I think “God of War: Ascension” is a pretentious title for a video game, so I’m going to call it “God of War: Movin’ On Up!”
“God of War: Movin’ On Up!” is a confusing epic of seemingly impossible obstacles. In this prequel, you once again portray Kratos, the mythical Spartan warrior who gets super angry at Ares, the God of War, after Ares tricks Kratos into killing his wife and daughter. (You’d be mad, too.) We already know through previous “GoW” games that Kratos eventually kills Ares and Zeus and all those astrological cats. But since this is a prequel, the action-adventure takes place before all that, around the time when Kratos killed his family.
You travel across an incredible-looking fantasyland. I mean, there are snowy mountains with rock faces carved into them, the likes of which make the “Lord of the Rings” movies seem like patty-cakes. Caves and castles are so spectacularly ornate, they make Hearst Castle seem like a dump.
Your goal is to run across these terrains in order to make a personality swap — from angry warrior who thinks Ares is a cool boss, to angry warrior who realizes Ares is a jerk face.
Along the way, evil creatures try to kill you — biped elephants, pterodactyl-esque bats, and other warriors of vast ugliness. You slay those creatures by swinging Kratos’ signature weapons (knives-on-chains), but also by tossing traditional spears and such. The best way to extinguish baddies is to rip them in half with your bare hands, or to stick your knife in their heads and watch their brains slowly ooze out.
I’m sorry to be graphic, but the game is graphic. I’m simply informing you of what’s what.
Overall, the cinematic game play should give a great time to many hardcore (not casual) gamers. But there are problems. A) There’s not nearly enough voice-over narrative, so “God of War: Movin’ On Up!” feels desolate for stretches. B) There are too many quick-time events, those moments when you press a certain button on your hand controller when the TV tells you to. At times, the game did not register my QTE buttons when I hit them. C) The “snakes on a train” level is an un-fun example of how the game play is often confusing: Should I press the “attack” button now, or wait for a QTE prompt? And D) some boss villains are stupidly hard.
During such bosses as the purple dragons with punk hairdos, I was reminded of that expression, “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle,” because I kept thinking, “‘God of War’ keeps giving me impossible-seeming things my sanity can’t handle.” So why am I not giving “God of War: Movin’ On Up!” a worse grade? It could be because I’m a fanboy of the series. But honestly, it is a grand (flawed) spectacle of enormous proportions. Just don’t play it if you’re not ready to frequently scream, “I get it, ‘God of War,’ you’re harrrd and I’m stuuupid!”
“God of War: Ascension” by Sony for PS 3 — Looks spectacular. Very challenging. Rated “M” for blood, gore, intense violence, nudity and sexual content. Three and one-half out of four stars.
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. Write to Doug on Twitter at @VegasAnonymous.