I have a love/hate relationship with email, I love the fact I can communicate with people without actually having to speak to them, but I hate all the marketing emails that I receive from some website I bought something off two years ago. Occasionally though, wading through piles of unread emails proves its worth and last night was one of those occasions as I had received an email from SCEE letting me know I could download a copy of the God Of War III demo. I could hardly contain my excitement as I punched in the redemption code which probably explains why I entered the code incorrectly on the first two attempts. Then, finally I was in and I could get the download underway – 2.6gigs? Damn! thats an overnight job for my rural Internet connection. Since then however I’ve played through the demo on numerous occasions, so how is Kratos holding up in this his fourth outing and the first of this generation?
God Of War III is big – very very big, bloody – very very bloody and oh so beautiful, even when you’re ripping the limbs off of practically anything that moves including the hapless civilians it is never anything short of jaw droppingly beautiful. Running at 720p with a high framerate and therefore bucking the current trend of developing a game at sub-HD resolutions, the quote that has been flying around ‘teh internet’ since this demo was created for E3 back in June is that God Of War III looks “like a painting come to life” and when you see it in action its not hard to see, because of the level of detail in the textures, fantastic lighting, shadowing and perfect animation. I even tried to stress the game engine by allowing as many characters as possible to build up screen before letting rip with the Blades Of Chaos, and it never appeared to drop a frame and due to the fact it’s v-synced there is no tearing, a fact which is made all the more impressive when you take into account this demo was developed and tested in time for June’s E3, some nine months out from the full title’s release.
So it looks gorgeous but how does it play, you say? If combat has ever felt so satisfying I’m yet to experience it, practically every button press is rewarded with a satisfying crunch and swiftly followed by gushing blood, the flashes of your blades or punches link seamlessly together into the fantastic combos we know and love. It doesn’t take long before you’ve dispatched plenty of low level minions and you’re on to the titles first experience of ‘beast-jacking’ this is the process of taking control of another being to help you out, this first of these is the winged Harpies (a kind of an ugly woman/bird combination) All you have to do is use a combination of the ‘hold’ and ‘attack’ button and you’ll jump up and grab one and you can control it’s flight path, this comes in handy for those hard to reach ledges or big gaping chasms. Just like in the previous games there are plenty of chests around, these are good source of the red orbs, or precious health.
It’s not all a bed of roses however, it wasn’t long before Kratos comes across a large gap and this is where I found the ultra-precise controls to cause a problem. The only way to get across the gap being to perform a double jump, tapping the X button and then at the height of Kratos’ jump tapping it again to gain extra height, your timing has to be absolutely impeccable as there is so very little room for error. Whilst only causing minor irritation in this demo I could imagine in the full game falling to your death after a prolonged and difficult battle extremely frustrating. Several deaths later another feature revealed itself; by holding the X button Kratos was soaring across the gap using his new Icarus Wings only to encounter your first mini-boss, a huge stomping Centaur with a giant spear. This is God Of War at its best, rapidly dispatching hordes of minions whilst trying to avoid the attacks of the mini boss, frantically using a mixture of ranged and melee attacks, using the blades to perform quick, weak attacks in an effort to keep the enemies at bay, giving you enough room to wind up the slow, strong attacks. With the cannon fodder dispatched Kratos gets one-on-one with the Centaur (hardly a fair fight) after some ducking and diving and a few attacks it’s not long before you get your first go at GoW’s famous Quick Time Events, needless to say it doesn’t end nicely for the Centaur unless his aim was to end up disembowelled with his intestines and entrails spilling out of his stomach.
Kratos continues to make his way through the city before looking up to see Helios attacking a huge lava Titan, how huge? Really really huge! With the Titan destroying the city, Kratos gets up close and personal to a Chimera – a large snake-lion-ram combo which needs beating three times before it’s properly defeated, which is a shame because I think the Chimera only wanted his phone number. With your help the huge Titan catches Helios, flinging him in to a nearby mountainside which is where you must go next, well I say nearby but it’s the other side of the city and there’re hordes of enemies which need dispatching and an awkward platforming section to get past – awkward because I’ve been playing Uncharted 2 for a while and quite bluntly when Kratos is leaping from ledge to ledge it just feels slightly lacking, again not a huge issue in this short demo but could be if there is much platforming to do in the full game.
And now the bit you’ve been waiting for, Kratos Vs Helios and the famous beheading of the pre-E3 trailers, of course taking on Helios by himself in his weakened state (after he was practically destroyed by the Titan) would be too easy so it’s no surprise that Helios gets help, before you can rip his head from his body you get the chance for more ‘beast-jacking’ in the form of riding a large Cyclops using it’s strength to defeat even stronger enemies. Obviously this ends badly for the Cyclops as well as as Helios who’s head ends up cunningly concealed about Kratos’ person. You’ll need to whip it out from time to time as the beam of light it gives off reveals hidden doorways and passages.
Remember the huge lava Titan from earlier? Well he’s next on Kratos’ hitlist, this gives Kratos the opportunity to show off his Icarus Wings again as he jumps into a huge vent in the mountain soaring upwards and upwards though its innards, initially difficult to control you must avoid huge structures and falling rocks as you soar ever upwards to mammoth battle with the Titan, and then just as the Titan comes in to view…. DAMN! The demo ends just as your appetite has been sufficiently whetted, ensuring the full game purchase is a certainty.
The demo does an excellent job of re-acquainting you with Kratos and his mythical creature destroying antics. The controls never feel anything other than tight, probably helped by the high framerate the combat is ultra satisfying and the urge to play for ‘just a couple more minutes’ is stronger than ever if only to see what enormous battle is round the next corner. It’s not without its negative points though; as I’ve said the double jump is possibly a bit too precise, the ledge grabbing in a post-Uncharted 2 world doesn’t feel satisfying. In true God Of War style your path through the game is always pretty linear, as the game uses the camera angle to shepherd you down practically the only path, but with combat this satisfying and set pieces this jaw dropping, who cares, Kratos is back, and so far seems better than ever – and that is saying something indeed.