God of War E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

SCEA Santa Monica's new action adventure set in fictional ancient Greece is, well, way cooler than we expected. Read on.

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God of War (2005)
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We got an in-depth look at God of War, the upcoming action adventure game from SCEA's Santa Monica studio, in a meeting with the developer at E3 today. The game casts you in the role of a despondent former Spartan warrior under order from the gods to slay the cruel god Ares (who is--surprise--the Greek god of war). Seems the only way to do this is by unlocking the power of Pandora's box, and the finding of said box will occupy the first part of the game. After a few minutes playing God of War, we were duly impressed by the frenetic action, interesting puzzle mechanics, and cohesive visual style that the game presents.

Right away, the most notable aspect of God of War is its wild combat action. Your character is armed with dual chain blades that can be swung and launched at enemies in a ton of different ways and with startling fluidity. The developer said there will be somewhere between 15 and 25 different attack moves with these chains in the final game, and the combo system is so free-form that you'll be able to string these moves together in just about any order you want. You'll also be able to sunder enemies with a single move, such as by ripping them in half, but if you take this route you won't reap any bonus orbs, which you can use to upgrade your weapons and magical abilities.

Magic will be a powerful ally in the game as well. At the beginning you'll be able to control the thunderbolts of Zeus, which of course can be used to zap enemies. At one point in the demo you end up fighting Medusa, who can turn you to stone. In an interesting twist, once you defeat the beast, you can use her head as a magical weapon to turn enemies to stone as well. There were slots on the menu screen for other magical attacks, so we imagine there will be plenty more toys to play with in the final game.

Even that's not the end of your options for dispatching enemies. You'll also be able to take down foes without taking any damage by initiating a sort of combat minigame. Once this begins, the game flashes buttons on the screen that you have to hit quickly in the right order, and as you do this your character will go through an elaborate attack sequence and, frankly, kick the monster's ass (we saw this demonstrated to our great satisfaction on a minotaur). This method isn't without risk, though; if you screw up, your attack will be interrupted, and you'll take serious damage yourself.

God of War was described to us as merging the action of Devil May Cry with the puzzle-solving of Ico, and indeed we saw some interesting puzzle elements in our demo. One puzzle involved a locked door that required a live sacrifice to the god Poseidon before the player could gain passage. Two controllable jets of flame were located conveniently in front of this door, and there just happened to be a helpless prisoner in a cage down a nearby slope (perhaps you see where this is going). The most interesting part of this puzzle was that the slope was populated by respawning enemies and the cage would slide back down if you stopped to fight them. The solution here was to wedge the cage against broken rocks scattered around the slope as new enemies spawned in. God of War seemed to have multiple puzzles of the lever-pulling variety, though these puzzles will apparently be connected in inventive ways.

Even though it's eight or nine months away from release, God of War looks extremely sharp, especially compared to many other PS2 games. The environments and character models have a highly detailed and very clean look, and the character animations--especially the attacks of your character--are amazingly lifelike and fluid. There are a ton of neat little touches to the style of the game's presentation, largely owing to the context-sensitive combat model. If you're climbing hand over hand across a rope and fighting monsters, for instance, you'll automatically perform moves relevant to that particular scenario--as will the enemies. We saw a skeleton jump at and grab onto the player character and begin to climb up him, with a vigorous shaking of the analog stick required to get rid of the clingy undead. Similarly, while the main character was climbing up a rock face, he could lean back and strike with one arm at nearby enemies. As another example, flying harpies were dispatched with a grab-and-tear maneuver that left them bloody and wingless. The impact of God of War's combat system is difficult to describe, but trust us--it's easily absorbed once you see it in action.

At the risk of kicking the hype machine into high gear, we have to say that God of War is one of our biggest surprises--on any platform--at E3 so far. The game's concept looks good on paper, but then, most any game can be made to sound great with the right wording. We've played it, though, and we think God of War's got it where it counts (that's story, graphics, and gameplay, people). The game is scheduled for release early in 2005, so we'll have plenty of months to anticipate--and cover--the game before then. Look for more soon.

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