God Of War: Ascension Vs The PlayStation 4

Last month, Sony started trying to convince us that we will need a PlayStation 4. The system is coming out at the end of the year. This month, the new God of War, God of War Ascension might as well be an argument that we don't.

I've played through the campaign of Ascension. It took me just over 10 hours, time spent doing what I've been making Kratos do in the previous five major God of War games: making him use his chain-blades and an incredible array of combat moves to slice, rip and rend both soldiers and beasts plucked or adapted from ancient Greek mythology.

I've played this game and have been amazed at how good it looks. The thought pops into my head: does it really feel like this game could look that much better?

I've also played this game and been amazed at how similar it is to other God of Wars. The thought pops into my head: are the limits of hardware really what is holding this series back from evolving?

***

I'm not running a proper review of Ascension yet. The game won't be out until next week and I've been unable to make time to play its multiplayer on press servers — not that those suffice, as we were reminded this week with SimCity. Given the nature of the game's campaign and the curious limits of innovation therein, anything I could say in a review about the game would raise the question of whether the game's true freshness and better value is in its multiplayer. That I don't yet know. Plus, the single-player campaign, oddly paced as it is, is mostly better in its second half. The game is something of a Skyward Sword, forcing the players to do the familiar before giving them a chance to try something new. This is an odd game, and one I don't yet have a complete sense of.

What I can do now, however, is talk about just how odd it is to be playing God of War: Ascension, a graphically stunning PS3 game, in a post-PS4-announcement world.

As I alluded to earlier, this game is an argument against a lot of the hype that we get not just around the PS4 but around new consoles in general. We're told that improvements in graphics breed improvements in emotional impact, that, the more detailed the characters are, the more they may emote and the more we may feel for them. We're told that new hardware can make games look better, of course.

But then you play God of War: Ascension on a console that came out in 2006 and you realise that, for what the developers of God of Wars seem to always be trying to do, 2006 hardware is pretty good.

Behold some clips from early in the game, limited to 30 seconds as per a request from Sony regarding pre-release video capture of the game...

Kratos looks amazing in this game. So do his enemies. So do the surrounding environments, spartan though they may be. God of War games leave the camerawork to the game's designers and, as God of War III showed before Ascension, we can get spectacular results on a current-gen console: bloody, non-stop action that smoothly transitions from some gory one-on-one grappling to grand, scenic battles that diminish Kratos to a relative speck.

Where could a PS4 take God of War?

Well, the new console could probably make the games even better looking. But then, the question changes a bit: Where would God of War's creators take God of War?

For better and for worse, the series' creators don't seem to have taken the God of War franchise anywhere all that new across the transition of PS2 to PS3. There's little reason to think they'd take a bigger leap going to PS4. There have been two games on PS2, two on PS4 (and two on PSP). They've followed a very similar formula. Kratos is mad. Kratos kills enemies in gruesome ways. Players master a basic set of light and heavy attacks, memorise combos, learn to dodge and fight crowds of enemies one enemy at a time. And, always, there are mini-games that are activated when it is time to kill the game's bigger bruisers.

God of War has become its own subgenre, and as a result it's all gotten awfully formulaic. God of War now has its equivalent of James Bond's girls/gadget checklist or every Zelda game's obligatory fetches of the bow-and-arrow and bomb.

You are playing a God of War, so you will be stabbing something in the eye. You will power up those chainblades by pouring red-orb energy into them. You will gather green orbs for health, blue for magic. You will push blocks to solve puzzles. You will open treasure chests for eyes and feathers. You will open those chests slowly, after some grunting. You will see a lot of breasts.

(NSFW warning!)

I've seen the PlayStation 4 controller. I've read the system's specs. There's nothing in them that suggests that any of God of War's checklist will have to change. We're left to argue about how much a long-running series should change. Honestly, I'm unsure.

Does God of War need a PS4? It might need something, but it doesn't need that.

Please understand that there is a lot of good stuff in Ascension. There are smart tweaks to the battle system, a fun expansion of the game's grappling mechanics and a smart disarming element. But there's also little that feels radically different from the past games, be they on PS2, PSP or PS3. Hence the weird feelings about what new hardware does or doesn't mean for a series like this. What would shake up the campaign design or setting of a God of War? What should? (At some point in history God of War and DmC designers will meet and discuss how impossible it is to please people either by changing things too little or too much).

***

God of War as a series has had a weird relationship with the PS3. Only one God of War came out before the PS3 was on the market. There have been five more significant God of War games since then. Only two of them, including Ascension, debuted on the PS3. Two launched on the PSP. More strangely, God of War II was released on PS2 several months into the PS3's existence. Back then, in early 2007, it served as a sign that artistry, confident art direction and satisfying gameplay mechanics did not need cutting-edge hardware. Sound familiar?

I'm torn about how much I want God of War to change. It's something I'm still working out as I think about the review I'll write next week. But one thing I'm sure of is the fact that this series has long shown that hardware is not as important as we or its manufacturers make it out to be. Ascension repeats that feat.


Comments

    Yeah, I'm not convinced. But then, as everyone keeps telling me, I'm livin' in the past.

    There have been two games on PS2, two on PS4 (and two on PSP).

    PS3?

    Does God of War need a PS4?
    Does the world need more than 640K memory?

      My thoughts exactly. You can't predict what is going to happen in the future. All we can do is give the developers the extra resources and see what happens. All publishers want to put out the most jaw-dropping, breathtaking (read: money-making) game, so I have no doubt that we'll see, eventually, the same sort of improvement and innovation that we saw this generation.

      This pretty much.

      While I agree that gameplay-wise, many current-gen games could have been made for GameCube or Xbox the fact is you can be more ambitious with new hardware. Whether it's rendering whole crowds of AI-controlled NPCs/opponents, precisely simulating the tuning and physics of an acrobatic aeroplane, or driving an accurate and reliable voice-command system, better hardware = greater scope.

      Personally, I'm still waiting on truly believable human faces. We're getting there, slowly, with some pretty amazing detail levels and animation - but we're not there yet. How about a system that models a larynx, lungs, sinus cavity, tongue and mouth? What if we could say goodbye to voice actors in favour of a truly simulated vocaloid?

      While I agree that God of War doesn't need PS4 for its next sequel, that doesn't mean the next generation doesn't represent some great scope for better gameplay.

    It would probably benefit from 60 fps though, even if it looked the same.

    Implying Santa Monica aren't already very familiar with development on the ps3...
    Of course they're gonna work the best out of it. If it wasn't such a bitch of a console to work with, I'm sure many and more developers would be churning out games of a similar quality. Not the best example game to ask whether or not a ps4 would be nice.

    Besides, it may not -need- a ps4, but I'm sure they wouldn't argue with the increased hardware... Can you imagine what we'd get? Given what they cut out of 3, I'd say we'd be in for a right treat.

    Last edited 08/03/13 12:47 pm

    it is true games have not gotten any better since the psx, its all an illusion from Big Game to trick you into spending more money

    Last edited 08/03/13 12:49 pm

    The future generation is obviously not just about better graphics. It should be about creating worlds that are more about immersion. I believe this can be archived with better AI and animations, more innovation in how players engage the game. Most importantly is about no more freaking QTE'S!! I mean please, can we once and for all move away from them. They only introduce frustration in my opinion and detract from story elements.

    A perfect example is the recently released Tomb Raider. The QTE's are distracting and take me away from the intense action/scene that they are usually used for. Now I'm going to sound like a back seat driver, because I have no alternative to offer because I frankly don't get paid to do so, but there are some talented and imaginative people out there in the industry that should be coming up with better shit.

    I don't mind so much simplified QTE's whereby you press one button at the right time and the animation/scene plays out (darksiders does this) - this implementation at least allows for you to enjoy the usual big scene/kill/whatever that follows. I missed so much for the cool looking stuff in God of war 3 because I'm so focused on getting all the QTE's right. It really makes me sad more then anything, because most of the time players are missing beautifully crafter scenes that most likely have taken substantial time to make.

      One of the changes I liked in God of War 3, though, was that they put the QTE icons right over on the edge of the screen, corresponding to their position on the controller. So I could look at what was going on and I only needed my peripheral vision for the QTE's i.e. if the icon appeared at the top of the screen I knew it was the triangle button, if it was at the left of the screen I knew it was the square button, etc. I didn't need to actually see what the icon was, just where it was appearing, so I was able to handle the QTE's and still see the cool goings-on.

    You could have written the same article about God of War 2 back when that came out on PS2. But then they did God of War 3 on PS3 and we saw just how much better it could be.

    And while gameplay-wise it hasn't changed much, the fact is that most series don't. That's why they're series - they keep on iterating and tweaking and adjusting but don't make wholesale changes to the fundamentals of the game just because they're on better hardware. I guess the one major exception was the shift from 2D to 3D graphics, which saw some significant changes to the likes of series such as Mario, Zelda, GTA. But that was a major paradigm shift that happened 10-20 years ago, and there hasn't been anything like that kind of upheaval since. The closest is probably the emergence of online functionality, and that tends to have been bolted onto existing styles of games rather than forcing a major rethink of the fundamentals.

    You could break any long-running series down into a similar checklist of what it is that defines the gameplay of those series - whether it's God of War, Halo, Zelda, whatever (there seems to be a little more scope for change in series like Far Cry and Final Fantasy, but that's because they tend to be completely new worlds every time - it's more of a brand name than a series as such, and even then they still have recurring common elements that link them together). But the fact is that those things are what make those games what they are. If you took them away or changed them too much, it'd be a completely different game just carrying the same name. You either like these games or you don't. If you like them then you'll usually enjoy the refinements that get made from one to the next. If you don't then it's unlikely that you'll like the next one. Unless they change it so radically that it changes your opinion of it, but in doing so they'd be changing it away from what the established fans like about it and probably end up losing them.

    The problem for me is more when the publishers start milking these series on an annual basis like COD and Assassin's Creed, so there's not enough time between instalments to really move on past the old one and get it out of your head. It seems the next one is announced even before you finish the current one, and you can start getting a bit jaded with it.

    But Sony have only done 2 God of War games per console, which isn't really enough for me to get sick of it as a series. Although I do think it's time to give it a rest after God of War Ascension if only because I'd really like to see what else Santa Monica are capable of.

    Once I read/saw breasts, I forgot everything I just read....

    I am ashamed of myself...

    I totally agree with the article but then God of War can simply be God of War.
    I don't need a Wii U or 3DS to come out to play another iteration of a Mario game that has been around since the NES days. A few new powerups and that's about it, but people still love those.
    God of War on PS4 probably won't be much different, nor will it have to be so long as there are good alternatives to choose from.

    ...I wouldn't worry, they'll release an "Ultimate Edition" for the PS4 with an extra level or something for launch. And everyone who bought it on PS3 will sigh while they're in line for a PS4. Sony don't care if you have to buy the same game twice, they'll add something slightly new and re-release it for holiday. Crafty buggers.

    God of War isn't exactly representative of all games, as far as innovation goes. Its formula works just as well on anything that can render basic 3D. Just because God of War will squander the resources of the PS4 doesn't mean every other game will. You can't know what devs will be able to do with a piece of technology unless you give it to them and let them tinker for a few years. Whatever it is, publishers will find a way to convince us we do, in fact, need it.

    Basic engineering marketing - if no need currently exists for your invention, make one up.

    I'm really in favour of a gameplay reboot at this point. Graphics are just not enough.

    I've always thought Santa Monica Studios was missing a true visionary after David Jaffe left. Cory Barlog did a fantastic job to follow up but the transition to PS3 really required a bigger step up. GOW3 sufficed because it was the studio's first current gen game, but as I felt aft GOW3 the series is getting stale for many people.

    They need to revamp the universe and gameplay to something more contemporary. GOW has changed very little since the first, and not always positive ways. I particularly don't like the superhero transformation of Kratos. His actions show he was much more of a man in GOW1, both in gameplay and story, but now, in ascension, he's jumping distances he has no business being able to jump and manipulating giant creatures to slice their own throats.

    They need to ground the universe, and take it away from this school boy fantasy. The platforming inadequacies is the perfect symbol for this. They've had several years to improve this, and they haven't. Instead, they keep doing the same things, over and over. Even games like DMC manage to improve its platforming (and some would say its combat) over its predecessor.

    They're fantastic studio without a quality leader. They're a Ferrari with a conservative driver.

    They need a visionary. And they need to change.

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