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8:41 PM on 04.27.2013

God of War: Ascension is in love with itself.

Obviously, this is a problem.

I played the first God of War game years ago, and remember it being very entertaining, but canít recall exactly how it behaved. Did it have the same nuances and childish behavior that annoys me the way this latest installment does? I really canít remember, but I want to think no. I want to think this game inhabits a special place where no other videogames dare to enter.

To be clear: This is a fun and entertaining game that makes no qualms about what it is and where it fits in the gaming world or what its fans want from it. It is violent and masochistic and testosterone-filled and all the other things that make it enjoyable for adults the same way apocalyptic, speculative Fiction or pulp crime novels are.

But itís still in love with itself, and I donít see how anyone can be a fan of that.

Letís take the evidence in order of most egregious:

1) These goddamn, unskippable landscape shots. I get it, okay, I completely understand that a lot of people worked really, really freaking hard to make this game beautiful. They are amazing at what they do and I totally appreciate it. I do. But when you shove it in my face every time I enter a new area, zooming out to show some magnificently rendered backdrop, then panning it and zooming back in close to Kratos, then panning away to something else, then zooming back to Kratos again, then pausing before I finally get to fucking move; well, it really only makes me think of some attention-starved child jumping up and down so a stranger will show them recognition because no older people in their family will. Is that what this game is striving to be, the attention-seeking little brother of the series? Everyone, seriously, you did an amazing making this game beautiful, but showing off undoes all of that. Gamers appreciate subtlety too, I swear.
2) Whatís the point of a puzzle if you show the person how to solve it before they even get to try? Here, enjoy my 3/4s finished Sudoku. This is the way GoW: Ascension assembled every single riddle in the game. They show you what tool you need to solve it, and how you can manipulate that tool for the desired result; all before you even have control of your character. Remember those long-winded landscape shots I was complaining about? Yeah, they usually involved showing you exactly where you needed to go next and the exact steps you need to take to get there. Why am I playing this game at all then, I might as well watch someone beating it on YouTube. At least then I can eat cereal or something. Essentially, this game doesnít want you to play it, just witness it.
3) You canít move until the game tells you. You not only have to watch the landscape scenes, you have to watch as the enemies emerge and surround you, creeping closer and closer before you finally get control. You have to inhale every second of the scripted (albeit beautiful) sets before you can move, which not only puts you at a disadvantage but irritates the hell out of you. We are a reactionary bunch, us gamers, and to steal that honed ability from us is unteaching us everything weíve been taught. I would enthusiastically accept an example of where that works. You can go against the grain and you can piss people off, as long as thereís a point. Not allowing gameplayers the ability to control their character as the enemy advances is akin to a TV show just randomly blacking out video throughout an episode. Is there anyone who likes this? Anyone?

To recap: of course this is a great game. It gets dragged down a little bit by the factor that all the other GoW games are freaking amazing, but stood alone this game is fine. By that same token, this game stooded (sic) alone without the GoW name probably doesnít make it commercially or critically, which should tell us something. You can make things really pretty, and you can throw together a semi-coherent story, but the key will always be gameplay. And it doesnít have to be innovative or complex or unique, it just canít annoy the gamer. And I doubt Iím alone in being annoyed by this game. From the way it obsessed over itself to the way it solved puzzles for you, I felt less like a gameplayer than a spectator. And without that established line it isnít a videogame.

Thereís a precedent for this. Resident Evil made a really good game with number 4, then they made a completely CGI rendered movie with the same characters, and it was good. Then they made Resident Evil 5 (which I didnít hate, but seems like a lot of people did). Then they made number 6, which everyone seems to hate, and I donít plan to play. So maybe we reach a certain point where games canít be games anymore, but they can live on in other mediums. Maybe make the next GoW game a CGI movie.

People really like the original Star Wars movies. People also like Dash Rendar. People dislike the Star Wars movies that came out after Dash. Thereís a lesson to be learned there somewhere.

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