Hands-On Preview: No goat heads were harmed during the writing of this hands-on preview.
A seductively sweet song that goes by the name of God of War III helped Sony lure Gaming Target to the appropriately named Siren Studios in Los Angeles. Decked out in red lights, a smoke machine and rows of finely tuned HDTVs beside busts of gods, it was like a Halloween party in Best Buy, except the food was too good. Of course, Greek mythology portrays Sirens as harp-playing temptresses who draw sailors in to disastrous shipwrecks. As far as we could tell, the only trap here was that this divine demo made Odysseus' journey home from Troy seem easier than waiting for Kratos' March 16 return.
God of War III, or the bit we could play, gave us 20 minutes of hands-on time with the game's epic opening sequence. Kratos is riding on the back of the tremendous Earth titan, Gaia, as she scales Mount Olympus. This is where things left off if you finished playing GoW II or recently pulled a double shift by completing GoW Collection, which features the first two games remastered in high definition. If you haven't gotten around to it, we're semi-sorry about the three-year-old spoiler.
Poseidon, the trident-wielding god of the sea, is the first boss to challenge you, and it happens on the back of Gaia as she continues to climb Mount Olympus. This battle gets particularly bloody, but that's not what instantly caught our attention. It's the fact that Poseidon, who dwarfs Kratos like any well-designed video game boss, is out-dwarfed by the constantly moving, very animated Gaia. It's all rendered with incredible detail and draw distance, as the camera zooms out so you can see the teeming forest that is Gaia, then zooms in so you can see nasty scars on the back of Kratos' head. Both the character models and the environments are stunning.
The camera is as much a star of the game as Kratos and the developers at Santa Monica Studio are really proud of the angle from which you see the final Quick Time Event of the Poseidon encounter. We won't spoil this early surprise by going into detail other than to say you have to see it to believe it. The team was also eager to show off how the camera zooms out during platform gameplay in which you swing over gaps and zooms right back in as soon as you land and a rush of minions approach. Seeing Kratos grab one minion and smash it into the rest of the undead swarm was so satisfying, delivered to us in up close and very
personal high definition.
Action games like GoW III live or die by their camera, as no one likes to be killed by an always-fixed camera perspective that fails when rounding a corner. This final play test, like the E3 2009 demo, illustrated that the camera was always in the right place when it counted, balancing composition with ease of play. As much as every camera transition appeared to be seamless, it's obvious that a ton of work went into it, especially during the lively button-mashing cinematics.