A God of War game being given a once over for current-gen systems was a foregone conclusion once the remaster trend hit its stride, though the final chapter being the only one making the jump to PS4 instead of the entire trilogy is a strange decision. Players—the ones who skipped the PS3 version, and the ones Sony mostly reaches out to with their re-releases—will be left in the dust trying to catch up with 20 hours of history from the original God of War and its first sequel. Veterans will find no new surprises here. Even as a graphical showcase, the game’s current-gen benefits are few. There are certainly new textures at play, and the uptick in resolution is very much noticeable and welcome, but it’s not the night-and-day difference we’ve seen from The Last of Us or Tomb Raider and their remastered editions.
God of War III’s remaster ultimately ends up being a testament to just how massive an achievement it was on PS3, and just how ahead of the curve the series has been in the 10 years since the original game. Many games have copied its play style: two main attack buttons, allowing the player to lash out at enemies from half the screen away. Those simple attacks can be chained into wild, crowd-controlling combos. Finishing the job likely involves a Quick Time Event, allowing players to brutally annihilate enemies of all shapes and sizes. Only a scant few have been able to approach God of War on its ambitions of scale and frightening innovation in bloody savagery, but God of War III represents the pinnacle of both. This is a game that has Kratos commanding an army of skyscraper-sized Titans to scale Mount Olympus with half the Greek pantheon fighting them off in the first five minutes, and ends with a bloody knock-down-drag-out super brawl with almighty Zeus.
The fascinating thing about God of War III is that the game never goes as big as the Titan assault on Olympus as Kratos slaughters his way to the climax, but instead stretches its tone and timbre to far stranger, abstract places nothing in the franchise has ever suggested. It takes its predecessors’ violent catharsis as far as it can go, for sure, with both Poseidon and Helios in particular meeting interminably gruesome, protracted ends that utterly shame most of what passes for horror in the 21st century. But instead of letting the player grow numb to the violence, the game starts leaning into the idea that Kratos’s roaring rampage of revenge will have a higher cost than just the unholy trail of viscera left behind in his wake. The gods themselves are written as petty, paranoid things, all dealing with their works being laid waste by Kratos in their own particular, very human ways. Some, like Hera (voiced by a venomously bitter Adrienne Barbeau), simply curse his very existence from the sidelines. Some, like Hephaestus (a heartbreaking Rip Torn), simply await the end with a sullen resignation. Most just look for a new way to rage against the dying of Olympus’s light.
But ultimately, each new herculean task—one of which, coincidentally, involves killing Hercules—starts to steer Kratos away from a path of straight revenge and toward a path of nihilism. There’s nothing waiting for Kratos when he’s done with Zeus, and he slowly realizes this as the game goes on. This isn’t a case of a superhuman thinking “nothing can stand in my way,” but “nothing in my way matters.” The game takes its sweet time away from its puzzle solving and creature-killing often to toy with the idea of where Kratos’s actions are leading, tiny moments of self-loathing and introspection without betraying the cathartic anger that pushes players forward. Of all the gods and monsters one meets in this game, Kratos is actually the most inhuman.
It’s a turn of events that makes God of War III a vastly more intriguing experience than if the climax had been yet another massive Greek kaiju fight, one that places a lot of trust on players to follow them from bloodthirsty joy to cold contemplation. That by itself might be as strong a reason as any to revisit God of War III. It’s not the polishing of the old that makes it worthy of the current gen, it’s just how far the game is willing to present a twist on mythology that, for a AAA action game, still feels entirely new.