God Of War: Ascension (PS3) is one of the bloodiest and most brutal action dismember-em-ups we've ever played. And while it probably won't keep you engaged for long, it's a disturbing amount of fun for gamers with strong stomachs.
'God Of War: Ascension' is not a video game to be played in the company of video game novices, anyone with a weak constitution, or within 50 metres of anyone under the age of 18.
While its action-platformer mechanics are well established in gaming convention, with the focus on combos, quick-time events and limited environmental puzzles - the over-riding theme of your struggle to find vengeance for Kratos (the mythical god of strength and aggression), in what is a prequel to the previous titles, is essentially to commit as much ridiculous violence as is possible to animate on the current-generation PlayStation.
And, to the outside viewer, it's basically appalling.
We're not just talking ripping off heads or slicing off limbs, here. We're talking a bloodbath of unimaginable horror, which early on in the game takes place on a platform literally made from the burst arm cavity of a city-sized torture victim.
For some gamers this doesn't matter - it's comic-book stuff, in the main, and not genuinely disturbing. Kratos is even able to feel compassion this time around, occasionally even sparing a life (we know, we know!). But the game does force you quite early on to decide whether this is really your 'thing' or not. In the interests of full disclosure, for this reviewer... it just wasn't really.
That said, in its fundamentals this is an extremely solid and fast-paced action game. Combat is smooth and well balanced, with a variety of attacks and strategies possible within fairly limited parameters. Movement is a bit stiff and the platforming rudimentary, but once you're fighting you do feel pretty god-like very quickly. The new automatically-trigged 'Rage Mode' is the best implementation of this feature in the series, and the ability to disarm enemies mid-combo is also pretty delightful.
Graphically, God of War: Ascension is excellent. The texture work, colours, level design and monsters are all deliciously horrendous, with a large focus on the 'fleshy-meat-blood' palette which has worked so gruesomely well in the series so far.
The movement of the camera is limited, unfortunately, and the most impressive visual moments tend to come via cut-scenes or QTEs, which is a shame. But this is clearly stretching the limits of what the PS3 can do - we can't wait to see what Kratos will look like on the next generation.
As for value, there is at least 10 hours of single player campaign here, which is a solid chunk of devastatingly violent fun. Multiplayer is also much more fully-featured and thought out than before, though we haven't had a full chance to go in-depth with every mode and stage as of yet. Other reviews have called out the multiplayer mode as one of the game's highlights, however - so it's definitely worth investigating.
For anyone with a passing interest in the series, God Of War: Ascension is an essential purchase. It knows its audience, plays to its strengths and wraps the package up with graphical excellence, a slightly more compelling narrative and a more engaging take on its central character. But at its heart this is still a stupid, spectacularly bloody experience, and not much more.