At a press event today in Santa Monica, Sony unveiled God of War, a third-person action game in development at Sony's Santa Monica studio. This original game has actually been in development for roughly two years at the Southern California studio under the direction of David Jaffe, a Sony veteran whose work on the early Twisted Metal games and Twisted Metal Black Online proves there's something not quite right about him (but in a good way). At a presentation today, Jaffe discussed God of War and gave a demo to the assembled press that offered a taste of what the game will offer.
God of War's story is a dark tale that makes inventive use of ancient Greek mythology. You're cast in the role of a former Spartan warrior, who, at the start of the game, is about to commit suicide. Before you wonder why Jaffe and company have spent the last two years working on the world's shortest suicide sim, stop--there's quite a bit more to it. The dramatic opener is actually a kickoff for the game's adventure, which is essentially a three- to four-act playable flashback of the last three weeks of the warrior's troubled life. While the exact details of the plot are a little fuzzy, the gist of it is that this brave warrior sets out on a pretty ambitious quest--to kill a god, namely Ares, the god of war. In the game's rich universe, such a grand goal is actually achievable, thanks to Pandora's box, which, as far as the game is concerned, is a powerful weapon. But while a trusty ultimate weapon in box form is handy to have, the package isn't lying around in a cupboard like a can of Raid. To ensure that the right sort of people get the box, the powers that be entrusted an eccentric (read: insane) architect to build a temple to contain Pandora's box. Given the architect's penchant for running with whatever the voices in his head urged him to do, the temple is quite a sight and a real chore to navigate, thanks to a plethora of booby traps and puzzles. It also happens to be built on the back of a titan who's crawling through the desert. This and other story sequences will unfold in more than an hour of in-game cutscenes as well as in multiple endings that should encourage repeated play.
Jaffe's demo of the game gave us a whirlwind tour of the temple and showed off the combat system, puzzles, and assorted hazards you'll face in it. God of War's fighting system is essentially a combat sandbox for players to experiment with. The hero will be armed with twin chain blades that he can use when fighting evil. You'll find a core set of more than 15 individual moves that you can link together however you like. The resulting combos will feature quite a bit of variety and will reflect your preferred combat style. Performing combos will apparently have a very cool added bonus in the form of a combo meter. While concrete details on the meter's exact mechanics were sketchy, one thing that was mentioned was that when the combo meter is full, you'll have the ability to transform into a godlike creature (which we imagine can bring some major hurt to your foes).
Another of the many cool elements in God of War's combat is the grab system. As you go about the business of killing things, you'll notice a circle icon that appears above an enemy's head once it has taken enough damage. If you press the circle button, you'll trigger a minigame that will require you to match onscreen button prompts. If you manage to hit the right buttons successfully, you'll kill your foe spectacularly. The slick thing about the combat system is that it changes based on where you're fighting. For example, when crawling up walls or along ropes, you'll access a different set of moves that are all just as deadly as if you were fighting on the ground. Our favorite move from this part of the demo was when the hero was climbing hand over hand along a rope and encountered some enemies. Unable to rely on his hands, he was able to catch the foes in his legs, snap their necks, and keep on going. As you progress through the game, you'll gain even more moves, though the specifics of this system are unknown for now.
The hero's arsenal of attacks is also beefed up with magical abilities and artifacts that will serve him well. You'll find different types of magic, such as standard spells that can be performed if you have the right number of points. In addition, you'll be able to make use of some cool artifacts from your recently slain foes. The most striking one we saw during the demo was the use of the severed head of the gorgon Medusa to freeze enemies, which was quite cool. The downside to all this is that you'll have to rely on your magic points to a certain degree, which means you'll have to collect orbs containing magic energy from your foes.
The puzzles we saw seemed to be mostly cerebral brain teasers that will require you to really think about their solutions. While you'll find some of the standard puzzle types represented, such as puzzles involving pressure pads and item placement, Jaffe's demo showed that you'll have to do some critical thinking to solve them. For example, you'll have to shove the object you want to trigger a pressure pad from a distance in order to make it through a narrow opening. Item placement puzzles, such as inserting shields or crests into slots on a door, will require you to think through how to collect what you need. However, while this new spin on familiar puzzles is all well and good, we were most taken by the morbid aspect we observed in some of these same puzzles. For example, one item placement puzzle requires you to use the head you've yanked off a corpse to fill a slot, while another requires you to perform a fiery sacrifice in order to open a door.
God of War's presentation is looking very sharp despite the fact that the game is still early. The highly detailed character models and environments are looking very good, due in no small part to their twisted designs. We've been most taken by the temple environments we've seen so far, which feature broad, expansive areas that are layered. For example, you'll see parts of the temple go up high into the ceiling, from which you can take a look at areas below you that you've already covered. The audio is still early, but the game will feature an orchestrated soundtrack and a generous helping of voice.
From what we've seen so far, God of War is a promising original game out of Santa Monica, whose blend of style and substance makes it one to watch for at this year's E3. The use of mythology makes for some interesting visuals, although diehard fans of Greek myth may be disturbed by the slaughtering of harpies, gorgons, cyclopes, and other mythical creatures. The combat system is shaping up to offer a rich experience that will encourage players to play using their own distinctive style. God of War is currently slated to ship in the first quarter of 2005 for the PlayStation 2. Look for much more on the game in the coming months.