel, not much of anything will make a lot of sense if this is your first God of War game. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the fact that there is very little storytelling at all in the first half of the game – combined with the odd decision to scramble the timeline of the narrative – means that this is probably the weakest of the series in terms of story. The foundation remains the same as ever, of course; somebody has made our heroic Spartan angry, and as a result he wants to rip them apart.
Nobody plays a God of War game for the script, though (surely?). Looking to combat, we can see that the system is the best it’s ever been. Your weapon comes in four flavours – Fire (spicy), Ice (spearmint), Electricity (tangy), and Soul (blackcurrant). The differences between these alignments are sadly mostly cosmetic, but that doesn’t really matter. After just a few hours, you’ll already have a pleasing range of combos and special abilities – a range that steadily increases due to upgrades and story events. There are even limited-use weapons to be picked up from the environment to mix things up a bit. It’s undeniably satisfying to get a powerful enemy trapped in a whirlwind of combo attacks and magic.
With the right stick on dodging duties, the player has no control over the camera. Santa Monica’s solution to this here has been to set the camera at a great distance, with the occasional zoom in for a gruesome finishing move. It does seem that this has been done not for our convenience, but to (a) acclimatise players to the inclusion of the world’s most unnecessary multiplayer, and (b) constantly show the scale of your surroundings, and how terribly impressive it all is. Aside from the fact that this has resulted in graphics slightly less impressive than 2010’s GoW III (including occasional frame rate issues, especially in cutscenes), the camera constantly proves to be a thorn in the side of the whole experience.
The camera sometimes pulls away further than ever to drink in the environment, and set the scene; fine, no problem there. Where there is a problem is where this happens with you in full control of Kratos – surrounded by enemies. It’s rare that the camera falls back to a god-sim-like distance during gameplay, but it does happen. Even when the camera is set at a semi-reasonable distance, the flashy visual effects triggered by you and your enemies alike mean it can sometimes be a struggle to see exactly what’s going on. If you play on a small to mid-size TV, there will be times you lose track of where Kratos is. GoW III made you feel like the hero in an ultraviolent Ray Harryhausen movie; Ascension makes you feel like you’re remote controlling a child’s playset through a telescope.
Another major difference from the last game is the much heavier emphasis on platforming and puzzles. Again, the camera proves your greatest obstacle here. It’s no exaggeration to say that our deaths from platforming were at least double our deaths from combat (which were few), thanks to gaps being difficult to judge in terms of distance – or even placement. There’s a clear 21st century Prince of Persia influence here, complete with a riff on the time manipulation idea. Some of the puzzles are very well thought out, but few rely on the timeshifting mechanic – which is more often than not used for insultingly simple interactions which would have served better as cutscenes.
Single player is also riddled with glitches, many of which will make it impossible to progress without rebooting your PS3. We encountered only one, and you may be lucky enough to avoid them entirely; but the fact that they are there at all is cause for concern. It’s not all bad news because, as we said, the combat system is the best yet – and when the camera isn’t frustrating the experience, it’s great fun. You’re also treated to a suitably epic final boss battle which finishes the game off nicely (though isn’t anywhere near as difficult as the infamous Trial of Archimedes). With that said, the ending is rather unsatisfactory when compared to that of – yes – God of War III.
As for the multiplayer, well… you may already know what you think of that from the beta. Deafened by the noise of millions of people not asking for it, Santa Monica decided to finally include an online mode. The co-op trial (which can also be played solo) against waves of enemies is mildly diverting, but the competitive modes can’t be saved by decent ideas such as player-triggered traps and environmental hazards in the form of huge mythical beasts. Combat (between customisable and upgradable rentaheroes) feels slightly awkward at best, and… there’s a Capture The Flag mode, for heaven’s sake! In a God of War game!
It’s thankfully rare in this day and age to find a game with a troublesome camera. Combine that with Ascension’s insistence on throwing QTEs at you at every opportunity (and, arguably, a less than modern attitude to women), and it looks painfully out of touch with the modern gaming landscape. While great fun in fits and bursts, God of War: Ascension struggles to climb higher than halfway up the evolutionary tree.