Sony has a lot riding on the fourth instalment in the God of War series. The first two PlayStation 2 releases were enormously popular, selling millions around the world, but by the time they came out PS2 had already vanquished Xbox, and indeed everyone else. By the time God of War III comes out, which may not even be this year, the story will be very different. Still, in the ongoing console battle between PS3 and Xbox 360, who better to fight Sony's corner than the, er, God of War?
Sitting down in Sony's Santa Monica studio to find out, it turns out the story, which picks up right where God of War II left things, has Kratos and an army of Titans out to eradicate the remaining gods Helios, Hermes, Hades and Zeus - a revenge story that sets up plenty of brutal battles with an onslaught of menacing enemies. "The biggest challenges in creating this sequel were living up to the high expectations fans have from the previous games and continuing to evolve this series," says lead combat designer Adam Puhl, by way of explanation. "We don't want people thinking, 'Oh well, it's the same game.'"
From a first look at playable code in high definition, the signs are positive. The work this team has put into the game is immediately evident from the bulging biceps of the Son of Zeus to the intricate, gory details as he eviscerates enemies, leaving entrails in his wake (always the best way to go). Factor in the additional development time that's still allocated and, simply put, this isn't your PS2 God of War.
"The challenges we continue to face are all the new tech that we're putting into the game, all that stuff with the Titans, and all the additional levels of detail and brutality that's in the game," explains Puhl. "At the same time, we're extending the gameplay system without extending the complexity of it. The game needs to stay accessible. It needs to stay where everybody can jump in and feel what it's like to play as Kratos."
The team uses Kratos as the starting point for everything, trying to represent that brutality, that visceral essence, in the combat and in all the fighting (although hopefully not in his extra-curricular shagging). Kratos has certainly never looked this real in gameplay. You can actually see the reflections in his Golden Fleece armor and his scars ripple on top of his muscular body as he gets stompy and wild out in the battlefield, running into crowds of hundreds of armed enemies without a care in the world.
For all the change though, the new PS3 Kratos was actually inspired by a concept painting done for God of War II. It was a painting of Kratos ripping a dead vulture in half, and when he was ripping it in half, he looked so violent it was almost bestial, according to the recollections of art director Ken Feldman.
"I saw that and I said, 'That's how I want Kratos to look in God of War III, that's the way I want the public to feel about who this character is,'" Feldman says. "That drove the way we wanted Kratos to be and that drove the way we sculpted our technology. We have dynamic maps and that's where we're able to blend between these things and really make him feel like he's actually in a battle. We didn't just want Kratos' muscle to bulge. We wanted the player to feel like they're in a battle."