God of War: Ascension
3 stars = Good
Perhaps playing "Ascension" (PS3; Sony; M, for Mature) on the heels of the excellent "Tomb Raider" sharpened my whirring blades of criticism. These two games perfectly illustrate how one prequel simply hits the mark while another exceeds all expectations.
You can't say that Kratos came from humble beginnings, because from the get-go his adventures in the long-running "God of War" series have continually reinforced his legacy as a violent man hell-bent on revenge against the gods. The gods trick him into killing his wife and child, so you know that kind of seething anger only unleashes a brutal spree of retribution.
And as just about any gamer knows, no one does revenge of this gory and beautiful magnitude like Kratos. Few games are as strikingly gorgeous to view while so much barbarity takes place. The series staple of grotesque finishing moves still elicits a fair share of giddy "ewws."
Several levels take place on islands -- or gods that pose as islands -- before you engage in a massive battle. The boss battles themselves pose perhaps the weakest element of the game, since many (while, again, stunning to watch) take place over a series of quick-time events, highlighting the game's graphics and not the skill it takes to defeat enemies. Throw in some mindless repetition and too often battles turn into a series of "wait for X to happen so you can perform Y move and do damage." Sure, this game does it better than about any other button-masher on the planet, but this long into the franchise you could understand fans expecting a bit more depth.
"Ascension" features the series' first foray into online multiplayer. Really, it should have kept that one in a tomb with the mummies. It fails to deliver meaningful action or a reason to play beyond a dozen or so sessions.
"Ascension" disappoints because it brings nothing new to the character's legacy. Everything that needed to be said in this franchise felt wrapped up nicely in "God of War III," but Sony tapped this well again, hoping to please the gods (err, gamers) with its offering. Those who wisely delved into the backstory of Lara Croft in "Tomb Raider" saw how wonderfully that original story unfolded.
Kratos doesn't get a similar treatment; rather, we're treated to another brutal escapade that's fun to play but lacks the complexity of its contemporaries.
-- Chris Campbell, Scripps Howard News Service