Ascension is a prequel to Sony's hit series of mythic Greek brawlers, promising to tell the story of how Kratos recovered from a shocking act of betrayal to fuel himself with the rage and skill necessary to defy Ares, the god of War.
Six months after Kratos was tricked into killing his family, the Spartan general's "dark and more human past" is laid bare for us in this story but, while his path to vengeance is piled high with bodies, we find few skeletons in the closet. Our hero, not yet the Ghost of Sparta, has some growing to do.
At the top of an ancient structure crackling with power, a wretched man whimpers as he trips before an altar and drops his paltry offering of apples. Before he can gather them up, a winged beast swoops in and snatches him.
Kratos watches impassively as the victim is torn apart and discarded, his cries for help ignored - so, when he's not being boring, our hero can be a real dick.
As a fighting machine, though, he has never been more agreeable.
Fans will know how to work his mighty chains and it's not a hard system for newcomers to grasp either. Many enemies can be finished off with a grapple-based fatality system that is shocking in its brutality, even for veterans. One enemy, a kind of humanoid elephant, can be dispatched with a graphic act of open brain surgery. Satisfaction guaranteed.
The game throws the foot on the gas pedal and doesn't ease off much, compensating for the lifeless plot with all of the swinging, hacking, stabbing, spell casting and giant-mechanical-snake-riding you'll do, set against some of the most glorious backdrops seen on a PS3. So much of the scenery is alive and out to kill you, the sense of scale almost overwhelming. It's great to look at, though a pain when the camera pulls out to show you just how staggeringly big everything is, rendering Kratos and his enemies tiny and impossible to tell apart.
There are high hopes for the series' first multiplayer offering.
At first, play - on a private server - is more progressive than single-player. Instead of being Kratos, you develop your own warrior and pledge your services to one of four gods, each granting unique abilities.
The combat introduces parry and counter-attacks, and the upgrade paths boost not only your weapons and magic, but also your armour and perks.
The co-op trial mode, in which you and a friend try to beat the clock while facing waves of increasingly brutal enemies, is closer to the classic gameplay, while the free-for-all and team-based objective games demand greater ingenuity, skill and patience since you're effectively fighting a whole gang of Kratoses.
Inexperienced players could end up unwilling rag dolls if they encounter opponents without a solid grasp of the upgrade path.
If this game was the first of its kind, five stars would be within its reach. As it is, the amazing set pieces, furious action and engaging multiplayer save Ascension from an eternity spent in purgatory.
Platform: PlayStation 3