During E3 2008, we learned about Wii Music, a PSP bundle featuring National Treasure, and a possible Deal or No Deal Xbox Live game that we are still waiting on. The power of the God of War III trailer we witnessed counteracted the pain of all these epic fails.
It's two years later now and the release date is right around the corner. Armed with our tie-in "Kratos Fury" Slurpees, we are ready. And we are legion.
Sony is keeping mum about the plot of the game, and with good reason. The stories are almost as captivating as the gameplay in this series, and despite the temptation to learn as much as possible, the best possible experience one can have with this game is a completely pure, uninformed one. Game director Stig Asmussen has this to say: "We are keeping things quiet for a reason. I don't want the game to come out and have everybody feel like they have played it by reading previews and watching videos. Of course the experience is different when you have your hands on it, but watching gameplay videos can really spoil things for a game as scripted as ours."
That said, without any background it is difficult to fully appreciate Kratos' (and, as his handler, your own) purpose. If you haven't yet played through the first two titles, they've been remastered and released for Playstation 3 and you owe it to yourself to pick them up. You'll get to know Spartan Kratos, a warrior who could rip apart anyone in 300 barehanded. After being tricked by Ares, the god of war, into murdering his own family, Kratos sets out to kill him in revenge. He does so and becomes the new god of war. In the second game, Zeus offers to make him a true god in exchange for his servitude. Kratos refuses, and Zeus destroys Kratos' fellow Spartans. Kratos allies himself with Gaia and the Titans, who were humiliated and defeated by the Greek gods (children of the Titans). When he tries to kill Zeus (who, in a Darth Vader-esque twist, reveals that he is Kratos' father), Kratos' ally Athena steps in between and dies. Kratos swears revenge (sensing a theme here?). At the end of GOW2, we see Kratos marching towards Olympus with Gaia and the Titans.
GOW3 will finish the trilogy with Kratos attempting to destroy the gods' residence, Mt. Olympus. Our guess is that he'll be successful: original GOW ingénue David Jaffe has gone as record as saying "God of War explains, or ultimately will explain, why there are no more Greek myths." Then again, that was 2007, and Jaffe is no longer running things. It is certain that the series will continue somehow. Though Sony claimed in December 2008 that this entry would be the last in the franchise, John Hight said in January 2010 that "while God of War III will conclude the trilogy, it won't spell the end of the franchise." If Kratos is successful in bringing down the Greek gods, where will GOW4 and beyond take us? The Roman gods? The Norse gods? Krazy Kratos Kart Racing?
All we really know for sure is what Sony has deigned to show us, and we are still hungry for more. GoW III demo opens with Kratos watching as out-of-control horses pull a blazing carriage across the sky. A crowd of terrified townspeople scramble across a Cliffside, and we see that they are running from a brutal skeleton army that isn't above throwing women over the ledge. Enter you as Kratos. After disposing of the army (and heck, the rest of the townspeople if you really want), you make your way through a massive set of doors. A fire bow allows you to injure a disgusting harpy, who you then can take a ride on--a sign of a gameplay element to come. A few minutes in, a glimpse of the titan Perses reveals that this title won't shy away from the massive scope the series is known for. Asmussen felt that keeping the scale of the titans was extremely important for the success of the game: "We made a decision very early with the titans to 'keep it real,' and I think holding true to this is what helped make it so convincing. They are real 3D models and can be rendered from multiple angles and distances."
An armored centaur enters with a new skeleton army, proving to be quite the formidable new foe--until you disembowel him like a TaunTaun, wriggling intestines and all. Looks warm in there!
Helios, revealed to be the owner of the fiery chariot, swoops in from time to time. He seems to think he is helping a lot more than he really is. A massive chimera (lion with an additional goat head and a snake for a tail approaches from behind. One can almost feel the slimy reptile tail as Kratos slices it off, leaving the creature with a bloody stump.
After the chimera is killed, Kratos is free to bring down more harpies, leaping from one to another to dismember them in a way that brought the duskbats from Darksiders to mind. After more skeleton army destruction, it's time for ledge climbing--our first glimpse at the platforming aspect of this title.
The demo reveals an interesting new element of gameplay as well. After Kratos beats a cyclops into submission, he hops on his back with a quick time event that the series is famous for. He is then able to control the cyclops like a cowboy with a horse's reins. A group of soldiers hiding behind a wall of shields and spears (300 imagery still fresh in our minds) are finally broken apart now that Kratos is able to swing the cyclops' arm and batter them with his hefty club. The soldiers fly to the left and right like Godzilla kicking down a house of cards. When the cyclops has ceased to be of use, Kratos grips his bowling ball-sized eyeball and pulls it out with a bloody pop. I look forward to bending even more massive creatures to my will--something fresh in mind from Gears of War 2 and, less fortunately, the more recent Crash Bandicoot games.
Kratos approaches an ailing Helios, who was downed by Perses in battle. As Helios strains his neck against Kratos' powerful grip, the Spartan warrior tears the sun god's head from his shoulders. Light emits from his eyes and mouth like some horrible lantern. Kratos can then use Helios' head much like he used the heads of Medusa and Euryale in previous games: to brighten dark areas, blind enemies, and reveal secrets in the environment. The amazing glowing effect the sun god's light has comes courtesy of Turtle, the lighting program from Illuminate Labs.
Through a chest typically reserved for orbs, Kratos enters an Icarus Shaft. Using the Wings of Icarus, he flies straight upward, and we are tasked with dodging falling meteors from Perses. As we lunge towards Perses, seemingly eager for blood, the demo ends. That's only thirty minutes of the game, which is slated to last between 10-20 hours.
If you would like to get your hands on the demo, you can do so in a few ways. First, you can pick up a copy of District 9 on Blu-Ray, which includes the demo. If you already have a Playstation 3, there's really no excuse to watch movies in any other format besides on the big screen. And District 9 is a terrific title that deserves to be part of your collection. You can also nab that God of War Collection for PS3, which bundles remastered versions of the first two GOWs and the demo at a low price. If you pre-order the game, you can get the demo from select retailers. And finally, you can travel back in time to E3 2009, where it was playable on the floor. But in that case, you should just travel into the future and buy a copy of the game for yourself. Bring us back a hoverboard.
Kratos will fight much like he did in the first two games, utilizing the fluid and vicious hack n' slash style that made this game so great to begin with. Like a ghostly pale Muhammed Ali, Kratos floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
You'll be able to seamlessly switch between the Cestus gauntlets and the Blades of Exile at any time by pressing the d-pad, which will make Kratos' combat all the more smooth. The Cesti, new to this game, are massive, gilded lion heads that fit over Kratos' fists like enormous boxing gloves (it is rumored he will acquire them after defeating Hercules). They have an almost Inspector Gadget quality to them, which allows the front of the gloves to separate from Kratos' hands and batter distant enemies. He can also use the chains that keep them anchored to the rest of the gloves to inflict serious damage. The Blades of Exile are the third pair of chained blades that Kratos will use in the series, replacing the Blades of Athena from the second game. They play the same as the other blades; they just have an updated style.
Two other weapons have been confirmed: the Zipper and the Blade of Olympus. The Zipper is the fire bow we played with in the demo, proving that nothing's better than a bow and arrow except for a bow and arrow on fire. The Blade of Olympus, a single long, glowing blade, was forged by Kratos' enemy and father Zeus. It was previously available in GOW2.
Kratos will sport non-weapon accessories as well, such as the Wings of Icarus that allow Kratos to soar and the Golden Fleece, which Kratos wears to block enemy attacks and deflect enemy projectiles back at their source.
The maximum amount of enemies on screen at onece has been increased from 15 (in previous GOW titles) to 50, so look forward to showing off your skills with the sick combos this will allow you to rack up.
Cory Balrog announced back at a GOW2 launch event that GOW3 would run in native 1080p resolution at a stable 60 FPS--a feat that hasn't since been accomplished on a console by a game of this complexity. Unfortunately, Sony has scaled it down to 720p (with 1080p upscaling available), according to a quiet post by SCEA Social Media Manager Jeff Rubenstein in the comments section of the PlayStation Blog. To rub salt in your wounds, game director Asmussen has acknowledged that the game will run on a variable frame rate, from 30 to 60 FPS depending on what's taking place on-screen. Disappointment aside (keep in mind that Uncharted 2 ran in 720p), there's no denying that the game looks as good as anything we've played so far this year. This is due in part to the advanced new game engine that Sony built specifically for this title, which offers texture resolutions that have quadrupled since God of War 2.
A boss which Kratos will encounter early in the game is a twisted version of the seahorse we often perceive as cute and cuddly, this "sea horse" is made of gnashing waves, coral, and crab held together in the form of a horse by some unseen (probably godly) force. It isn't taken directly from any Greek myths, but Asmussen says that it is inspired by them. Sony's willingness to loosely use Greek myths and generate their own ideas from them bodes well for the series' future. If designers can invent their own mythical creatures and storylines, Kratos can continue fighting Greek gods and monsters into infinity. As whoever invented the griffin and chimera knows, it's as easy as throwing darts at a bunch of animal names. Octopus-monkey-squirrel? Welcome to the annals of history.
From what we've played and what we've seen, Kratos looks to be in good hands. It was striking to return to this game and see just how much action games of the past few years (including the recent Darksiders and Dante's Inferno) owe to the series. We wouldn't be surprised at all to see innovations made in GOW3 leaving their mark on action games of the future.
Sharpen your blades: God of War 3 emerges on March 16th, 2010 in North America, March 19th in Europe, and March 25th in Japan.