Video Games Review: God of War III Remastered (PS4, 2015)

Just as he did five years ago, Kratos, the patron saint of temper tantrums that would make a two-year-old go “Dude, relax”, has embarked on his latest unstoppable butchery spree and, as usual, anything that gets in his way – from animals to the gods themselves – will receive a profound thrashing.

Remasters are apparently all the rage now. Sometimes they’re so lovingly crafted as to make an experience you’ve played through many times feel new again. Some allow you to kill time during the mid-year AAA gaming drought by knocking a few titles off your Pile of Shame. Every once in a while, though, you’ll get one like God of War III Remastered that, despite the new coat of paint, feels both dated and a bit unnecessary.

God of War III is a really strange title for a remaster. Aside from being (as mentioned) only five years old at this point, it assumes the player has a lot of prior knowledge of the series and does precious little to welcome newcomers into its world or story. If you’ve never played a God of War title before, prepare to do a bit of Googling after you watch the introductory cutscenes because there’s no “Previously on” to help get you caught up. There’s just anarchy and gods and Kratos being really mad at them, much of which goes unexplained.

As I get older, I find Kratos less and less interesting as a character. His relentlessly brutal nature makes him seem like a dullard, his dialogue is complete dreck and he seems to solve all his problems by hitting them until they go away. Everything’s such a drama with this guy. “This is MY war, NOT yours!” Alright, you big baby, no-one’s trying to take away your toys. For a guy who’s supposed to be a Spartan, he’s remarkably self-centered.

These are just my own pet peeves, however. The game’s sweeping, dramatic opening sequence that sees Kratos ascending Olympus on the backs of the Titans is still one of gaming history’s most dazzling set pieces and it serves as the perfect way to demo all of the remaster’s graphical and technical upgrades. The whole game runs in 1080p, hovering at around 60fps (but isn’t quite able to keep that number rock solid). This allows you to appreciate the work done on the lighting engine much more – it’s been completely overhauled and the entire game re-lit making everything much more colourful and eye-catching.

With the exception of Kratos’s newly re-textured model, most textures remain a little muddy and all the dynamic lighting in the world can’t hide the fact that they’re starting to show their age. It’s easy enough to let this slide whenever the camera is in its regular position but it becomes really noticeable whenever you’re asked to climb and the camera swoops in for a better view. Further, despite all the graphical upgrades in-game, the cutscenes haven’t been touched which leads to some rather clunky transitions between 1080p high-res gameplay to the original PS3 spec.

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Taken as a whole, God of War III Remastered does look pretty damned good for its age but it also serves as a stark reminder of how obsessed developers were with dark, bleak visual schemes and cues during the last console generation. For all the splashes of colour the new lighting engine provides, there’s still an awful lot of grey and brown going on in amongst the blood and corpses.

The combat is one of those things that I’m still going back and forth on. It’s a mix of light, heavy, grappling and magical attacks which allows for some pretty devastating combos if you line them up right. Smack enemies around enough and they’ll eventually drop dead. The same goes for many bosses and arenas. These encounters are punctuated by God of War’s famed reliance on Quick Time Events to activate brutal finishing moves and they feel the same as they ever did – fun at first but increasingly tedious as the game rolls on.

And there’s another wrinkle: I came into this review off the back of Batman: Arkham Knight which features a truly next-gen combat system and it makes God of War III feel incredibly dated by comparison. The combat in God of War III Remastered is of a sort I would have been completely content with in the mid-2000’s – fast, fluid and built around combos. But in this day and age, against more agile, precise competition, it feels like little more than button-mashing.

Level design still holds up under scrutiny with puzzles that offer a reasonable challenge and help keep the endless baddie-bashing from becoming a haze, and environments that differ greatly area to area. These really help inject some character into the game to balance out the personality black hole that is Kratos.

During my review playthrough of God of War III Remastered I kept coming back to the same thought: I did all of this a long time ago. I’m not that excited to do it again. Most remember the God of War games for their crazy boss battles and barbaric combat – and those parts of the game are still great! But as design has improved and grown over the years, it makes the sections where you aren’t bringing down ludicrously powerful god-kings feel like a real slog to get through.

If God of War is your thing and you absolutely have to have it on your PS4 then make no mistake, this will be your jam. If you’ve never played a God of War game before then you’re walking into a game you’ll find has its moments but is, for the most part, an utterly bewildering experience. To say God of War III hasn’t aged well is a bit of an understatement and as a remastered package, it feels quite anaemic (why this wasn’t packaged with remastered versions of God of War and God of War II is beyond me). Those who know what they’re getting into are going to enjoy themselves quite a bit. Those who don’t will, I think, be left wanting.

Review Score: 6.0/10
Highlights: Boss battles still fun; New lighting engine adds much needed colour
Lowlights: Kratos still a butt; Newcomers will be confused as hell
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Released: July 14, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4

Reviewed on PlayStation 4