Have you ever looked at a game and seen something so technically advanced, so different and so far ahead of almost everything else you've seen, that you just can't quite believe that it's running on your trusty console? Over the years, only a few choice titles spring to mind, but Sony Santa Monica's magnificent God of War III is undoubtedly the latest example. It looks and feels like a next-gen game that in some way, somehow, miraculously, manages to run on current-gen hardware.
The game kicks off with a remarkable statement of intent from the developers. Here we see the return of the traditional God of War gameplay - remarkably addictive hackandslash combined with spectacularly epic boss battles - but remixed with new technology and new concepts. The action takes place on a mammoth, moving play space - a completely realised titan no less - that in itself is moving through another 3D world.
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You ain't seen nothing yet.
Review: God of War III
Hands On: God of War III
You had me at Helios.
The initial Gaia level from God of War III gets put through the Digital Foundry frame-rate analysis tools.
Spectacular camerawork picks out Kratos' progress as he moves across the face of the behemoth, regularly facing off against the watery power of the sinister Poseidon, while a small mountainside intermission sees the player disengage from the titan, becoming something of a spectator as the god and titan battle it out, emphasising the size and scale of the confrontation. God of War has always been about the little man dishing out ruthless, merciless beatings to bigger and nastier beings but in GOWIII, Sony Santa Monica finally has the technology at its fingertips capable of making these battles play out on a truly epic scale worthy of the Greek legends that inspired the series.
Not every level reaches the heights of this introduction of course (and for the sake of pacing, not every level should) but God of War III is always super-slick, highly entertaining, and beautiful to look at - like Uncharted 2 before it, a brilliant melding of excellent gameplay and untouchable tech.
Not only that, but for what is primarily a fighting game, God of War III has a surprisingly expansive range of brain-teasers to break up the combat, including what must surely be the best Escher-style perspective-based 3D puzzle yet devised. The culmination of Kratos's journey sees him take on Zeus himself mano-a-mano, in a supremely satisfying confrontation that rivals the best that a popcorn Hollywood blockbuster can offer in terms of bad guy comeuppance.
There are many other reasons why God of War III is so special, of course, and why it's unlikely that we'd ever get to play a game like this on any other console. Sony plays host to the largest collection of internal studios of any of the three major platform holders and there's no doubt that the firm itself has a strong dedication to producing software that is technologically, and often conceptually, on the bleeding edge. This has led to a bonanza of ultra-high quality gaming for PS3 owners.
Could any of the other platform holders made God of War III or Uncharted 2? Would any of the others have given so much backing to a title like LittleBigPlanet? Have Microsoft or Nintendo commissioned anywhere near the amount of the quality download titles in the same way that Sony has on PSN? While it's still the exclusives that make the PlayStation 3 so desirable, it's the example set by games like God of War III - and Sony's willingness to share the combined tech and know-how of its own studios - that inspire the third-party developers to up their game.
As the era of the HD consoles matures, with no replacement hardware in sight, we are seeing a general rise in standards across the board - certainly from a technical perspective - but more than that, we are reaping the rewards of top coding talent remaining on the same platform. Four years into the PS2's lifecycle, the PS3 and Xbox 360 were already well into gestation and the best developers were already contemplating moving onto the new platforms, if not actively making the transition. That isn't happening this time. The investment in terms of time, money and talent is all being concentrated on the consoles you already own.
God of War III won't be the first or indeed the final hurrah from the Sony Santa Monica team for PlayStation 3. Instead it is just the beginning: the years spent building GOWIII will almost certainly have given the team more than enough experience to create a successor that pushes back the boundaries of the current console generation still further. That game, just like GOWIII in the here and now, will also serve as a standard bearer for the quality of technology we can expect to come from the team's competitors both within Sony and without.
As Eurogamer's technology editor, nothing will excite me more than the announcements of PlayStation 4 and the NeXtbox, along with the new gaming possibilities those pieces of hardware will represent. However, God of War III is the best argument there is that the current generation of consoles still have so much more to offer.