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REVIEW: God of War – Ascension (PS3)

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  • Sony PlayStation 3 / Rated M / $59.99 / released March 2013
  • FINAL: You can SKIP this game. 2 out of 5 stars

Where does Kratos go from here?

That question has plagued Sony’s “God of War” series ever since the 2005 debut release earned its first sequel. Each game is just so bombastic, so epically final, that there never seems to be enough gas in the tank to warrant another visit.

The latest game, “God of War: Ascension,” performs a bit of a dodge by arriving as a prequel. Despite being set well before Kratos kills the mythical likes of Ares and Zeus (in previous games), “Ascension” nevertheless falls right into the series’ well-greased wheelhouse of predictable violence and who-cares narrative. Kratos has become a gory, vapid cliché.

Yes, Kratos will agonize over his tragically murdered family (spoiler: he’s the guy who killed them). Yes, the Greek gods will conspire against him. Yes, Kratos will wander through beautifully rendered environments that are oddly empty save for enemy minotaurs and insect-soldiers that rush in from the sidelines. Yes, certain enemies can be dispatched with grotesque killing moves that repeat so often even the act of pulling out an elephant man’s brain loses its shock value.

It’s the same old hack and slash, and one wonders if the game even cares. The storyline in “Ascension” barely makes sense, zig-zagging across time without the theatrical ability to drive any story beats home. The attacks and weaponry – while technically as solid as ever – are not recognizably different from 2010’s “God of War III,” the first high-definition game in the series. It’s just Another God of War Game, where players can battle through kill rooms of baddies for hours on end.

Puzzle rooms are scattered between all the slaughtering, but they only underline the game’s inconsistent methods for helping players figure out what to do. Typically involving a convoluted sequence of pushing blocks or manipulating time via, well, a legendary Greek artifact that lets you manipulate time, the puzzles are frustrating and poorly explained. But then, just to insult you, “Ascension” never misses a chance to tell you that pressing a shoulder button will let you open a treasure chest.

The only genuinely new addition to the franchise is the online multiplayer mode, which is better than the single player story chefly because it jettisons all pretext of Heavy Drama. You create your own Spartan warrior, pledge yourself to one of four Gods (to select a magic specialty) and head out to dust up with other gamers. Matches have an “anything goes” feel as you slug it out in maze-like arenas filled with traps and power-ups.

Unlike the earlier “God of War” games, “Ascension” is lacking in truly memorable experiences, instead it just fills in the blanks of a formula that was never very dense to begin with. Our dramatic interest in Kratos is spread way too thin, and now the gore-for-gore’s-sake is all that remains.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America.