God Of War 3 demo impressions

One or two spoilers if you want to try God Of War 3 cold. But it's shaping up to be something very, very special, as Lee discovers...

I am not sure how many demo codes SCEE sent out last weekend, but I was one of the ones who received a code to download and try the E3 build of God Of War 3. I was super excited after opening my email and finding a message from Sony ,basically saying: go and do some destruction and mutilation in Ancient Greece.

I obliged, of course.

The first thing I noticed was how huge the demo was. I am used to seeing demos being about 1.5GB, but this came in at a rather chunky 2.6GB. I wasn’t that bothered as it downloaded in about two hours in the end.

So I was eventually sat down ready to immerse myself and become the angriest man in all of ancient Greece, Kratos. The demo opens with plenty of disclaimers saying that this is only a small representation of the final product and that there may be bugs throughout. This didn’t put me off.

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The title screen appeared with Kratos scowling at me, waiting for me to push the Start button. As he was making me nervous, I decided to press the Start button to appease his gaze. The game whirled in to life and straight away you see Helios, the sun god, flying overhead followed by what I can only describe as evil skeleton things that tell me it is time to battle.

What first amazed me first is that I haven’t played a God Of War game since completing God Of War 2 a few years ago (I did complete Chains of Olympus, but that was as on the PSP which had a different control scheme altogether), and what I discovered is that I hadn’t forgotten how to play the game. This, basically, means I hadn’t forgotten how to carve up several enemies in the bloodiest way possible (virtually, of course)! The controls remain as intuitive as ever and within seconds I was hitting the 60-hit combo mark. Blood and body parts were flying everywhere. This is the God Of War that everybody loves.

Moving through the level you notice not a lot has changed. The mechanics are still exactly the same as the previous incarnations (not necessarily a bad thing). You get chests to replenish health and you still pick up orbs to upgrade weapons (a feature not included with the demo). However, within about 10 minutes you are greeted with a new game mechanic: flying using Harpies. I found this rather tricky at first, possibly due to the camera angle (or me just being completely inept at the concept) but after five minutes of trying to figure it out (despite there being onscreen prompts) I managed to navigate the first Harpy flying section. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the final Harpy flying section.

Upon exiting the cave you are greeted with your new allies, The Titans. I was immediately in awe of the care that has been taken in to bringing these things to life, even at this early stage.

Straight away you notice that the Titan is being bothered by Helios and you must stop him. After a bit of gliding, you encounter some more enemies and the first mini boss of the demo, The Centaur. The Centaur is a little bit bigger compared to you.

The Centaur is more than just an enemy, though. It organises the troops as you fight. This shows off the new AI that is under the hood and gives an extra dimension on how fights pan out. Do you take out the Troops or do you take out the Centaur, which leaves the troops in disarray? I chose to wipe out the army and, to be honest, I didn’t notice the Centaur organising the troops because I wiped them out rather quickly.

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After a good five minute battle of wits and some equally good old fashioned button bashing, I subdued him, which resulted in one of God Of War‘s most reliable game mechanics making a triumphant return. The QTE or Quick Time Event. Within a few button presses I had witnessed one of the goriest, gruesome attacks ever. Kratos goes to town on this guy and literally disembowels the Centaur in all its glory, leaving it writhing around on the floor with its guts hanging out.

This is the new Zipper technology that the developers have coined to, basically, say the bigger enemies have insides and you can cut them out.

Now that the Centaur is defeated, you can get back to stopping Helios. After climbing a small ramp, you come across a rather useful crossbow. But the moment you use this, the next mini boss appears. The Chimera is a third snake, a third lion and a third goat. You have to take down the three states of this creature, each equipped with their own attacks. There is an element of strategy to each creature so I won’t spoil it, but I will say this: the creature will have one big headache when you are done with him.

Now, with the threat of the Chimera extinguished, you can use the crossbow to fire at Helios. Once the Titan has dealt with Helios (with your help) you realise you need to get to Helios. This is a bit difficult seeing as the Titan has thrown him to quite a high ledge.

After a bit more Harpy flying (oh, yay) I was greeted by about 30 enemies blocking my path wanting to slice me up. Cue another new feature, the enemy battering ram. With a quick press of the O button you have access to an Instant Kill (enemy dependent) or the enemy shield/battering ram. Which basically means you pick the enemy up and use them to plough threw the crowd and when done with them you just toss them away like yesterday’s newspaper. My personal favourite is if the enemy is near death and you run into a wall, Kratos will repeatedly pound their head against the wall. Rather satisfying and calming, seeing as it was trying to kill you.

This mechanic was a lot more fun and easy to pick up than the Harpy flying and adds a small dimension on how to approach fighting. If you take on 30 enemies at once without a small game plan you will take hefty damage and do Kratos a huge disservice.

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After a bit of wall climbing, ledge hopping and civilian killing, you climb up to the area where Helios lies. Upon approaching him, several enemies drop down to protect him under a cover of shields and spears. No matter what you do, you cannot break this protection. So what is an angry dethroned God of War to do? Kill and ride the Cyclops that appears, of course!

Riding larger creatures is another new feature to the game and, although it is sluggish, it is funny when you press the attack button, which, in turn, makes Kratos stab the creature in the shoulder, which then makes the Cyclops swing its club.

After the dispatching of Helios’ protection and the Cyclops (which includes another gory QTE) you can finally gain access to the item you are obviously after: Helios’ head!

I should make this clear: from the beginning of the demo you are not sure what your purpose is during this section of the game. But, boy, does it become apparent here.

When this was unveiled at E3 this was, no doubt, the most talked about part of the game. You physically rip off Helios’ head for your own personal gain. The look on Kratos’ face when he does this is priceless. You would think he enjoys all this slaughter…!

After acquiring your new toy you are able to unlock a door hidden in the mountain using the head to light the way and you come across an Icarus vent. These are on-rails flying sections where you have to dodge debris and, basically, survive until the end of the section. This section moves rather quickly and is rather difficult at first, but with some practise I managed to get through and was greeted with a nice cliffhanger.

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As you fly out of the Icarus vent a huge arm tries to swat you. This appears to be the Titan from earlier. Kratos obviously being annoyed, he draws his sword and plunges towards the Titan’s face. Just as he appears to strike, the God of War 3 logo appears and the demo ends.

20 minutes of non-stop slaughter have come to an end and what I was left with is a feeling of, well, sadness. Sadness due to the fact I won’t be able to play this game until March 2010.

Throughout the demo I was amazed that, even though not much has changed, it is still an evolution of what I would call the greatest game on the PlayStation 2. Doubtless some will disagree. The graphics are unbelievable, on par with the recent Uncharted 2. The surroundings, the Titans and even Kratos himself are just a marvel to behold. The amount of detail that has gone into this game is astounding.

Let me put this in to perspective, the PlayStation 2 graphics engine would not be able to render the Kratos model, let alone the entire game.

One of the new visual game mechanics is how the environment interacts with Kratos and this is most present when Kratos gets covered in blood. The more carnage you create the darker shade of crimson you become. Now, that is an awesome feature in its own right, as it is a visual indication of how much carnage you are causing.

I do wonder what that says about me.

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There were no real puzzles in the demo so I am unable to say if the puzzles are as good as previous incarnations, but my gut feeling says they will be as good as ever.

There has been some criticism levelled at God Of War. people have been saying ‘It doesn’t do anything new’ and ‘It has no multiplayer’.

Well, I have the answer to both of those. God Of War doesn’t need changing: it was already near perfect with God Of War 2. So all there really needs to be is a spit shine to the graphics, an awesome story and a few new gameplay mechanics here and there.

God of War veterans will love this and if anybody is trying to play this without playing the first two all I have to say is get the God Of War collection when it is released, then make judgements.

Regarding God Of War having no multiplayer, it just wouldn’t work, I’m afraid. God Of War has always been a single player experience. The story and game type doesn’t really incorporate Multiplayer well.

Finally, after reading up on the most recent news, I have found that the most recent build, which hasn’t been shown publicly yet, is running and looking even better than the E3 build. If that is true, then I will make a bold statement here and now. This game will look better than Uncharted 2, which will be an amazing achievement. But until that build has been seen running in public, take the above rumour with a pinch of salt.

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Overall, I couldn’t be happier with how the demo played and I cannot wait for the full game to be released. The end begins in March 2010…!