Sure, Nietzsche proclaimed “God is dead,” but did he bellow it between heaving breaths while standing over God’s disemboweled corpse? Hell, no, he didn’t. That’s just one of the reasons (also: sweet-ass full-body tattoo) that Kratos, who returns for the “final” chapter of Sony’s incredibly popular God of War trilogy, is clearly the superior philosopher. They claim the pen is mightier than the sword, but Kratos has two swords, both attached to chains so he can swing them around like blood-slicked lassos. Don’t worry about the logistics of this, how he’d likely decapitate himself before the first full rotation; just hit square-square-triangle and watch him chop the legs off an army of armor-clad skeletons, one by one.
God of War III begins right where the second installment left off, with Kratos riding on the back of the Titan Gaia as she scales Mount Olympus, on a quest to kill Zeus, and any other Olympians who might try to stop him. The Gods quarrel among themselves, but they’ve been pretty much united in fear against Kratos since he murdered Aries in the first installment, so before you get to Zeus, you’ll have to face Poseidon, Helios, Hermes, and basically every character you can remember from that unit on Greek mythology you studied in ninth-grade English class — and they’ve never looked cooler or been vivisected in such high-res anatomical accuracy. The God of War franchise has always been great at large-scale boss fights, pitting Kratos against monsters and gods several stories taller than himself, but the third installment (the first on the PS3) utilizes every bit of next-gen processing power at its disposal better than just about any game I’ve ever seen: Gaia’s craggy earthen complexion is textured with rocks and broken tree roots, Zeus’s divine six-pack glistens with beads of battle sweat, and, of course, gorgon neck-flesh tears perceptibly before it gives and exposed centaur entrails wriggle and squirt all too believably. Murdering a Cyclops entails not just gouging out its eye but plucking it barehanded, tugging at the optic nerve till it stretches and snaps. Butchering mythology is gory business, but it’s also disturbingly fun. Not only have the graphics improved exponentially (even in comparison to the recently revamped-for-PS3 God of War Collection) but the control scheme is more intuitive and button-masher friendly, allowing Kratos to chain together massive move combinations and switch between multiple weapons and other holy artifacts mid-battle with just a few easy-to-learn commands.
But God of War III also features everything those misguided parental activists and politicians fear from videogames, earning every bit of its laughably named “Mature” rating, not only through violence and extreme disrespect for authority, but a sex mini-game and sociopath attitude that would make the dude from Grand Theft Auto flinch. Where GTA allows and even sometimes encourages murdering innocent bystanders, it’s always optional. GTA IV allows players to decide what kind of character they want to be, making them choose whether to kill when it isn’t necessary. You’ve got no such option in God of War. Mere mortals are only a nuisance, wandering stupidly into battles to increase the splatter, and blocking Kratos’s progress, forcing you to cut them down. As the story progresses, Kratos’s revenge-driven deicide destroys the world around him, bringing Hades up to earth’s surface, and you have no choice but to continue with the same sort of fatalism that keeps our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and causes perfectly intelligent people to purchase SUVs in 2010. Nietzsche’s lamely bloodless Thus Spoke Zarathustra might have something to say on the subject, but who gives a shit? Everybody knows books are for girls. •