From hells heart, I stab at thee…
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 3 / Price: £34.99 / Time Played: 10+ hours
God of War: Ascension has one massive problem.
Well, I say “one massive problem”. Actually it has plenty of little problems, but there’s something that really bothers me about this game. I love the God of War series. I love it’s origins based in the root of Greek mythology – something I have been a big fan of since childhood. I love it’s silly over-the-top action, it’s senseless violence and how it makes no concession to its source material. Greek mythology is brutal, and nasty, and full of very nasty and angry people. There are horrible things in it; on the milder side, you have polygamy and cheating on your wife (who happens to be a goddess in the case of Athena and Zeus, which leads to some pretty spectacular spousal fights!), you have jealousy and betrayal, you have deceit and blackmail. And that is before you get to its deeper roots, where incest and rape and murder are rife within its tales of gods and men, and their intertwining fates. God of War has never toned down the source material; it has positively revelled in it.
So we have a prequel of sorts, which comes off a little strange but alright. The opening segment is Kratos and his escape from the Hecatonchires – a giant who was one of a small group who overthrew the Titans, before making pacts with the new Gods of Mount Olympus. He broke the oath he swore with the gods; and the Furies – agents of the Gods will – turned him into stone, and turned his still-alive carcass into a gigantic prison from which they could do their will. Kratos, at the start, seems to be in the wrong place. But ultimately it’s one of those sneaky flash-forwards; and the game proper is another tale of learning the truth, of acceptance and ultimately vengeance. Which Kratos is very good at, seeing as he’s a big shouty Spartan.
God of War: Ascension is, by any account, a fantastically pretty game. And it’s here that we begin to see a problem. God of War has always been over the top violent, but with the polish and detail that comes with experience, Ascension is at times just plain gruesome. Brains are exposed, arms are ripped off as are heads. And it gets worse when you come to the female enemies, where Kratos seems to have a morbid fascination with violating their mammaries in the process of killing them. God of War has never been shy of its gruesome detail; but there comes a point where it seems quite overdone and excessive. In the past we didn’t have the technical ability to go into such detail; now, we do.
Part of the reasoning for that however brings me to my greatest criticism; forget the violence for a moment. Clear that from your mind – because my greatest criticism of God of War: Ascension is that it feels far, far too ancient.
In recent months, I’ve played many brawlers. DmC: Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Anarchy Reigns and I’ve even gone back to Bayonetta lately too. God of War: Ascension doesn’t hold a candle to its rivals, and it’s the shock value that the violence provides that appears to be its biggest draw. When it comes to scenery design, Anarchy Reigns and DmC: Devil May Cry come out far more in terms of interaction, imagination and general polish. When it comes to the combat system, you can name many games which have far more depth and breadth to them for relatively less effort overall. There are platforming segments lifted from a certain neighbouring kingdom of Persia, but these are overused and fiddly at the best of times. One of the earliest issues comes being chased by a broken elevator motor, and it’s so slow and clunky and so set in its fiddly ways that you’ll die several times and redo it over and over before you get to the top.
To compound matters, the camera is woefully dodgy as well. At times it pans out in a 2.5D platformer style that leaves you squinting for detail, where other moments it steadfastly refuses to turn a corner with you. When you have a game primarily about fighting, the player needs to feel in control and informed at all times. Any lapse in the camera is just unacceptable. Sure, the views are nice. But you can stop and admire the views any time you want. In a moment of trying to get to another area – often with moving platforms and timed breakages – any failing with the camera is amplified tenfold. It’s not unfair to say that the camera in God of War: Ascension feels like something we were moving away from in the PS2 era. At the end of the PlayStation 3’s lifespan, you can almost hear it creaking, it’s so decrepit and rusty.
And that is the single player of God of War: Ascension in a nutshell. It’s a game that never grew up. The market, and its competition, have moved on and become better. Brawlers and platformers have become better at delivering and rewarding players with more than a moment of brief nudity or gratuitous violence. There is nothing in Ascension that equates to God of War 3’s opening, or its scale, or its polish. Ascension feels like a game that should have been out two or three years ago; if not at the start of this generation, when we’d be more tolerant of its failings. With so many better single-player campaigns out there to buy, it’s a crushing blow to Sony Santa Monica that they dropped the ball on this one. All that it has going for it is the excessive gore and violence – and there are many articles out there on the Internet which deal with the political and socio-idealistic pitfalls of this. I shall leave this one in their capable hands.
However, Ascension does have one saving grace; the multiplayer. It is here where the game suddenly makes a little more sense.
The initial choosing of gods – basically, choose your class; Warrior, Rogue, Mage or Support – delivers a more tactical, intensely team-focused edge. Far from the slapstick and crazy stylings of Anarchy Reigns, the multiplayer in Ascension is considered, restrained and very methodical. The combat system comes with a range of visual cues in order to give the experienced an edge in the thick of it, and experience can be spent on upgrading your characters. With items to help – and hinder – and plenty of wit, it is perilously close to brilliant. So close that had it jettisoned the single player aspect and focused solely on the multiplayer experience and filed off just a few of those rough edges – cameras mainly – Sony could have delivered a knockout multiplayer experience here.
As it stands, however, it’s bolted on as an optional extra to a franchise that now just seems a bit silly, a bit old, a bit creaky. Time has not been kind to Ascension; nor has the market, with plenty of alternatives to be enjoying in recent weeks and months. For all the multiplayer does right; the single player robs it of the dignity and gravitas that it deserves in context. Sony could so easily have sold the multiplayer on its own. It didn’t need the single player bit at all. It feels like its there because… well… because it’s the only place to put it.
That’s a real shame. Because the multiplayer is worth the entry fee. But the single player experience really is not. So it’s entirely your choice. If you’re like me and you prefer solid single-player titles with a decent story and proper controls, this is one to avoid. If you want an interesting, spunky take on multiplayer fighting – then the multiplayer will be right up your alley. That the two are kept either side of a wrought-iron fence with fifty thousand volts charging through it is no co-incidence however. Somehow, in some way, I think Sony knew that the single player was a sinking ship and did everything they could to separate the two.
Sony will have to ask themselves if it was worth risking the franchise on. Time will tell… but this is not Kratos’ finest hour.
But he’s really not the star of the show – no matter what the title tells you.
- Great multiplayer mode.
- Very pretty game.
- Nice sound.
- Single player campaign just… isn’t very good at all.
- I want to fire that camera into the sun. Seriously. Why do we still have bad camera issues?
- Definitely not a game for the squeamish either.
- No wonder Kratos is so angry… he’s got nothing under his loincloth. The Gods, they are so cruel…
- Kratos makes too much of the female form. Not in a good way either.
- A little creative licence has gone awry.
- A game I’d have raved about… in the PS2 era.
- No seriously, where is the camera guy? I want to introduce him to my crutches…
OVERALL CONCLUSION – The Gods have abandoned me… (8/10 for the multiplayer, 5/10 for the single player campaign)
Yes, I feel it’s necessary to split the two. Because if you buy this game for the God of War aspect, you’re in for a world of disappointment. It’s just… not very good. However, if you’re after a good multiplayer experience, this is certainly worth checking out. But considering it is better, this isn’t really God of War. Or rather, they didn’t need the single player to sell this game. If anything, it ruins the package somewhat…