God of War III Update: Rushing Olympus

Where Kratos treads, gods tremble. We tackle the opening scenes of Sony's upcoming action game.

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God of War III is set to kick 2010 off with a bloody bang for the PlayStation 3. The game will wrap up the story of its main character and poster boy for carnage, Kratos, who's had a bone to pick with the Greek pantheon for a while now. GOWIII has impressed us ever since we first saw it last year. A playable demo--complete with centaur gutting and sun god mangling--as well as a compilation disc of the first two games in the series ensure that fans will be suitably riled up for Kratos's big finish. Sony recently held an event to show off an essentially final version of the game and let us play through the opening sequence. While the opener was pretty brief--roughly 25 minutes or so--it definitely sets GOWIII up to live up to the incredibly high expectations set for it.

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The game's opening has all the makings of an old-timey joke that starts something like "A rage-filled demigod and a pack of crabby Titans go into Olympus…" But, unfortunately, "and the gods all died horribly" doesn't work as a satisfying punch line. However, it does all work pretty spectacularly as a game opener. GOWIII picks up right where the previous game ended, with Kratos and a mob of Titans scaling their way up Mount Olympus eager to give the surviving Greek gods a whuppin'. The gorgeous opening cinematic, all rendered in real time via the game's jaw-dropping graphics engine, zooms around to give players a dazzling view of Olympus and the surrounding land before resting on Kratos who's just itching for a fight as he rides on Gaia's shoulder.

As fearsome as Kratos's mob may be, the gods aren't exactly trembling in fear: Zeus, Hades, Hermes, Helios, and Poseidon are more than willing to throw down with the oncoming mob, which is exactly what each heads off to do. Poseidon is the most pressing threat in the opening because he creates a watery creature to yank the advancing Titans off the mountain. Your immediate concern when you get control of Kratos is to deal with the various enemies appearing on Gaia intent on stopping you. Once Gaia is nabbed by Poseidon's creature, you'll have to deal with that as well. This isn't much of a problem due to Kratos's powered-up status at the start of the game, and given what the last two games were like, we don't expect that will last, but it sure is nice.

The short sequence we played was a dynamic rollercoaster that saw Kratos skittering up Gaia's arm while the Titans crawled up Olympus and dealing with assorted enemies, including Poseidon's water creature, as well as the sea god himself. The intro offered another showcase for the impressive Titan gameplay that has the environment change around Kratos on the fly. In the space of a few minutes, we were running normally, hanging upside down, and crawling up--all off of Gaia's arm. The cinematic shifts looked great and helped mix up the game's pacing to good effect. Along the way, we got the chance to do just about everything we were expecting as Kratos (stabbing, punching, eviscerating, and goring anything in our way) along with some new perks (using enemies as a battering ram; a much more visceral way to kill) that fit in nicely. At the moment, we're big fans of the evolving levels courtesy of riding a Titan, and we can't say enough about the new mechanics involved in deicide. While the series has always been on the cutting edge of god-murdering, we'll go out on a limb to say GOWIII offers the most visceral experience the series has seen yet, thanks to a good mix of button pressing along with a wicked use of the R3 and L3 buttons.

God of War III's visuals handily set a new high watermark on the PlayStation 3, thanks to their insane level of detail, sheer scope, and impressive art direction. One key thing to note is that the game looks a lot better than the recent PlayStation Network demo. The static environments are gorgeous, and the Titans--living, moving environments in their own right--look fantastic. The assorted enemies on display, both big and small, are a sight to behold--and that's before Kratos guts them. The violence in the game is as over the top as ever with the added benefit of HD viscera and blood…so much blood. Our favorite element so far is the creative camera work that zips through first-, third-, and second-person angles during god murdering. At the center of everything is Kratos, who's never looked better. The package is topped off by some jaw-dropping lighting effects, smooth animation, and a steady frame rate that we haven't seen waver--even when things onscreen are going nuts.

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The game's audio is the perfect complement to its stunning visuals. The franchise's score has always aimed high and helped sell each entry's scale. The music in God of War III stays the course and serves up some truly epic accompaniment to the onscreen action. The score we've heard so far has matched the onscreen action perfectly and packs the punch of a movie score. The voice acting in the game is a top notch as ever, rooted in Linda Hunt's fantastic narration and T.C. Carson's rage-filled voicing of Kratos. The supporting cast seems to be stepping up to Hunt and Carson's level--for as long as they're alive anyway. Did we mention there's a whole lot of dying going on?

While the expectations of God of War III border on incredibly high, the game looks like it's most certainly ready to meet them. So far it's hitting all the notes fans of the series would want and adding more than a few new ones to boot. God of War III is slated to ship March 13 for the PlayStation 3.

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