Hands-on at E3 / God of War III

Let’s not dance around the discotheque on this. There are those that absolutely love God of War to the point they want Kratos to engage them in a button-pressing, sex mini-game. Then there are those that hate God of War and let the whole world know how stupid the former are by leaving comments on sites ’round the web. After taking Kratos out for a spin in his latest assault on the gods of Greek mythology, it’s safe to say the natural order will not be disrupted. If you love the series, you will continue to be thrilled and revel in the gore. If you don’t, then please leave a comment below letting us know how much we suck.

Our demo started off with Kratos doing familiar things in familiar territory: killing things in a city in chaos. Undead soldiers were the fodder du jour as we started on the violent journey from the city-like environments of Mount Olympus to its caverns. The Blades of Athena were, again, the main weapon of dispatch, functioning just like they did in previous installments — equally satisfying as well. It wasn’t entirely old hat, however, as Kratos had some new tricks up his ashen sleeves. One of the new weapons in the demo was the Cestus; big, powerful gauntlets that turn the Ghost of Sparta into a prizefighter boxing machine (didn’t really have that much fun with this, honestly). A new grapple maneuver, which allows Kratos to pick up an enemy and run around with them like a shield/battering ram before throwing their face into a wall, was a really nice surprise and fun every time it was used. Happily, the old standby of tearing a foe in half like it was lobster battle on Iron Chef is back to please.

As we soldiered on through a cavernous area by stabbing harpies and using them as a short-distance flying assistant to reach platforms, the graphical qualities of this beast really started to pop out. The environments were drop-dead gorgeous with tons of detail, great lighting and a smooth framerate. The series has always looked pretty stellar, even on the PSP, but the extra junk in the trunk of the PS3 really got a showcase here. At a spot near the cavern’s exit the camera came in real close and we were able to see Kratos in all his glory. No, not that “glory.” Pissed off, scarred and just as ripped; Kratos’ total badassery came through like never before, only helped by the fact blood from enemies coated him like pancake syrup. When we realized this little fact, we ran around to try and get the camera to capture it perfectly because it was so cool.

Leaving the cavern we were met with a scenic, decayed vista of Olympus and a long expanse of nothing to walk on, but the swarm of harpies would help the situation. Using the harpies as what are essentially floating platforms is pretty funny. Kratos stabs and hangs beneath them while they fidget about trying to shake him loose before they are thrown away like garbage and it’s on to the next one. Clearing this part lead us to where our demo time would come to an end.

In the distance, a Titan, trying to scale Olympus’ walls, was being molested by fireballs from Helios in his flying chariot. Firing the large siege device, fortuitously stationed next to Kratos, to try and shoot down the Sun God brought about a mini-boss fight with a chimera — part lion, part snake, part goat; all dangerous. In usual God of War fashion, weakening the foe to a certain point put the “O” icon over its head to inform us it was time to grapple the beast and start a QTE. The first QTE had Kratos lopping off the chimera’s tail while the second one had him tearing off the creature’s horn and putting it down by stabbing it through the face. Very classy. After the beastie was dealt with we fired the siege device, took out Helios and watched as the Titan pulled himself up and walked towards the camera, passing right over Kratos. It was all done in real-time and looked absolutely awesome. After this we had to put the controller down and move on to make sure we got time with other things. There was much pouting.

It’s worth mentioning that the QTEs have changed a little from previous installments wherein the face buttons you need to hit are now either at the top, bottom, left or right side of the screen (corresponding to where the button sits on the controller) instead of being in the bottom middle. It’s a change that makes sense in terms of button layout and brain response but when you’re sitting really close to a big TV it screws you up. Don’t sit too close to the TV, kids…you’ll ruin a QTE and possibly go blind!

Playing God of War III is like taking a nap with the most comfortable blanket. It’s a very warm and welcoming feeling, albeit über violent, that puts a smile on your face and lets you know everything is going to be alright from the first moment the Blades of Athena tear an enemy asunder.  What we played showed that the core of what makes God of War a great series has, thankfully, not changed in the third, major console installment, which is rather amazing considering the reins have been handed off to yet another game director. The combat controls remain tight, the blood flows every which way and the brutal-yet-beautiful cinematic flair stays at the forefront teasing at what Kratos ultimately has in store for the gods. March 2010 can’t come soon enough.