If my wife's snorting dismissal as she passed by my gaming setup is any indication, it's an uncomplicated certainty that God of War III won't be a big draw for the feminine crowd. But after five years, three titles and millions of units sold, it's equally easy to see that the adrenaline-pumping series packs a huge appeal for its masculine controller-thumping fan base.
God of War and God of War II center around a heavily muscled Spartan named Kratos who was tricked into killing his own family by Ares, the mythological god of war. Grief drives the scarred battler to suicide. Then he fights his way back from hell seeking revenge—only to be betrayed by the king of the gods, Zeus himself. Now, in the conclusion of the trilogy, the raging warrior has recruited mountainous Titans as allies and drives his vindictive slash-and-gash savagery to the very gates of Olympus.
Three Times the Bloodlust
To make that happen, Kratos wields a number of sharp-edged weapons—such as his chain-bound Blades of Exile that can be whipped around in a wide arc to disembowel or behead a constant flow of opponents. Each of his different weapons—from the soul-stripping Claws of Hades to Hercules' bone-crushing Cestus Gauntlets—can be used in an assortment of flamboyant button-mashing attacks.
But don't mistake this title for yet another run-of-the-mill slasher/basher. If there's one core element that has gained fans for the game over the years, it's a significant "whoa" factor—moments when you can unleash particularly grisly and vicious kills for your own, uh, amusement. For example, after wearing down a rampaging enemy and then hitting a timed series of buttons, you can witness Kratos ripping his blade along the underbelly of a struggling centaur, spilling the squirming attacker's entrails to blood-gushing effect. Another merciless kills features the Spartan madman forcibly tearing a bloodshot eyeball out of a Cyclops' noggin, accompanied by the creature's screams, and optic nerve and blood vessel snap-crackle-pops.
Fights with the various Greek gods end in even more gruesomeness. Kratos tends to reserve his ugliest and most viscous kills for these hated foes. When finally snagging the speedster Hermes, Kratos torturously hacks off the god's legs, leaving ragged bone protruding from bloody stumps. Add in the PS3 console's ability to deliver all this carnage-filled combat in 1080p detail and insanely gory only scratches the surface.
Three Times the Lust
It's not just hot-blooded vengeance that gets high-def treatment. Kratos takes time out of his chasm-leaping, harpy-snapping, eyeball-gouging schedule to deal with a different kind of heat on a couple of occasions. Past games have included a short sexual interlude hidden away in some curtained corner that players can seek out if they're so inclined. God of War III puts it front and center.
When Kratos enters Aphrodite's chambers he finds her and her two handmaids sexually intertwined—topless. The seductress then sends the other women away while she proceeds to bed the giant brute. Players listen to their sexual sounds as the camera shifts to the handmaids, who are watching the coupling intently—using it to enflame their own lust while caressing each other. This explicit scene can be repeated as many times as desired. And other near-naked women also make appearances throughout the game.
Three Times the Caution
I should admit here that the game does have some creative puzzle-solving moments tangled up in this mess. And there's a recurring theme related to the idea that hope has the power to release you from the soul-crushing emptiness of wrathful, fuming vengeance. Kratos will have none of that, of course. But I guess you could say that at least he's confronted with the idea.
He enters an artful netherworld in the end, though the game cares not a whit for sunshine and flowers. Rather, it can be summed up as equal parts gory spectacle, men's mag sexual fantasy and intravenous caffeine drip. Suicide. Murder. Revenge. Dismemberment. Twisted spirituality. Seduction. Lesbianism. Lust. God of War III jumps into—repeatedly and headfirst—every morally mangled, testosterone-engorged pitfall it can find.