God of War III Hands-On Impressions

Kratos' quest for bloody vengeance continues as we get some hands-on time with his new weapons and abilities.

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Fans of the God of War games know that Kratos rarely needs a good reason to dish out some of the most brutal onscreen lashings ever seen, but it just so happens that this time around our less-than-affable hero has found the perfect reason to justify his rage: revenge. With E3 2009 tapering off on its final day, we managed a sneak attack on the Sony Europe lounge, where we got our dirty little hands on God of War III and experienced the combat prowess of what could possibly be the angriest man in games.

We began the demo a minute or two into the same demo played on our stage show--on the balcony of a large temple in a battle with the skeletal army of Zeus. In the background, a massive molten Titan hung onto the building with one hand as Helios, the Sun God, played with its patience from atop his great burning chariot. Kratos’ Blades of Chaos remain the hero’s default weapon, and combo attacks have remained largely unchanged since previous games, with triangle and square still used for heavy and light attacks, and circle used to grab enemies. During the demo we witnessed one of Kratos’ new weapons--the Cestus gauntlets, which are giant metal gloves resembling lion heads--as well as his new ability to switch between weapons on the fly. We also got to play another of Kratos’ new, and rather fun, abilities: using an enemy as a battering ram. To achieve this, you simply hold down the square button in the midst of a fight, and Kratos will grab the nearest enemy and use him to ram the rest. Once this is over, pressing circle will allow Kratos to do what he does best: smash the enemy against the nearest wall until his blood and guts spill out.

After eliminating all the riffraff in the area, the huge door at the end of the hall burst open to admit a rather angry centaur general and a fresh wave of undead soldiers. We tore through the troops with the Blades of Chaos and occasionally switched to the Cestus gauntlets, which seem efficient in eliminating smaller groups of tougher enemies and inflicting heavy damage at a short range. The centaur required a mix of heavy and light attacks in order to be taken down, culminating in a very satisfying and gory quick-time sequence that saw Kratos slicing the creature’s belly from navel to nose before pulling out its intestines. This is Kratos in all his high-definition glory, and the squeamish should beware.

After a few empty threats from Helios, Kratos was required to use a nearby ballista to shoot his chariot out of the sky. At this point, God of War III art director Sean Cunningham from SCE Santa Monica explained to us that his dev team is thinking of extending the window of time in which players can do this, since it really is only a matter of seconds. With Helios down but not out, we had to make our way over to the crash site to finish the job. Kratos used a passing flock of harpies fleeing the scene to jump from one to the other (grabbing onto their feet and using his Blades to stab them) in order to cross the deep chasm separating him from the crash site. The cutscene that ensues after Kratos lands really shows off what the SCE Santa Monica team has been doing: Kratos not only fights better than ever, but he also looks the part--wrinkles and scars stand out on his war-torn skin, while his face and body muscles visibly stretch and bulge as he moves.

As we made our way over to the broken body of Helios, we were treated to what Cunningham told us was the game's homage to the film 300: two dozen or so of Zeus' skeletons interlocking their shields and forming an impenetrable dome over Helios. While Kratos was contemplating what to do, a wary cyclops made his way onto the scene, and we were able to finally make use of one of the game’s main features: we rode the beast around, bending it to our will. It was here that we noticed that the quick-time events seem to come much faster than in previous games. Kratos had lashed at the beast only a seemingly small number of times before the familiar circle appeared on the left corner of the screen, signaling the beginning of the quick-time sequence. We’re not sure if this will happen with all enemies in the final game or if this was just the way the demo played. Cunningham also told us that his team has changed the appearance and location of the buttons as they appear onscreen during quick-time events; they are brighter and will appear next to the exact location where they must be applied.

After mounting the cyclops, Kratos stabbed the beast and forced it to lumber across the battlefield, shattering Helios' guardians and paving the way for us to finish him off. In typical fashion, once the cyclops outlived its usefulness Kratos tore out its eye, revealing the optic nerve and vein. Finally alone with Helios, we climbed on his back and used a quick-time event to rip off his head, spilling forth his vocal cords and adding a gruesome new item to our inventory. Helios' head can be used like a flashlight, and it causes the controller to rumble when its light falls over a secret area. In the demo, we used the right analog stick to paint the light over a hidden door in the mountainside, which we used to move into a pitch-black cavern. Inside, we continued to use the macabre light to find our way, and it could even blind and tag our enemies, causing them to glow in the dark long enough for us to slaughter them.

Once we worked our way through the mountain, we found a rising current of air that Kratos soared through using his Icarus wings. The hero moved up and up, over falling fireballs and through narrow openings to emerge near the Titan that we saw at the beginning of the demo. The demo ended with Kratos leaping straight into the burning giant's grill, leaving us with a burning desire to play more.

God of War III will be released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 in March 2010. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more coverage of this game in the coming months.

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