E3: God of War III

Olympic gold.

Is it confidence, or arrogance? Sony has every reason to be confident in the charms of the next game in its series of blockbuster mythological action games - they sell, they're slick as all hell and Santa Monica Studio clearly knows what it's doing. But this is taking things a bit far.

As part of a major tour for European press to showcase Sony's bulging PS3 line-up, we've been invited to see God of War III for the very first time, under embargo until the first day of E3 (which is probably when you're reading this). But to our shock, there's no hands-on, no big reveal - we're offered the same presentation that US press, including our American correspondent, got three months ago. Everything we see is already plastered all over the magazine stands at the airport - not to mention the internet.

So why this return visit? Because, frankly, you still want to read about God of War III, and we still want to write about it. And that's because God of War III is a sensation. It's an absolute rock star of a game, a cocksure, strutting frontman. It might not be all that clever or original, but its mojo's most definitely working. It's got it, it knows that it's got it, it knows that you know, and that you're powerless to resist.

Seeing the 15-minute live gameplay demonstration in the flesh is like hearing Led Zeppelin in their swaggering prime. It's a miniature epic, composed entirely of the videogame equivalents of ecstatic guitar solos, pounding drums, Palaeolithic riffs and a man in a blouse wailing like he's just discovered original sin. It's completely ridiculous and it doesn't care. Confidence or arrogance? Still not sure about that, but we're down the front, waving our arms in the air regardless.

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Enemies divide into military roles - grunts, shield-bearers, archers - and fight smarter if there's a commander, like this Centaur, about.

Our hero, Kratos the terminally angry and violent Son of Zeus, is out to kill his father for revenge. So are the Titans, who want to rule the world again. That's all the set-up you need for a colossal war in heaven that's the backdrop for everything you do in God of War III, a permanent, spectacular cataclysm going on in the skies and the distance - "think D-day or the movie Cloverfield" in terms of atmosphere, says game director Stig Asmussen in a rare display of understatement.

"Kratos is interacting with the Titans in a way, to get to his goal," says Asmussen. "But there could possibly be points where Kratos is wondering if he's doing the right thing working with the Titans, and vice versa. The Titans might wonder if Kratos is actually the right tool to get their job done. That's where so many interest levels in the story come."

Worryingly perhaps, Asmussen - the third helmsman of the God of War team, after David Jaffe and Cory Barlog moved on - declares his intention to "get inside Kratos' head" in this game. We're not sure we want to go in Kratos' head, imagining it's not much more than a roaring furnace of rage and bloodlust. But Asmussen insists he's "a very complicated character" and wants to show us "what makes him tick". Aren't they messing with the purity of a great videogame anti-hero here? Isn't that risky?

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Screenshots really don't do this game justice, especially the incredible hyper-real lighting.

"It might be," says Todd Papy, the quiet and serious lead designer who's the thread linking all three games together. "But if we don't do it... one of the things we got panned on is that he's so wooden. We're trying to better ourselves as storytellers and game-makers, and I think if we did another wooden Kratos it would have been universally panned. We have to take a risk."

"There are some things that are happening in his head that are a major point to the big picture, and those things need to come out, people need to understand those things," adds Asmussen. "He's a man of few words - but I would say that like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York, underneath all that he's a pretty complex guy. And he's not stupid by any means, Kratos can't be stupid to do the things that he does."

Asmussen may be emphasising a story with a "profound and relevant message", but he's not worried about taking liberties with the games' ancient but lurid source material, the Greek myths. "I've got a really, like, basic understanding of mythology," he says. "I've read enough of it to know that the gods are just f***ing with man." This, we suspect, is as deep as Kratos' feelings will really run at the end of the day.

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