God of War: Ascension single-player preview: all about scale

By Andrew Yoon, Feb 01, 2013 12:30pm PST

A shirtless, musclebound man sits on the floor of his cell, chained up. Kratos sizes him up--only to have the man crushed to death by the giant hand of a towering beast. This beast picks up the building Kratos is in, causing the Spartan to tumble around. It's yet another one of God of War's signature boss battles. After a rather lengthy battle, this larger-than-life creature finally gets taken down by Kratos' chains. Of course, Kratos was never known for his good luck. An even larger mountain-sized behemoth grabs the carcass of your downed foe, carrying Kratos along for the ride.

Whoa. It's hard not to get impressed by the awesome scale represented by God of War: Ascension. While Santa Monica Studio's latest is a prequel, it manages to match the epic nature of Kratos' final adventure.

Stunning camera work makes this new God of War game feel as thrilling as previous entries in the franchise. From eerily detailed close-ups to Kratos' stern face, to epic pans of Titan-sized beasts, the game's dynamic camera makes the campaign a truly cinematic experience. The environments are rarely ever static, with Kratos having to fight in tumbling rooms, on crumbling bridges, and on other living things. The way you move through the environment also reflects the dynamic design of the game: you'll slide down the side of buildings, grapple around giant beasts, and climb up crumbling cliffs.

Nearly every aspect of the game is impeccably polished. But, isn't that a trademark of the franchise? While Ascension is clearly a technical marvel, it's also familiar. Fighting on top of giant living beasts is something we've already done in God of War 3. It's no less impressive in Ascension, but it's clear that this latest God of War game is missing a certain "wow factor" from the lack of an especially new gimmick.

Even this new prequel story feels a bit tired. Kratos gets tricked by the gods (yet again), and he's still angry, and he still kills lots of dudes. If we're supposed to see more of his humanity in Ascension, the hands-on demo did very little to show that off.

Still, there are hints of surprises here and there. For example, in the opening moments of the game, Kratos must dodge attacks from the furies by using only the left analog stick. It feels like a sequence that would have previously been translated into QTEs, but this new implementation feels far more organic. (That doesn't mean Ascension does away with the on-screen button prompts; they're just as important to boss fights as ever before.)

Given how unsurprising Ascension's single-player offering is, it makes sense why Sony has been so keen to focus on the game's multiplayer mode. While some would argue it is an unnecessary feature for the franchise, that's clearly where the real innovation has went. In terms of a single-player experience, many will likely be sated with "just another God of War"--and that seems to be exactly what Sony Santa Monica is going to provide.

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