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Endgame: God of War 3

May 13, 2010


As with all “Endgame” entries, there will be spoilers.

“whuh.”

Or, maybe: “whuh?”

That was the sound I made when the ending of God of War III was done playing on the hotel TV. I had brought the game accidentally, with every intention of spending the three evenings that I’d be alone on the road taking out as much of the gargantuan PSN download Record of Agarest War as I possibly could, but there was Kratos, staring at me, shouting at me for being too weak (or, in full-on Kratos voice, “TOOOO WWEEEEAAAK!”) to finish the game despite having little more than an hour left to tackle.

Well, I showed him.

So, yes, God of War III is exactly as ridiculously violent and hilariously oversexed as you’ve heard and probably assumed since it was announced.

The sex is one thing — just because it’s in HD doesn’t mean that the disconnect of pushing buttons prompted by on-screen visuals to the end of being the most satisfying one-minute-man of all time is at all lessened. Watching Aphrodite’s maidens fondle each other while it’s going on isn’t as distracting as one might think, either — the visual, at least, is less distracting than the admittedly funny tongue-in-cheek dialogue.

Perhaps this would be better explored in its own blog post, but I want to put it here in case I never get to that: Ever since the very first, comparatively subtle sex minigame showed up in the original God of War, that aspect of the game is the one thing that makes me roll my eyes more than any other. I’ve seen all the arguments for their inclusion — Kratos is the embodiment of Id, God of War is a celebration of excess, it furthers Kratos’ development as antihero — and while these are good, valid after-the-fact sorts of arguments, I just don’t buy that those things are why the developers insist on including button-pushing sexytime. This smacks of teenage titillation. It’s pandering to the sexual power fantasies of an overwhelmingly heterosexual male audience. That audience will justify its inclusion up and down, even argue that Kratos’ conquest (because that’s what it is, it’s just another conquest) contributes to the artistic value of the game, but it’s not here for artistic value. It’s here because BOOBIES. God of War would be better off without it.

(/soapbox)

That said, perhaps the reason God of War has gotten off so lightly in the post-Hot Coffee era despite having a sequence in which the player controls the intercourse is because the violence is so overwhelmingly brutal. God of War III will ruin players to the other two games, because its level of violence is so far beyond what even the first two entries in the series have even aspired to. Even enemies who aren’t bosses get it bad — grunts can be ripped in half, or curbstomped, or subject to old-fashioned slicing and dicing. Larger recurring enemies get eyeballs and entrails ripped out. And the bosses…

Look, it speaks to a game’s power to desensitize the player to its own level of violence when the camera closes in on the final boss’s demise while Kratos pummels his face in, to the point of the screen literally filling up with sickly opaque red, and it comes off as a little bit disappointing. You cut one guy’s legs off. You rip off another guy’s head (and use it as a flashlight for the rest of the game — seeing the little gangly bits hanging down out the neckhole every time you pull it out is one of the game’s recurring delights). You get a first-person view of one beating that culminates in a double-thumb eye gouge. Perhaps the most brutal of all is the beating that poor Hercules gets — first you rip his arms off, and then you destroy his face with a couple of giant lion-shaped gloves. And you really destroy his face. And then you’re offered multiple opportunities to get a close-up of your brutal handiwork, the last as Hercules floats dead in the water.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fingernail-ripping of a titan, because that actually left me so revolted that I started laughing.

The reason all of this seems so brutal? Almost all of Kratos’ enemies this time around resemble humans. We, as players, cannot empathise with a Hydra — even one that gets speared through the skull. A Hydra — or even a minotaur — dying a bloody death doesn’t force us to relate to what that must feel like. This point is driven home in God of War III by a giant scorpion boss, perhaps the least engaging boss fight in the entire game despite the graphical wonder of the thing. The thing is, you might be smashing off its legs, but you’ll never feel the twinge of remorse that comes with, say, ripping off another human or humanoid’s fingernail or gouging out another human-like creature’s eyeballs. There’s a vague undercurrent of torture to the way Kratos kills the gods, one by one, made all too disturbing by the fact that the torture is not a means to an end; eventually, it’s merely for fun, for Kratos and the player.

But again — that ending.

I think I understand it — I think I understand that there was some meaning to Kratos putting a giant sword-shaped hole in his midsection and releasing the spirits of Pandora’s box to the people rather than granting that power to Athena, who seems not all that dead, really — but that doesn’t make it any less unsatisfying.

By leaving the world in chaos, by ending on a zoom-out over Kratos’ quickly-bleeding corpse, there is confirmation that Kratos’ journey throughout these three games was never for any greater meaning than “KRATOS ANGRY! KRATOS KILL!” While in a sense the ending could be interpreted as Kratos doing the “right thing” for once and not ceding power to yet another god, this is Athena we’re talking about, perhaps his one constant ally, whose death led to so much of his misery. That she would suddenly start barking orders at him for the sake of a purposefully ambiguous ending rung hollow and highly unsatisfying.

But getting there, well, that was a blast, despite and because of the gratuitousness of it all. Time for a trophy hunt.

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