This has been a long generation for Sony, but a quiet one for Kratos. Nathan Drake has fronted an entire trilogy on PS3 and Assassin’s Creed has settled into an annual cycle, but this is only the second God Of War game on the console, with a three-year gap between the pair. While that avoids familiarity breeding contempt, it also means developer Sony Santa Monica has had fewer chances to recognise that several elements of the God Of War template could do with modernisation. Much of what you’ll find in Ascension’s singleplayer is unchanged from the eight-year-old PS2 original. QTEs – hopefully dubbed ‘context-sensitive actions’ – are everywhere. Rather than celebrate its Greek mythological setting, Ascension fixates on ultraviolence and bare breasts. Bump into one of the many invisible walls and Kratos just runs on the spot.
But six games and eight years on from his debut, Kratos has learned a few new tricks. He’s a more agile climber, for one thing. He now automatically clambers from one handhold to the next, with a tap of the jump button flinging him across larger distances. He’s still no Lara Croft – and he remains in possession of the most comically awkward-looking double jump in gaming – but it’s a welcome change to a moveset that has remained largely static since his 2005 debut.
It’s not the only addition to Ascension’s singleplayer mode, but it’s one of the better ones. Kratos can now plant a blade in a surface and slide down it, and the first time you slalom your way down an incline, weaving back and forth to avoid obstacles, you can’t help but think of Journey, in which Sony Santa Monica also had a hand. But Journey’s surfing sequence is so memorable because it’s used sparingly, not half a dozen times in the opening few hours. And when Ascension asks you to tap X to jump over a gap while sliding, it’s in a QTE with an input window that ends before you reach the edge. If you try to jump at the last second, you can expect to see the game over screen.
More in keeping with the Ancient Greece setting, God Of War III’s aggressively shiny art style has been replaced with a muted colour palette and a painterly look. Aesthetically, it’s a great fit for PS3’s twilight years, but the visual approach is full of frustrations. Sony Santa Monica’s spectacle fetish frequently gets in the way, the camera pulling right out to show off a remarkable environment as the tiny speck under your control flails against a group of enemies. Some smart environmental puzzles are undermined by helper text telling you which of the three possible tools you need for every single job. Enemies spawn from the ground, so you’re never quite sure when a fight is approaching its end. There’s a maddening difficulty spike late on, too, where the studio seemingly realises it’s spent 27 chapters giving you more healing orbs than anyone could need and insists you beat a succession of powerful foes without respite or checkpoints. We like a challenge, but only if the combat system is up to it.
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