“We want to define this generation with this game,” says Game Director Stig Asmussen of God of War III, currently in development at Sony’s Santa Monica studios.
Without getting into much spoiler territory for those who have foolishly slept on the series, God of War III picks up immediately where God of War II left off. Clinging to the back of the colossal Titan Gaia, Kratos scales Mount Olympus, driven by vengeance, intent on stopping at nothing to see the god Zeus dead. By doing so, Kratos reignites the legendary war between the gods and the long-dormant Titans, a conflict that threatens to bring down all of Olympus in its wake.
The furious battle that serves as the backdrop for the game won’t be the only thing that’s epic in scale for God of War III. Recall that we mentioned earlier that Kratos is riding on the back of a Titan, and now keep this in mind: the size of the Titans can be measured in acres, with some of them taller than Chicago’s Sears Tower. To put it into perspective, Medusa’s Lair from God of War II could literally fit in the palm of one of these creatures. Simply put, they’re massive, living, breathing, moving and functioning creatures that act as the basis for the game’s playable areas.
Once the live demo of the game is fired up, we not only see the scale in action, but some of the new tricks the team has up its sleeve. The first and most obvious difference are the game’s visuals, which bring Kratos to life in striking high definition like you’ve never seen him before. This is “Kratos 3.0,” says Asmussen, impressively rendered by the PS3. Terms like “high-res shaders” and “blended normal maps” are thrown around, but it simply means the character model looks better than ever. Up close you can see wrinkles and scars on his skin; the muscles in his face and body stretch and flex as he moves. He looks more chiseled and worn -- and wouldn’t you after what he’s been through? -- but he’s still distinctly the character we’ve come to know.
You’ll be able to switch between the weapons on the fly with ease, mixing up Cestus and Athena’s Blades combos at the push of a button. Asmussen likens the switching to “stance shifting,” noting that the same button combinations can be used with both weapons, each resulting in a different combination. This can also be mixed with another weapon Kratos has in his arsenal, the Fire Bow. Like it sounds, the bow shoots arrows of fire, which will cause enemies to burst into flames. We saw the fire propagate as well, catching other enemies on fire as they were nearby, until an entire group was scorched by the flames.
And there’s plenty of gore, too. At one point, we see Kratos battle one of the game’s new creatures, called the Chimera. This new beast is a strange snake/lion/goat hybrid, and Kratos must fight his way through each of its three forms. The first form, the snake, has Kratos hacking off the slithering limbs. By the battle’s end, Kratos is wrestling the Chimera to the ground, pinning its head down as he struggles to break off one of its horns. Once cracked, Kratos then aggressively jams the horn directly into its face, blood streaming out of its head before it’s put out of its misery.
Kratos can also ride the harpies to reach new areas, as we see once he clears an area to make way for their return. After stirring them with the fire bow, they flock in a formation over a large chasm. We see Kratos jump to grab a single harpy’s feet, using his blades to stab it into obedience. He jumps from one harpy to another, splitting the former in half as he moves to another. When Kratos reaches his destination, he causes the harpy to dive-bomb down into a crowd of enemies, killing it in the process.
Once again, Kratos will be using the body parts of his foes to his advantage. After an interactive sequence that has Kratos (quite literally) tearing Helios’ head from his body, he then has a new and useful tool. When held up, Helios’ head shines a light to reveal secrets, indicated both visually and by the rumbling of the DualShock 3. In the case of this demo, Kratos finds the Door of Eos, which opens up to reveal a cavern.
Holding the head lights up the darkness; it shows the way, revealing paths and blinding enemies as it approaches. The undead soldiers cringe in the light, temporarily stunned by the head, and then take on a glow of their own, leaving Kratos the opportunity to launch into an attack. When the glow wears off (or the enemies are dead), Kratos pulls the head out again to continue on his journey.
Although we didn’t see any in the demo, we’re told that puzzle elements of previous games will be making a return, as will basic platforming. The shimmying and climbing will all be present, with what appear to be significantly upgraded animations and a camera system that’s more flexible. Complaints of ill-placed camera angles in particularly tricker sections of the game should be addressed in God of War III.
Kratos has a new method of travel, called Icarus Ascension. Using the Icarus Wings he obtained in God of War II, we see Kratos travel up a massive vent, with air pushing him upwards. The camera shifts below Kratos, and the player is given full flight controls as he speeds through the tunnel, shifting to avoid beams and finding paths as pieces of the structure crumble before him. Channels like this will be spread all over Mount Olympus, to be looked at like highways for traveling, and will appear more than once through the game.
For most fans of the series, their demands are simple when it comes to God of War III -- more of what they loved with more polish and high-definition graphics on the PlayStation 3. As Asmussen puts it, they didn’t “tinker with what’s not broken.” With that said, the new additions and scale of God of War III are as impressive as they are expected. Simply put, there’s no room for error -- the team has to deliver an amazing experience, and there’s nothing to indicate that they won’t.
Sony is mum on the release date for God of War III, leaving that announcement for this year’s E3. As for the future of the series beyond a game that’s said to be the final chapter in a trilogy, Asmussen can’t comment.
“I don’t know about the future of God of War,” he says. “I just know what’s going to happen in God of War III. That’s what we’re focused on right now.”
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