God of War III
You had me at Helios.
We've all pulled the heads off things before, of course. Pretty much all videogames include pulling the heads off things (with the possible exception of Imagine Babies). But no other example springs to mind just now, because the only one worth remembering is Kratos' angry, barehanded decapitation of poor old chariot-riding Helios in God of War III. Helios is a fiery, antagonistic little pretty-boy, but once you've watched his skin stretched taught into tendrils and torn, like so much plasticine flesh in a George Romero movie, you can't help feel sorry for him.
His actual death is relatively insignificant to the God of War III demo we're playing at this week's Eurogamer Expo, but his head's quite useful - it can be used to shine light on secrets and startle skeletal enemies in dark caves. But even this is just one of many potentially throwaway ideas in a teaser rich with interactive possibility - whether it's in the timed trebuchet takedown of Helios' chariot, which originally set him up to lose his head, or using Harpies as movable platforms, or riding a Cyclops around battering the phalanx of guards protecting a wounded Titan.
Like its predecessors, God of War III injects so much spectacle into each slick confrontation that even the simplest skirmish lingers in the memory. Sony Santa Monica wields quick-time events with particular relish. Apart from pulling off Helios's head, Kratos scoops the eye out of a Cyclops and wrenches it free by a fistful of nerve endings; he topples a Centaur and spills its considerable guts all over the flagstones; and in a multi-part battle with a Chimera he first removes its tail, then gouges its bowels, and ultimately rips off a horn for the killing blow, thrust through the side of the mighty beast's dazzled head. Tap, tap, tap you go on the DualShock 3; were it any more involved, of course, you wouldn't get to stare at the grisly details.
Far from divorcing you from the action by stressing the superficial, however, there's a strong connection between player and spectacle. Before you've even begun the demo, Sony is simultaneously showing off and drawing you into the action: as you stare at Kratos' grumpy face on the ludicrously detailed title screen and hit the Start button, the camera merely pulls back and gives you control. Skeleton warriors round the bend on the mountain path that overlooks a war-ravaged cityscape, and you start hacking and slashing.
Next to the grander confrontations, and in the shadow of the massive, volcanic Titan clambering all over the city, you might imagine the core combat struggles for relevance, but hopefully it will be here that God of War III excels in depth. The Eurogamer Expo demo, which was first playable at the E3 trade show this summer, is a promising indicator: Kratos can switch between the Blades of Athena and the Cestus (giant slicey gauntlets) using d-pad directions, while the new fire bow is deployed with a shoulder button. Along with special moves through a bumper-button modifier, it's a good starter mix, allowing you to handle both individuals and groups at close quarters and distance, while there's clear scope for air combos too.