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It’s hard to forget a game that, within its first 10 minutes, allowed you to gouge out Posidon’s eyes, snap his neck and kick his corpse off a cliff. God of War III by virtue of its ferocity alone remains an all-timer. It’s gory, blood-drenched action, unapologetic prick of a protagonist and steroid injected story about the fall of the Ancient Greek pantheon made God of War III unforgettable and even its pretty hardcore 2018 reboot couldn’t top it.
God of War III opens where the second game left off with protagonist Kratos on the back of the Titan Gaia as she climbs Mount Olympus to overthrow Zeus. With fire in his blood and rage in his heart Kratos will cut through anyone and everything to get to his illegitimate father, the God of Thunder himself. All does not go according to plan of course and after killing Poseidon Kratos is thrown off the side of the mountain into the depths of the underworld. From there, guided by the spirit of Athena Kratos seeks out Pandora’s Box in order to weaken Zeus murdering everything in his path as he does so.
Kratos is an asshole and although vengeance over the death of his wife and daughter before the events of the original God of War is what drives him that’s relatively easy to forget when there’s so much blood and viscera in the way. It’s often his own reckless pursuit of violence that lands him in even deeper shit. After Zeus’ betrayal is revealed in God of War II Kratos attempts to gut the King of Olympus succeeding only in killing his one ally, Athena. Kratos sees everything and everyone as either a tool or an obstacle. If it can’t be used it must be killed or destroyed.
When the Gaming Section was in its infancy I wrote about how God of War III objectified nearly every single one of its female characters. Kratos breaks Hera’s neck after she gets in his way one too many times and then uses her body as a counterweight in the proceeding puzzle. A trapped, half-naked princess he comes across is dragged and thrown about the place until she is eventually pulped under gears that Kratos ties her to. The Goddess of Love Aphrodite is the only God Kratos doesn’t kill, electing to have sex with her instead gaining experience points in the process.
It’s not hard to see how God of War III could be viewed as misogynistic with its hyper-toxic, hyper-masculine hero and its depictions of women as obstacles or objects but Kratos is a dick to everyone he meets. His one man war on the Gods is basically indirect genocide against the Greeks as he extinguishes the sun, floods the world and salts the earth on his way to the peak. Kratos doesn’t care and it’s often a lame excuse to say this character doesn’t hate women because he hates everyone equally but in Kratos’ case it’s easy enough to believe.
Suggested Reading: How God of War III Objectified Women.
God of War’s nihilism would have been easier to pick up on had the games’ mechanics not worked like a well-oiled machine. The brutal blood-letting was fun because it had an easy to use but hard to master system of attacks and special abilities behind it. Gutting a centaur or impaling a harpy on the Blades of Chaos was fun but you had to work up to that. You had to earn these gloriously gory kills. Much like DOOM 2016 or Devil May Cry V Santa Monica Studio’s god killing sim had you almost licking the blood off your fists after finishing a fight only to realise that you’re at home in your pants, holding a controller. Still it was this feeling of murderous joy that kept God of War III in the collective memory not its trilogy ending story.
Without that story though God of War III wouldn’t have its enormous, endlessly impressive boss battles. It’s variety of enemies was impressive sure but the game’s bosses ranging from the child-eating Titan Cronos to the fatally arrogant sun god Helios to Kratos’ half-brother Hercules. Almost all of these frenetic, colossal fights are memorable although it’s the ones that add to later experiences that really stick in the memory. In order to run on walls Kratos chops off Hermes’ – the Messenger of the Gods – legs in order to steal his sandals. The sun god Helios is decapitated so that his screaming head can be used to illuminate dark areas. After a brutal battle in which he pulps his half-brother’s face Kratos takes possession of Hercules’ metal boxing gloves. Each fight is different often with multiple stages and serves to emphasise the fluidity of Santa Monica Studio’s incredible mechanics as well as the nadir of Kratos’ barbarous cruelty.
The Ghost of Sparta is a broken man (or demi-God it’s never entirely clear, he tends to switch). Incapable of feeling any emotion other than anger or disgust – although the occasional bout of horniness does break through – Kratos only finds vengeance coupled with redemption towards the end. It is, to put it lightly, a lot more than he deserves. For the vast majority of God of War III Kratos is a parody of everything he represented. Vengeance driven anti-heroes are as common in blockbuster video games as they are in straight-to-DVD thrillers and although mainstream gaming wasn’t finished with them in 2010 their status has definitely changed in the interim between then and now.
Playing God of War III today feels at once antiquated and fresh. Its story and characters feel like they were written by teenage boys for teenage boys and that’s saying nothing of the female character designs which look like they were extracted from the mind of a man so horny that he’d explode if he couldn’t get these designs out of his wet dreams and into a game. On the other hand the game still looks great especially the remastered version on PS4 and it plays like alternate Greek history as written by Robert E. Howard. The fights, murderous animations and thunderous boss battles are all-timers and gaming would be lacking without them. For as much as God of War III’s story reads like ancient history playing it feels like charging into the future, swords ablaze with hate in your eyes.