Review

God of War: Ascension Review (PS3)

God of War excels when its use of outrageous scale is believable. Kratos is not the centre of Sony Santa Monica's Ancient Greece: his story is a single tale amongst a world of conflict and deceit. Many battles wage around the Spartan General, not because of him.

Before Ascension (or should that be, after?), we witnessed Kratos rescue Rhodes from its animated Colossus, rid Olympia of sun by tearing Helios' neck from its very foundations, and even chop his way through the invading Persian Army at the gates of Attica. Kratos is a pawn enveloped within the confines of a greater war, something Gaia reminds him of in God of War 3's stunning ascent up Mount Olympus.

Ah, the Elephant-headed Juggernaut. Not creepy at all...

Ascension doesn't capture the same intelligence within its moments of system-selling scale. Kratos, who is being held captive for breaking a blood oath with the gods, begins by clamouring across Aegaeon the Hecatonchires, a multi-armed giant and original sinner against the deities of Ancient Greece.

While the opening level quickly pits Kratos against a larger than life enemy, Sony Santa Monica completely destroys the illusion by trying to outdo GOW3's memorable scale. Instead of keeping Kratos within view on an epic journey across the arms of a beast (like they did with Cronos), Ascension zooms so far out it becomes impossible to see where the sore-throated Spartan is. Enemies appear and combat takes place, but you'll be swinging in hope. Add a few dimension shifts in to confuse things even more, and a potentially great scene is ruined by a studio who is trying to do too much.

Interestingly, the rest of the game struggles with an opposing problem. Kratos' adventure just doesn't match up to other iterations. His quest to destroy the Furies is nowhere near as exciting as taking down the gods. Kratos knows it, too. The ash-covered soldier seems indifferent to the task ahead. His trademark rage is missing, his emotion filed down to a couple of scenes depicting his fallen wife and daughter.

One of Sony Santa Monica's greatest strengths is using Greek mythology in an intelligent and interesting manner. Interaction with plenty of gods, demigods and other famous ancients has propelled previous games to greatness. Ascension has nothing of the like. There's no drunken Hera forcing her son, a rather pissed off Hercules, to take you down. You won't encounter Hephaestus in his great slumber, nor will Hermes cockily bounce off the walls as you hunt him down.

Instead, Kratos is alone for the most part of Ascension's campaign. A boss battle against Castor and Pollux will test most players' Ancient Greek reference book, as will the appearance of Orkos. The latter represents one of the game's greatest triumphs, as the son of the Furies aids Kratos in a major way.

Scale continues to be a drawing point, although is misguided in parts

Orkos provides Kratos with the ability to duplicate himself during battle, and most importantly, when completing puzzles. Ascension's puzzles are among some of the best designed and toughest contraptions thought up across the entire series. Once Kratos is privy to the Oath Stone of Orkos' power and the Amulet of Uroborus, some truly adept design comes into play. The Amulet allows Kratos to decay or heal major structures that have been destroyed, prompting players to fiddle with physics in spectacular fashion.

Other implementations are less successful. God of War is a linear series, and rightfully so, but Ascension feels the need to paint your road ahead at all times. The camera is insistent on highlighting your climbing route, where you need to swing or what objects need to be moved. Kratos will also be thrust into a number of sliding sections that underline a team who are running out of ideas.

Combat has received a slight improvement. The 'Rage of Ares' power blast is now based on momentum, meaning you can string a few together if you evade being hit at all. The tweak rewards those who are aggressive and defensive in the right moments, as letting the Blades of Chaos loose is a more methodical experience than before. This is nowhere more apparent than in the Trial of Archimedes, which forces players to take their time with blocking manoeuvres and single attacks if they are to stand any chance of survival.

Ascension is the first God of War title to feature multiplayer. Sony Santa Monica has worked hard on co-operative and competitive aspects that should naturally snuggle into the interest of series veterans. Creating your character is a clever experience (one I don't wish to spoil), although the lack of female representation is disappointing. God of War is based on a culture of gods and goddesses, so it would have been preferable to see female creations included, especially when you can unlock the armour of Artemis and bright-eyed Athena.

Polyphemus' appearance is one example of exhilarating multiplayer design

Slight alterations have been made in the online arena. Players glow blue to indicate vulnerability, white for invisibility and red when a major attack is about to be launched. Giant levels are filled with traps and impressive scenery that mimics a selection of tales from Greeks past. If you've been waiting to carry out the Trojan War, this one is for you.

God of War: Ascension is a decent addition to the franchise. Combat remains sharp and puzzles are more intricate than ever. Unfortunately, a lack of interesting source material never shakes off the feeling that the stakes are lower here. This is easily the weakest God of War title to date, but when you consider the immense quality of the previous five games, it's perhaps to be expected. Sony Santa Monica need the PS4's new hardware to blow us away once again, as right now, Kratos is trapped in chains.

Top Gaming Moment: Getting to grips with the Oath Stone of Orkos.

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