In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog… I killed everyone. It left me empty and disgusted.
There are few moments in my life where I have been ashamed to show what I am playing/watching to my friends and family. Many of the really ridiculous things can be laughed off or explained with, “haha, video-games, am I right?”. However, when I played and finished God Of War 3, I felt genuinely embarrassed. It is so flamboyantly stupid and misogynistic, even more so than the previous games, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. This is a shame, because it is perhaps the best of the series in many ways.
Before we get into the more objectionable parts of God Of War 3, I have to commend several aspects of it. For one, it looks awesome. For an eight year old game, I was still impressed by the sheer size and scale on display. At points, it is genuinely awe-inspiring and it never loses that feeling. It begins with you fighting Poseidon on the back of Gaia and I thought this was just a strong opening to hook you in, but no, the game tops that spectacle two or three more times. Killing Cronos, a Titan so huge he was a whole level in the first game was extraordinary, whilst the finale against Zeus was epic in a whole different way. And, to cap it off, it never ever looks bad, graphically speaking. Everything is at a high-resolution, for the time, and rarely drops below sixty frames-per-second. That latter part is perhaps the most impressive thing this game does. I have to say, after playing both this game and the third Uncharted game consecutively, I have grown to respect the Playstation 3 hardware a lot more than I initially did. That thing was a beast when utilised correctly.
Also much like Uncharted: Drake’s Deception, this game is exceedingly iterative on the previous games, especially when it comes to the game-mechanics. Your main weapons and combos are the same, and God of War 3 even has the same problem the previous games had of relying too much on quick-time events (which distracts from what is happening on the screen). I did appreciate the inclusion of the new weapons, however, particularly Hades’ hooks and Hermes’ winged boots. They were a lot of fun to use and had some interesting abilities. Hades’ hooks, for example, can summon the souls of dead enemies to attack for you. Whilst Hermes boots give you a charge that leaves a trail of explosions in its wake. Looking back, perhaps I should have notched the difficulty up a tad because I found the combat encounters to be easy, barring a few late-game arenas and Zeus. What did kill me the most was the platforming sections which, much like the previous releases, were very stiff and at times needlessly difficult due to the camera. It is a shame that the developers didn’t fix that part of the game, but it didn’t frustrate me too much.
The big Achilles Heel of this game is the aggressive stupidity of the narrative. Kratos trying to find Pandora’s Box, again, to unleash some remaining evil that stuck around after the first time he opened it up in the original God of War is so unoriginal, I was almost impressed. And it is told in such a convoluted way that when I tried to describe it to a friend of mine, I actually felt like I was getting stupider as I was going over each story beat. Again, much like Uncharted 3, it felt like the writers let the graphics team dictate where the story would go and they wrote around it. But that isn’t the worst aspect of the story. I don’t know what happened to the writers between God of War 2 and 3 but whoever’s decision it was to transform Kratos into even more of a petulant, needlessly violent, humourless edge-lord needs a firm talking to. It is commendable how interesting the writers made the gods, they are all far better than Kratos himself, but the way they make sure Kratos kills them in the most grotesque and gratuitously violent ways really soured me. Hera, for example, has watched you kill all of her children and is justifiably pissed off. She then calls Pandora a whore or something and, because Kratos suddenly had fatherly feelings for this metal girl who he has only seen in projections, he goes up to her and breaks her neck. Ordinarily I don’t mind violence, but I just felt like that reaction was a step too far.
However, all this is nothing compared to the heinous ending. You spend two-thirds of the game killing civilians, gods and mythological creatures with wanton abandon all in the name of vengeance. Then, like I mentioned earlier, Kratos becomes a father figure to Pandora and the writers try really hard to humanize him. And it falls flat on its face. At no point could I feel empathy for a man whom I have spent two and a quarter games with being the biggest wanker in all of Greece. And then they have the balls to make the ultimate weapon in Pandora’s Box… Hope. Put in there by Athena when Zeus was pouring all of Greece’s evils into the box. That is it. And that is how Kratos kills Zeus… by essentially weaponising hope and bringing him from the brink of death. When I realised what was happening and where the game was going to go I actually sat there gob-smacked that someone would actually, un-ironically, use that worn-out cliché in the twenty-first century. I genuinely felt that my intelligence was insulted. My friends couldn’t believe it either. It was like the writers wrote themselves into a corner with how Pandora’s Box can still be relevant against Zeus and again made the laziest decision possible. Awful stuff.
I don’t want to dwell on the misogyny in God of War 3, but I have to mention it. The game ticks every box for tired tropes regarding women. And the way they use those characters in the narrative is downright despicable. For example, in Poseidon’s chamber you come across a scantily clad slave girl with her large breasts on display. You then force her to do your bidding until you tie her to a winch that Kratos himself was having trouble lifting. This is the solution to a puzzle to allow you to go through a portal that was behind a door. So far so, relatively, harmless. But what makes become disgustingly sexist is; once the puzzle has been solved, you hear a scream and a squish. Turns out, the winch was so tense/heavy that it crushes the slave girl (keeping the door permanently open) and turns her into a puddle of guts. Then, to top it all off, an achievement pops up saying something like “I didn’t… but I wish I did” or words to that effect. I was left thinking, “I never want to meet the ‘incel’ whose idea it was for that level and achievement.” And the less I say about the sex scene with Aphrodite, where Kratos is so good at ‘the sex’ two concubines become so turned on they themselves start having sex, the better. A lot of people will say that it is just the “pulpy aesthetic” the God of War games strive for. I have no problem with pulp – you can load up a game with all the blood, violence and breasts you like – but at least have some sensitivity to how you represent women.
In the end, God of War 3 left me with a sour taste in my mouth. The final boss was amazing and incredibly cathartic, but the journey there was so abhorrent that it really poisoned my enjoyment of the game. It is a shame because, as I have mentioned, there is a lot to laud in God of War 3. It just isn’t the writing which, in a fairly story-driven game, is a large problem. I hear the fourth one released this year fixes that particular issue, however, so I will certainly give it a go one day.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Drakengard 3