I remember being blown away by God of War. Its gameplay never really rose much above button mashing, but it was visually glorious despite its home on the (by then) underpowered PS2, and its protagonist, Kratos, was fascinating. The sequel was second verse, same as the first, with huge, sprawling set piece fights that made you giggle with chainblade-slinging glee. God of War 3 is wise enough to not fix what ain't broke, and even goes one better by giving it the benefit of the PS3's powerful hardware. But I still won't be playing it. I'd rather just watch.
There are some games that are just as much fun, if not more, to sit and watch instead of actually playing. Hand someone the controller for a playthrough of Uncharted 2, and you can sit back to enjoy the best tomb-raiding movie since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Dead Space, Condemned and Silent Hill are all far scarier when you take on the role of observer with no direct control over your fate. Sometimes a game's hands-off enjoyment value has less to do with the content and more with the gameplay. Playing a good shooter is always fun, but watching my infinitely more-skilled husband pull off moves I could never dream of achieving is entertainment worthy of its own bowl of popcorn.
I've come to the conclusion that God of War 3 is a game I'll enjoy far more if I watch it from the bleachers. The series has always been spectacular eye candy, but its leap to the PS3 has taken its visual impact to a whole new level and the set pieces the franchise is known for have, quite literally, grown in scope. As Jordan mentions in his review, it has an amazing sense of scale, making the mighty Kratos into something tiny and buglike as he wages war against the gods. I'm not sure if it's just the ballsier hardware or the fact that this is the final installment in the series, but God of War 3 also seems to be even more audacious, more over the top than its predecessors. You get the feeling that its designers went into every level with the sole goal of making your jaw drop, and by and large, they seem to have succeeded.
I'm quite certain I'd have fun behind the controller, because God of War 3's not really all that different from the first two and I enjoyed those well enough. But when you're concentrating on killing everything that moves, you can't fully appreciate the entire scene that's unfolding and in this case, that outweighs the enjoyment I would derive from yet again indulging in some God of War button thumping. There is much satisfaction to be had from slicing and dicing your way through hordes of misshapen footsoldiers, but you'll have to take your hands off the Sixaxis to really appreciate the sheer spectacle of Kratos' bad mood. Watching a God of War 3 session is a lot like watching your favorite sporting event with buddies, right down to the yelling, pointing, and exclamations of "Did you see that?"
It doesn't hurt that God of War 3 isn't exactly what you'd call intended to inspire heavy thinking. Kratos is pissed and is taking it out on various members of the Greek pantheon. There, now you're caught up on the plot. The game's relative brainlessness means you can leave the room to make a sandwich and come back without feeling like you need a recap. The dialog, sounding, as it does, like it came out of a comic book written by a fourth grader with an overly developed sense of the dramatic, can also be talked over, mocked, or completely ignored, depending on your personal preference. If that sounds like I'm insulting the game, understand that I see the cheesy dialog to be a real plus in God of War 3's favor. There are many games you play for the intricate characters or absorbing storyline, but this isn't one of them. God of War 3 is an unapologetic celebration of violence and brutality and the fact that you don't have to wade through much narrative to enjoy the expertise with which the game sheds blood is wonderful.
We capture the footage for our video supplements here in the office, and it's not uncommon for a small crowd to gather around the TV and watch as we run through bits of the game du jour. Judging from Jordan's cackling, the fight between Kratos and Kronos was a hell of a lot of fun to play, but for me it was even more enjoyable to watch. Because I wasn't connected to the controller, everything was a surprise. My spectator status allowed me to ignore the prompts to hit the circle or L2 button and I never had to concentrate on what combo to use against what enemy - all I had to do was sit there and gawk while Kratos carved his way out of Cronos' belly.
God of War 3 may just be one of the best multiplayer games to ever hit the PS3.
Susan Arendt needs a volunteer to play God of War 3 and let her watch. Any takers?