- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at God of War III (from Sony Computer Entertainment America, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $59.99).

One of the most anticipated video games of the year finally has arrived on the PlayStation 3 to give a solo player control of the most famous Greek god-slayer in pop culture.

In the final chapter of the Ghost of Sparta trilogy, Kratos assaults Zeus’ Mount Olympus and the depths of Hades’ domain on a blood-soaked binge of revenge.

What’s the story: From the manual Before the age of the twilight set upon the gods, a legend rose to take his place among them. Even though Kratos sat on the throne as the new God of War, he was haunted by the visions of his family, a family he murdered. Tormented by the gods, Kratos sought vengeance from the highest order. The hands of death could not defeat him, the Sisters of Fate could not control him, and any who stood before him fell by his blades.

Play the role: Never looking so realistically ferocious, the pale, muscular warrior is manipulated through a gantlet of subterranean, underwater and above-ground death traps. They include visiting the pit of Tartarus, Gates of Elysium and the ancient ruins of the city of Olympia to meet legends such as Hades, Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Athena, Hephaestus and all of the Titans.

Besides the steady collection of primary weapons, Kratos quickly finds uses for the wings of Icarus that sprout from his back (traverse chasms), Hermes’ boots (climb on walls), Poseidon’s trident (breathe underwater) and a Golden Fleece (deflect some attacks).

The action is mainly about unleashing a murderous rampage on an assortment of mythical creatures and deities, including centaurs, Minotaurs, chimeras, hellhounds, wraiths, ogres and multistory behemoths.

However, a player also must solve a sometimes complex collection of environmental puzzles mixing rotating levers, sliding blocks, climbing walls, shimmying along ledges (throwing characters to their doom when necessary) and liberally swinging through collapsing temples.

Get to the action: Kratos initially wields his trusted Blades of Exile, but his armaments increase in number, strength and magical prowess as he terminates foes and uses upgrades bought by collecting glowing red orbs.

Most are of the slice-and-dice variety with a liberal button-mashing mentality used until a contextual orgy of button-pressing sequences fells powerful enemies.

The available weapons include a pair of gauntlets used to pound like the Incredible Hulk, the Claws of Hades (anchored to chains) used to tear away at foes, and the massive Blade of Olympus.

One particularly slick magical upgrade allows a collection of ghostly beasts and minions to come forth from Kratos and attack his foes. It’s a dazzling sequence, no matter whether he’s using a translucent Cerberus, chimera, Gorgon, archer or sentry.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): A Gorgon’s snakeskin texture so realistic it gave me goose bumps; climbing around the gargantuan body of the Greek goddess of Earth, Gaia; ripping the head off of Helios and using it as a flashlight; a Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings”-style epic battle against Hades and Cronos; hooking my first Harpy and using it to glide across a ravine; and using Apollo’s fiery bow to light up a Minotaur.

Violent encounters: Kratos delivers an excruciating level of violence so overwhelming it will make unsuspecting audience members giggle, gasp and bellow, “Man, that is nasty.”

Nearly any aggressive move he makes on a foe with a weapon or bare hands (including Soul Rips and the Cyclone of Chaos) yields the splattering of blood and, often, spilling of entrails in the varied battle arenas.

Grab an enemy and use him as a battering ram, decapitate at will, tear out an eyeball, rip apart a torso with bare hands, stomp on a head, peel off armor permanently attached to skin, gut entrails like a taxidermist, dissect appendages and immolate liberally.

Only the most mature of mere mortals dare take control of this frenzied death dealer.

Read all about it: DC Comics’ famed imprint Wildstorm offers a six-issue sequential-art miniseries called God of War ($3.99 each). Crisis on Infinite Earth scribe Marv Wolfman handles the duties of chronicling the backstory of Kratos while Andrea Sorrentino illustrates the multiple massacres.

Pixel-popping scale: 9.0 out of 10. With four times the texture resolution of previous God of War games, this adventure explodes from high definition screens with detailed lighting, dynamic facial expressions, frighteningly realistic character designs and a keen sense of environmental grandiosity unrivaled in video games.

With so much to appreciate on-screen, it’s nearly impossible to concentrate on managing some of the gruesome kills. Minutiae such as mist, burning embers, pooling water, the collection of blood on the protagonist’s body and a wide range of skin textures are just incredible.

Unlockables: The player must beat the game to get to a selection of behind-the-scenes videos and a chance to play in a Combat Arena.

What’s it worth: Despite the onslaught of imitators attempting to rip Kratos from his throne over the last couple of years, God of War III defines the brutal third-person action genre of gaming and holds on with a choking grip. Accept no substitute.

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