Currently scheduled for release next month, God of War is a PlayStation 2-exclusive action adventure set in fictional ancient Greece. We recently received a near-final build of the game from SCEA, and we have played through the first couple of hours in order to bring you some updated impressions. Assuming the role of a former Spartan warrior who has received training from various gods, your eventual goal in the game will be to slay Ares, the god of war. You'll be spilling plenty of blood before you even encounter him, though, and we've been pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of ways in which you'll do it. God of War might look like a mindless hack-and-slash affair at a glance, but it's really anything but.
You'll start the game with a number of relatively basic combat abilities at your disposal, including light and heavy attacks, a very effective block, and a grab. These moves can all be combined to perform some truly spectacular and devastating combos, and as you progress and learn new abilities you'll realize that they're only the tip of the iceberg. One of our favorite techniques through the early stages of the game was to hold down the heavy attack button, which, after striking an enemy a couple of times, throws him up into the air so that you can either jump up and hit him a few more times or stick him with your dual weapons (fat, deadly looking blades on the ends of lengthy chains), and then him them around at great speed--often hitting any nearby enemies in the process.
As we progressed through the early stages of God of War we encountered a number of different enemy types (minotaurs and gorgons, for example), and although all of them could be beaten with repeated hacking and or slashing if we hammered the buttons for long enough, they were each vulnerable (and immune) to certain attack types. Many of the enemies that we encountered, for example, couldn't be grabbed until they'd taken a certain amount of damage, and the snakelike gorgons were immune to the "Medusa's Eye" special attack that we earned for defeating Medusa and with which we were temporarily able to turn other enemies into stone.
Like many of the other enemies in God of War, gorgons can be killed using a special combo minigame attack (performed by pressing a random sequence of buttons and analog stick rotations as the relevant symbols appear on the screen) that not only looks great (the gorgon-specific combo finishes with you beheading your enemy), but also guarantees that you'll receive "orbs" at the end of the fight. The orbs in God of War come in three tasty flavors: green orbs replenish your life meter, blue orbs restore your magic energy, and red orbs can be spent on upgrading your abilities and learning new ones when you collect them in large enough numbers. We've generally found that we have more than enough magic energy at our disposal, but the orbs certainly aren't plentiful enough that you'll want to waste your magic on enemies that can easily be dispatched using just your blades.
As you might have guessed, the majority of our time with God of War thus far has been spent in combat, but we've also encountered some platforming action as well as some exploration-based puzzles, which haven't been terribly challenging but have done a great job of breaking up the various combat areas. All of the levels that we've played through have been quite linear, incidentally, but we've always been rewarded for exploring as much as the level designs permit us to. These rewards are usually in the form of chests containing one of the aforementioned orb types.
God of War boasts a very solid-looking visual style that hasn't failed to impress at any point, although there have been one or two occasions when we've wished that we could control the camera manually or at least reposition it directly behind us. We certainly wouldn't describe the camera as problematic, though, and the rare occasions that we've wished we could move it have often been the result of us unnecessarily backtracking through certain areas.
Basically then, God of War is shaping up to be something very special indeed. The combat is satisfying and varied, the puzzles and platforming sections aren't overly lengthy or taxing, and the presentation is of a consistently high quality. We look forward to bringing you a full review of God of War just as soon as we get our hands on a finished copy.