God of War: Ascension
With some game franchises, that's pretty much all that needs to be said. And, really, that's probably enough description for anyone who has experienced one of the previous God of War games. Because by now, the gamemakers at Sony's Santa Monica Studio know exactly what fans want to see in a Kratos-vs.-Greek-gods video game, and they're not about to go messing with that well-tested formula the sixth time around.
Ascension is a prequel set 10 years prior to the first God of War game. This time around, the super-strong, ashen-skinned antihero Kratos finds himself in the midst of a plot whipped up by the Greek god of war, Ares, and three deity-like beings called the Furies. Ares and this trio of über-powerful sisters want to overthrow Zeus and Mt. Olympus, and they plan to use Kratos as their ultimate human superweapon.
Rage-fueled Kratos—who's been manipulated into serving the god of war after accidentally murdering his own family—realizes that following through on his suicidal obligation to Ares and Co. wouldn't be wise, and he decides to break his blood oath with the deity. But that kind of independent thinking is a big no-no in the traitor-punishing Furies' book. And so the carnage commences as Kratos begins a brutal quest to seize control of his own fate once more.
With that interchangeable, oh-so-familiar storyline in place, Ascension plunges right back into the series' hack-and-slash action and never looks back for the next 12 or so hours of gameplay.
Admittedly, what this franchise does well, it does like no other. The God of War games all feature amazing visual details in both scope and scale, whether Kratos is battling sea monsters, manticores, Medusas or mountain-sized foes. And this game's ability to swoop in and around an immense and graphically grand world, while still keeping us locked into Kratos' up-close point of view, is undeniably impressive.
Likewise, Ascension's well-oiled game mechanics are as easy to master quickly as any contest out there. Its controls are so intuitive that a complete novice will be throwing jaw-dropping combos almost immediately—with scores of power-ups and new moves leading them forward into increasingly vicious combat.
If few franchises can match God of War's graphic wonders, however, it's also true that few can match its even more graphic gore. Ascension gurgles with a witches brew of lurid nastiness. It's almost impossible to separate the violence—which is constant and visceral—from the scenery painted in the blood and gore.
Every punch, kick, hack, slash, stab and swipe of Kratos' chain blades, swords and spears results in seemingly infinite amounts of entrails-spilling goop. Some of this tearing and ripping slaughter is seen from a distance. But most battles dive right into the heart of the eviscerating fray.
Kratos dismembers and guts creatures, rips their heads off, snaps backbones and impales baddies on large spikes. He tears the horns off critters and jams them into their own heads or down their throats. He takes sadistic pleasure in slowly hacking open an one enemy's noggin, then lobotomizing it. Elsewhere, a Medusa-finishing move involves cutting the female creatures in half from the crown of their heads to just below their exposed breasts, leaving them splayed open with their crimson innards dribbling out.
Sadly, even a little shockingly, that's only a drip of the gruesomeness on tap.
And we also must deal with the sexually charged content in Ascension. Female characters—from statuesque Primordials, to the Furies, to the human women Kratos encounters—expose either excessive cleavage or full breast nudity. Kratos, for instance, comes upon a room full of topless women who fondle him and one another with sensual, cooing glee as the "camera" captures every carnal detail. We also see a brief scene of Ares having sex with one of the Furies.
All of that is further wrapped up in the loosely fitting context of Greek mythology (albeit a take on these familiar characters so twisted few scholars would recognize it). It's a mythological milieu that overlays everything in the narrative, from god-vs.-mortal struggles to witches and magic-casting to Kratos' release of the Souls of the Underworld to do his bidding.
In the end, then, Ascension is yet another bloodletting contest in this long-running franchise, one that will likely lure many a gamer with its over-the-top combat and sweeping visual grandeur. Like its predecessors, it's built upon an insatiable urge to strangle one's destiny into submission. And along with all that strangling—not to mention hacking, slashing and vivisecting—we also get a raw, sexually charged, spiritually confused mess that desensitizes even further.
Like I said: ditto.