Brash, brutal, spectacular and anything but subtle, SONY's God of War series mimics the style and ambiance of the Greek myths from which it draws influence. Placing players in the leather-strapped sandals of Kratos, a bare-chested warrior sick with revenge, the five previous titles in the series have allowed us to face up to Homeric gods and monsters millennia old - before tearing them limb from limb in a narrative arc that's rarely anything but crimson-soaked. God of War: Ascension, the sixth game in a series that spans across two PlayStations and a handheld, is a prequel that offers, for the first time, an expansive suite of online multiplayer modes to supplement the thrill-ride single player campaign.
That single player story opens with Kratos chained atop a stone column being tortured by one of the Furies - the three sisters who hunt any who break a blood oath with a god. A grotesque monster that sweats attack bugs through her pores, you must dodge her flailing attacks while attempting to break free of the chains. Do so and the hunter becomes the hunted as you propel Kratos forward through a diverse set of Greek environments - ancient marbled temples, majestic aqueducts that power giant mechanical cogs, mountains and rivers - destroying any creature that tries to impede progress.
It turns out, unsurprisingly for anyone who's played the previous titles, that there is a huge number of creatures eager to do that impeding. In the war on mythology, Kratos has an increasingly wide range of attacks at his disposal. You begin the game with just the trusty Blades of Chaos, used to rip and slice enemies into puffs of crimson mist. Light and heavy attacks can be interspersed with one another, while launchers will propel enemies into the air before a chain attack can latch onto them and draw them into you again.
When they're sufficiently weakened, a red or white halo will appear above an enemy inviting a flamboyant finishing move. Larger enemies can even be mounted and used to attack smaller foes, while the biggest monsters must be felled by following on-screen button prompts to trigger gruesome eviscerations. The violence is stylised and cartoonish, but still manages to shock at times.
As the game progresses you gain access to new abilities and tools - four elemental properties that can be added to all attacks (fire, ice, electric, soul), each selected by a swift (sometimes mid-combo) tap of the d-pad. You can also pick up man-made equipment such as swords and shields that can be threaded into your usual slick combos. Later in the game, SONY Santa Monica introduces the Amulet of Urobotus, a non-violent tool that allows players to highlight pieces of scenery and either restore them to their former usefulness, or smash them into rubble. This item is cleverly used in a range of different environmental puzzles, adding welcome variety to the otherwise relentless bloodshed. This item can even be used in battle thereafter, aimed at foes to inflict slow motion on their action, allowing you to manage mobs of enemies with increasing ease.
Collect hidden artefacts in the game and, upon completion, you can replay with, infinite rage for example, or triple the length of time on your combo meter. But the main source of replay value when the storyline is over is the multiplayer section of the game, which allows players to compete against one another using the battle techniques learned in the campaign. Here the game reveals the true depth and intricacy of its battle system, the full range of offensive and defensive moves offering the kind of taut, reactive competition in this context that are more usually found in a fighting game - refuting accusations that God of War is a 'button-mashing' series.
Slick, well-oiled and expertly constructed, God of War Ascension may at times fall a little short of the wonder and spectacle of its predecessor God of War III, but it's nevertheless an enthralling retelling of the Kratos myth for those who are yet to have their appetite for revenge sated.
- Environmental puzzles
- The campaign is over-familiar
- The storyline
- Weak puzzles in first half of game