The gaming world's most-famous, bald-headed curmudgeon returns to smite all mythical evildoers across Greece in the third-person adventure God of War: Ascension (SCEA and Santa Monica Studios, Rated Mature, reviewed for the PlayStation 3, $59.99).
I thought we had seen the last of the warrior Kratos as he crushed the Mount Olympus gods into oblivion in 2010's hit, but Sony had other violent thoughts.
Let's stick a player in control of the mighty human in the early days of his tragic life, having recently been tricked into killing his wife and child, and before he had the powers of, wait for it, a God of War.
As the lore goes, to delve out the wrath of the always-bickering Primordials, the Furies were brought forth. These enforcers of the gods captured the great Spartan general for his insolence, and after Kratos escapes, it's an epic tale of revenge that even Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez combined could not have imagined.
As always, it begins with an exhausting epic boss battle against a multistory tall creature, a possessed Hecatonchires. About 45 minutes of action to finish off the hands-on kind of guy, and the rampage continues through more massive battles where our hero can appear the size of a pea onscreen, dwarfed by the gigantic landscapes.
In a perpetual state of seethe, this Ghost of Sparta rampages on Centaurs, Chimera, Satyrs, Elephantaurs, Gorgons and Harpies and Manticores ripping out entrails, splitting them in half and stomping them into early, permanent retirement.
As in previous games, our pale pal uses his chain tethered Blades of Chaos to deliver most damage as he collects multicolored orbs (expelled by dead enemies or hidden in chests), Gorgons Eyes, Phoenix Feathers, solves the occasional environmental puzzle and performs such stunts as riding a Cyclops before splitting it open like a gutted pig.
Do I care this brute now owns the Amulet of Uroborus and can reconstruct a bridge from the rubble or bring down the same structure like some M-rated version of a Lego video game?
Not really, but it is a cool addition. Do I appreciate a new disarmament system that allows me to collect spears, shields cleaves and swords from my soon-to-be-dissected foes.
Sure, and I liked the more intimate combat mini-games where grabbing an opponent in tandem with pummeling them leads to some grotesque results.
Once Kratos' ascension (get it) through the massive statue of Apollo begins, the action takes an outrageous hack and slash, wildly cinematic turn of dynamism fully powered by fire, electricity, ice and souls of Hades.
It will find a player overloaded with powers and toweling off early and often while partaking in its brutality.
At the end of the 10 hours or so journey God of War: Ascension, as is par for the course, a player learns that ancient Greece has never been so bloody and our head case of a friend, never so enraged.
So what else is new?
That's not rhetorical, as what's also really new is the multiplayer option.
It's eight players in teams or against each other, as gladiatorial slaves to the gods, battling to become champions. Align with Ares, Hades, Zeus or Poseidon to tap into each deity's powers, dress up your champion (with traditional armor, garb and weapons from the time period) and jump into the arenas.
Now perform the Hulk smash with a controlled button mash on opponents while collecting riches, finding weapons, setting traps and accumulating favor points to succeed. It’s the Spartacus Super Smash Bros.
For the best modes of the bunch, try the death matches Favour of the Gods and Match of Champions, or Trial of the Gods, a timed cooperative struggle against waves of creatures.
Best part of the multiplayer maps is a massive Cyclops oversees the proceedings in the Desert of Lost Souls presenting a nightmare for combatants that even the great Oracle could not have foretold.
Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after watching Kratos split open the skull of an Elephantaur and watch its exposed brain undulate, decided to label this game "M" and that stands for mature — adults 17 years and older need only try to control a Spartan in God of War: Ascension. So don't let your 14–year-old convince you that "it's like 'Wrath of the Titans,' and yeah Dad, you get to learn about some cool creatures from multicultural mythology. It's really educational." The game highlights a topless, always bloodied Kratos, occasional topless females and plenty of topless creatures (as in missing heads) in a swirling journey of eviscerations barely digestible for a sane 49-year-old.
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