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God of War 3 Hands-on Impressions

At the end of an extremely long line at E3, you'll find several demo stations running an impressive and lengthy demo of SCE Santa Monica's PlayStation 3 beat 'em up God of War III. And while it looks and feels very similar to previous games in the series, it's shaping up to be the biggest, bloodiest, and best-looking God of War yet.

The demo starts off with Helios, God of the Sun, flying his flaming chariot around the head of a massive titan. After the introduction, I took control of Kratos to find a city in turmoil, full of fleeing citizens and marauding monsters.

By default, Kratos still uses the chain blades with deadly proficiency, but I also used a couple of his alternate weapons. There's a bow for ranged attacks, as well as a pair of massive gauntlets used to inflict heavy damage at short range.

Most of the enemies I faced were the standard armored ghoul creatures you've faced in past God of War games. These enemies are easy to kill but still die in satisfyingly gruesome ways. I also faced a number of special enemies, like harpies, which you can grab onto and control to fly through the air and cross large gaps. I battled a massive centaur and gutted foe by completing a quick series of timed button presses. I beheaded a chimera three times before it finally went down.

The closest thing to a real boss fight in the E3 demo was the battle with a hulking cyclops. After softening up the creature with a few attack combinations, a floating circle icon appeared above its head--a familiar concept to God of War veterans. Pressing circle initiated a quick time event--a series of flashy moves performed by successfully pressing buttons to match the icons appearing on screen.

After climbing up on the back of the large beast, I was able to control it and defeat heavily armored enemies that Kratos couldn't touch. Following the quick joyride, Kratos plucked the Cyclops' eye out of its head.

Unfortunately the demo just dropped me into the action without much context--all I knew was that I had to kill anything that moved, and keep moving forward through the very linear stage. It was obvious right from the start that neither the cackling Helios nor the lumbering titan on the horizon were on my side.

At one point, I used a ballista to shoot Helios out of the sky. After making my way over to where he landed, I ripped Helios' head off in a scene that almost made previous God of War games seem tame by comparison.

Much like Medusa's head in the first game, Helios' head can be wielded as a special item. But instead of turning enemies to stone, a la Medusa, Helios' cranium makes the controller rumble if there's a hidden secret nearby. By pressing a button to project lights through Helios' lifeless skull, you can aim the light and reveal that secret. Using this method, I found a large hidden door.

Beyond the door was a dark corridor, where used Helios' head to temporarily illuminate the area in order to see nearby enemies. Aside from perhaps the scale of the stage, the lighting is the most impressive visual enhancement in God of War III.

After fighting my way through the dark corridor I came upon an Icarus vent. Jumping into the vent, Kratos sprouted his Icarus wings and took flight. In this section I flew straight up through an underground shaft of some sort, complete with tumbling flaming rocks, criss-crossing beams, and crumbling barriers. The short flying sequence ended when Kratos emerged back on the surface, drew his blades, and flew right at the face of the massive hulking titan.

The controls in God of War III haven't been changed from previous games in the series. The triangle and square buttons are still respectively used for heavy and light attacks, and circle is still used to grab enemies. While holding an enemy, pressing any of the four face buttons triggers a special move. One of my personal favorites was the battering ram move, which has Kratos using a victim as a shield and running through groups of enemies, scattering them about.

Based on the E3 demo, God of War III looks promising. It didn't strike me as a massive leap forward for the series--the dark-as-pitch tone and gloriously brutal gameplay remains front and center--but an improved camera, far grander scale and impressive lighting look to go a long way in enhancing the unrelenting action.

God of War III is scheduled to be released for the PlayStation 3 in March 2010.

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