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When Eye Candy is Enough

March 18, 2010

Games have always aimed to distract you with what’s in the background. Once games became technically advanced enough to have a background at all, developers started to put the prettiest pieces of the game in it. There was nothing interactive about them, after all — backgrounds are basically scrolling cutscenes, asking nothing of the player and contributing nothing to the gameplay other than, perhaps, context. Parallax scrolling was a huge deal in side scrollers at one point (“Look! Things are going by at DIFFERENT SPEEDS!”), the stadiums and arenas of sports games are becoming ever more detailed (and in some cases do have an effect on the gameplay, particularly in baseball), and on-rails shooters are actually getting some respect of late in part due to the arresting scenery behind the baddies waiting to get shot up.

Much as I love my music, I’m also the type of guy to be attracted to flashing lights and pretty pictures when, really, I should be concentrating on something else. And I’ll tell you what, God of War III has some of the flashiest lights and prettiest pictures I’ve ever seen in a game.

I’m normally not a graphics junkie. I’m not one to dismiss a game for an awkward visual style, and hackneyed gameplay can’t be fixed with eye candy. Eye candy can’t hurt, though, and God of War III‘s eye candy is (so far) the best I’ve ever seen. So far, the gameplay is absolutely nothing new — Kratos swings around his chains and painfully dismembers all who would oppose him, with the occasional option to push a certain button to bring things to an extra gruesome finish. This is not new, it is not terribly inventive, and it feels like a painful retread at times, especially having just replayed much of the first two games in the God of War series via the PS3’s God of War Collection release.

Kratos tears up a centaur as a titan looms.

Still, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the idea is that you should be able to do most of the combat in your sleep, so that you can pay attention to other things like the massive Titans crashing down Mount Olympus as the gods strike them down, or the approach of Poseidon as you traverse the monstrous back and shoulders of one of those titans. The action happening in the background is so dynamic that you often find yourself trying to peek beyond the periphery of the television, trying to see more even as the camera necessarily limits your view. If the action itself was at all difficult, the only people who would be able to benefit from this impressive display of the PS3’s power would be those without a controller in their hands; the distracted player would just keep dying, unable to progress, done in by distraction.

So far, then, God of War III is as much a tech demo showing off the power of Sony’s machine as it is a proper video game — granted, I haven’t played much of it yet, so I haven’t obtained any of the new attacks, nor have I fought any of the most difficult bosses — but the first level, as it eases us back into God of War‘s vision of Greek theonogy and mythology, is pure eye candy. In fact, it’s a rare case of eye candy being so sweet as to be enough. Whether God of War III can break the tedium of its gameplay or keep up the visual stimulation to this degree over its next eight or so hours remains to be seen — so far, though, it’s a trip and a half.

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