God of War: Ascension

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The God of War series is one of Sony’s most lucrative franchises so needless to say I was interested upon hearing that there would be life after the last instalment.  Like I said, interested but not necessarily overly pleased.  Can Ascension match the epicness of God of War 3? In short, no.

Your initial thoughts may mirror my own, who exactly is left for Kratos to kill (torture and maim) and how exactly does Santa Monica Studio intend on progressing the narrative? Well that’s the real question isn’t it, because after the events of God of War 3, the only direction that they could’ve gone is backwards and that’s exactly what the developers have done as Ascension serves as a prequel to the entire series.

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God of War: Ascension is set ten years before the events of God of War, in which the narrative begins with Kratos being tortured by a Fury (Furies were spawned into existence before the Titans or the Olympians and are the guardians of honour, punishing those they deem to be quilty) for the crime of oath-breaker, after Kratos renounced his servitude to Ares.  The three Furies; Megaera, Tisiphone and the Fury Queen Alecto serve as the main antagonists in Ascension.  Unfortunately, not much can be said about the latter as the Furies pale in comparison to the Gods of Olympus (Gow 3′s Poseidon battle anyone?) and as a result of this, the Fury battles never really feel like boss battles.

To compound matters further, since Kratos has pretty much killed every prolific character in Greek mythology, God of War: Ascension is populated with lesser-known characters that less face it, are lesser known for a reason and because this is a prequel, Kratos wouldn’t have eliminated any of the gods because Ascension is leading up to where the first game begins.  Basically, the antagonists in Ascension, be they serpent, beast or Fury, never stood a chance to begin with.

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What God of War: Ascension does offer is a look into Kratos’ past as it expands upon the character’s mythos, namely the death of his family and his betrayal to Ares.  Ascension gives us a more humanized Kratos as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his family.

To say that the game mechanics have been radically altered or bettered since the Spartan’s last outing simply wouldn’t be true.  While there are indeed some changes, Ascension plays fundamentally the same as its predecessors with its ‘modified’ God of War 3 engine.  Not to be misconstrued, I did enjoy Ascension thoroughly, the problem is that just doesn’t feel like the first three games, serving as a companion to the series rather than a full-blown continuation.3326996589

God of War: Ascension’s combat is fast, fluid and fun (excuse the use of alliteration) and brutally slaying your foes is as satisfying as ever.  Ascension just somehow  manages to miss the mark, failing to reach the grand scale of its predecessors, least of all God of War 3 which might possibly be one of the greatest games of all time.  The shiny visuals of God of War 3 (some of the best graphics seen on the system) have been replaced with what appears to be a pastel-esque colour palette and for reasons unknown, there is very little dialogue in this game and those familiar with the series will know that Kratos is very vocal.  The lack of dialogue from the familiar voice of Terrence C. Carson definitely impacts negatively for Ascension, giving the overall experience a (dare I say it) cheap feel.

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The sense of urgency and purpose of the original trilogy has been replaced with a more generic hack and slash adventure as Kratos kills one nameless beast from the next.  Ascension is devoid of the charisma and awe-inspiring magnitude of the Olympians and while this prequel certainly has its share of challenging nasties, it simply cannot compete with the likes of the (aforementioned) Poseidon battle, Realm of Hades or the impressive final battle with Zeus.

However, what sets God of War: Ascension apart from its predecessors is the addition of a multi-player mode.  Players can engage in 8-player death-matches, in specially designed multi-player arenas.  Align yourself to a god (Ares, Hades, Zeus or Poseidon), gain special attributes (Ares focusses on melee attacks for example) and level your character up.  The online play runs smoothly and it didn’t take too long to find available games to join.  While Ascension’s multi-player mode is certainly not the best around, it will add significant longevity to the game once you’ve completed the story mode.

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All in all, God of War: Ascension serves as a competent, if somewhat uninspired prequel to an otherwise flawless series.  Whether or not Santa Monica Studio intends to bring Kratos to the PlayStation 4 remains to be seen, I can only hope that if they do it’ll follow in the footsteps of God of War 3.  Bottom line, if you’re a die-hard fan of the series then I recommend God of War: Ascension, especially if you can get your hands on a copy of the collector’s edition, just don’t expect Ascension to blow you away like its predecessors did.

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The Console/PC Paradox

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Video-games are a multi-billion dollar industry, excluding mobile phone games and tablets, video-game revenues reached a staggering $57.2 billion in 2012 and an estimated $58 million in 2013 worldwide.  As it stands, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has sold 80 million units (as of October 17, 2013) with the PlayStation 3 matching its competitor.  The launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is expected to exceed their predecessors but whether or not they’ll be able to exceed or match the success of the PlayStation 2 (150 million units sold worldwide) remains to be seen.  Nintendo’s Wii U trails behind with an estimated 25 million unit throughput for the console’s entire lifetime, even though the Wii U has an established game library as well as backwards compatibility with its predecessor.

Needless to say, other manufacturers are tempted to jump the console train and ride it all the way to the bank, but in a market dominated by industry giants Sony and Microsoft (Nintendo is like that younger child always wanting to play with the bigger kids but somehow never managing to make it up the tree-house) where does that leave their prospective rivals?

Cue the Steam MachineValve Corporation have seemingly seen a gap in the market for a unique (and I say that sparingly) console experience and intend on bringing their Steam platform into the living room with a modular console running an open source Linux-based operating system aptly named SteamOS.

So from a consumer standpoint, what does this mean for us, and why choose the Steam Machine over its formidable and well established competitors? Firstly, in case you didn’t know, Valve Corporation made a very controversial leap with the advent of their digital distribution platform Steam back in 2003.  I say controversial due to the DRM (Digital Rights Management) fiasco they faced back then when online authentication and mandatory internet connectivity (in order to play the games) was a fresh and unpopular concept.  Steam was developed primarily for the Microsoft Windows platform, of which it accounts for an estimated 75% of all digitally purchased games.  However, with the growing popularity of open source software, as of 2012, Steam was made available for Linux users along with developer tools in order to help port games to the platform and has a growing library of titles.  So why use Linux and not Windows for SteamOS?  Well, while the outline for SteamOS certainly doesn’t indicate that it will be a viable option for formatting your Windows machine, an open source platform will allow much more freedom for the consumer and as I stated before, the Steam Machine will be modular, so not only will you be able to tinker around with the operating system, users can upgrade the consoles in order to suit their needs.  Looks like a PC, sounds like a PC, and with the first Valve prototype being priced around the same as an Xbox One, it pretty much is a PC.

As an old hand at the PC gaming arena, Valve might just have a winner with the Steam Machine as it’s worth noting that not only does Steam have over 3000 available titles, it’s also responsible for 75% of all digitally purchased games so it stands to reason that they could make a considerable dent in the console wars as the new kid on the block if Valve play to their strengths (which I’ll come back to shortly).

SteamOS will also be made available for download, meaning that one can install the software on their PC and have their games streamed to their televisions, essentially bridging the gap between console and PC.  So what’s the point of it all you might ask, especially when you consider that both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are using off the shelf PC components (for the most part).  Well, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will be optimized for playing games, meaning that a user never has to worry about expensive upgrades in order to play the latest games at their optimal level.  The Steam Machine will come in a multitude of different preconfigured models designed to fit the consumers need, as well as affording you the option of upgrading your unit, which all seems a little pointless when you consider that Valve is giving you the option of installing the console’s OS on your PC and given the estimated retail price of a Steam box, you’d be hard-pressed to justify splashing out cash on it when you could just as easily buy a PC.

However, if you eliminate the PC aspect of the Steam Machine and compare it to its competition, it certainly has the upper hand as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 only have limited upgrade potential (swapping out the hard drives).  While Sony and Microsoft’s gaming beasts will certainly perform magnificently and offer consumers plenty longevity, one needs to bear in mind that as the consoles age, so will their performance (in terms of keeping up with contemporary gaming visuals when compared to PC) so a fully upgradable ‘console’ (the strength I mentioned earlier) might just be the right thing needed to give the glorious PC gaming master race a much needed kick in the teeth.  Of course there is another option altogether, take your PC (or in my case, a laptop) and hook it up to your television via HDMI cable, throw in a couple game-pads (Xbox 360 controllers work particularly well as a lot of the games are ported to PC) and you have yet another reason to question the viability of the Steam Machine.

In conclusion, I think that consoles should remain as they are, in other words, they shouldn’t be upgradable to the point where they’re no longer recognizable as it negates their very existence and when you consider the fact that the latest generation of console has abandoned PowerPC and cell architecture (aspects that made consoles unique) in favour of traditional x86 architecture (as used in most PC’s today), the lines between console and PC have definitely (and unnecessarily) blurred into one another.  So sure, there is definitely a market for this hybrid gaming machine, however the real question remains, will the vast majority of die-hard PC and console enthusiasts accept Valve’s hybrid love child?