|Name||Action game: God of War: Ascension|
|Summary:||The first half of the campaign isn't great, but the second half picks up and multiplayer is great.|
|Games Info:||Developer: Sony Santa Monica; Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment|
Do you like throwing spears in video games? Furiously button-mashing and hacking at things? Yelling really loudly and flexing your polygonal muscles at every opportunity? You may like God of War: Ascension.
Kratos has never exactly been a heroic protagonist, but this time around the developer, Sony Santa Monica, has decided to explore the reasons behind the Spartan's unbridled rage. Kratos is on the warpath, having been tricked by the God of war, Ares, into murdering his wife and daughter. In retaliation, Kratos has broken his blood oath to Ares, and is being tortured by three furies for destroyed the sacred bond. Our Spartan friend also seems to be losing his mind (not that anyone ever thought he was sane).
Santa Monica promised us a more human, emotive Kratos, still suffering six months after the death of his family. All of Kratos' 'human' side, however, is packed into a couple of short cut scenes wherein he hallucinates about his family. For the rest of the game, the man is as angry and shouty as ever. It's not like there's now some great emotional impact where there wasn't before - the game is still about hacking everything to death in the most brutal way possible. And if Kratos can do it in a sexualised, nearly pornographic way, then all the better. Apparently.
The first half of the game will be exceedingly familiar to anyone who's played a God of War game before - almost nothing has changed, except that your Blades of Olympus now have various different elements you can try out, based on the four Greek Gods Poseidon, Hades, Zeus and Ares. You have a rage mode for each of these elements, which unleashes more powerful attacks, as well as a magic move. With your blades, you chase three furies through various temples, hacking and slashing at anything that gets in your way. It's good ol' hack-n-slash fun, but not much of a growth for the series.
In the second half of the game, however, Kratos receives an Amulet of Uroborus that introduces a new, interesting mechanic. The amulet allows you to rebuild, or 'heal', some broken parts of the temples you're exploring. In order to solve a puzzle - and Ascension is full of puzzles - you might have to rebuild something halfway so you can scale the wreckage, or the whole way to clear a path. You might even have to destroy something that's already healed. But the amulet can also help you out in combat by tossing enemies into the air and freezing them in place.
Throughout the second half, two more of these magical items cross your path, and both are also useful for battle and puzzle solving. As such, I found the second half of the game infinitely more interesting than the first. I just wished that I'd gained access to the new mechanics much earlier.
The whole time I was playing the campaign, however, what I really wanted was the multiplayer component. Multiplayer is new to God of War, which has historically been a single-player campaign, but it's surprisingly slick and fun. You play not as Kratos but as an equally grumpy, muscular man, and this man must choose a God to align with, which will change the abilities you can use. The combat basics are similar to that of the campaign, but you get a flashier warning before someone tears you to shreds.
The game modes are Team Favour of the Gods (team deathmatch), Capture the Flag, Trial of the Gods (two-player co-op horde mode) and the free-for-all Match of Champions. When I played, I found in order to win it was important to pick up chests and extra weapons that get dropped onto the map.
As you play, you earn experience and skill points and can use those points to unlock extra weapons, armour and magical abilities. A particular favourite magic trick was the ability to disappear below ground, move to any location on the map, and literally explode back onto the map in that spot, damaging nearby foes. You can create quite a powerful custom build by working toward a goal - focusing on magic, for example, will ensure that every time you unleash a spell you'll virtually clear the map.
The first half of the Ascension campaign is a bit of a disappointment, but the second half is much better and almost makes up for the hours of trudging around listlessly slashing at things. And while I didn't know I wanted God of War multiplayer before I played it, I found it the best part of the game. It's a smooth, fun experience, and if you can get a few friends together for a LAN you'll have a great time.