God of War is my favourite PlayStation franchise. I loved both PS2 games and the PSP iteration, Chains of Olympus, is one of the best handheld games ever made. GoW 3 is perhaps the last great Sony exclusive left to hit the PS3, carrying a draw that new IPs just don't have. It may not have made it for a Christmas 2009 release, to the disappointment of millions of eager PS3 owners, but it's undoubtedly going to be one of the biggest games of 2010 and will be a big reason for fence sitters to finally pick up the console come March. We've already seen and played the E3 2009 demo numerous times, but with its release to select PSN members we thought we'd give it another run through in order to make the wait a little easier.
First things first. If you played a previous title in the series you'll feel instantly at home with the controls. God of War 3 might be played on the PS3 Dual Shock 3, but it feels just as it did on the PS2. You've got a heavy attack, weak attack and grab, all modifiable via L1. The shoulder button also doubles as block, with parries activated by well timed blocks - this can then be followed by a special counter attack move. The demo also includes a bow and arrow for long range attacks, as seen in previous games. Here it's used to shoot harpies, which can then be used as moving platforms that let you get across large gaps. It's God of War as you'll remember it, complete with orb chests, but the demo does throw in a few new ideas and gameplay mechanics.
Most interesting for experienced GoW players is the ability to change weapons mid-combo chain. In Santa Monica Studio's latest you can flick between your tools of death even as you're laying waste to enemies. It's something that's hard to get a real feel for during the brief demo, and you're limited to only the classic Blades of Athena and the hammer fist-like Cestus. Still, it spices up combat significantly and opens up new combos and attack techniques - something that is perhaps needed in what will be the fourth game in the series.
This PSN demo focuses on Helios, the deity who rides a chariot pulled by a flaming steed. He's going after a lava Titan, a giant figure that dominates the background in much of the demo. At one point you need to use a ballista (a kind of ground mounted arrow launcher) to take down Helios, who is then tossed around by the hulking lava man and thrown to the ground. Kratos is then able to rip off the sun god's head (in what must be one of the goriest in-game moments ever), and use it to shine light on secret areas and temporarily blind enemies.
One of God of War 3's new gameplay additions is the ability to take control of large enemies. By dealing damage to the cyclops featured in the demo, Kratos is able to use his blades as reigns, guiding the giant into the helpless enemies on the ground. These bad guys happen to be set up in a phalanx formation, making them immune to Kratos' standard blade attacks, so taming the beast (albeit momentarily) or using the Cestus are the only ways to get past them. Not wanting to turn down the chance to ride a cyclops, I obviously opted for the former choice. Here the new physics system is shown off in full glory, with the monster's sweeps and attacks throwing the baddies all over the place. Once done you're then able to rip out the lumbering beast's eye - it's pretty nasty, but looks superb in its own grizzly way.
Quick Time Events have always been part of the God of War series, with both the Helios decapitation and cyclops eye removal being carried out with a series of well-timed button presses. They've changed slightly in GoW3, though, and I'm not entirely sure it's for the better. On-screen indicators are now arranged so that they correspond with the position of the buttons on your controller, but they are at the far edges of the screen, making them hard to spot.
As a teaser for what's to come this PSN demo does its job perfectly, ending on a spectacular high note. Kratos takes flight and zooms through a narrow tunnel, dodging falling debris and structures as he makes his way to the exit. It's a stunning sequence that initially saw me repeatedly hitting obstacles as I thought it was a cutscene - such is the level of detail on show. At the end Kratos emerges, draws his weapon and leaps onto the lava Titan. It's a scene that will send shivers down the spine of God of War fans and should convince newcomers that this is a sequel worth getting very excited about.
God of War III is scheduled to arrive exclusively on PS3 in March 2010. Check out some brilliant HD 720p videos of the best moments from the demo right here.