God of War Preview

You’ve got to whip it. Whip it good.

We’ve always thought the finest thing in life was kicking zombie-ass, period. Forget sunny days or kittens in shoes, we like to beat down on zombies because they deserve it, parts of them fly off, and they still come back for more. So when we played Sony’s upcoming God of War and whipped up some zombie-ass with knives attached to chains – all of which were on fire – it was like being born again, only with less mucus. Hallelujah!

At its core, God of War has much in common with most other action/adventure games in its fixed camera angles, puzzles to solve, and standard moves like jumping and blocking. But when you see Kratos, the champion of the Gods, slice and dice his opponents with wanton whips of fire as the camera slightly zooms in and the action slows down for dramatic effect you’ll realize that God of War is one of the most cinematic looking action/adventures to date, as well as one of the most playable, unless you happen to be a zombie.

The story follows the fate of Kratos, a great Spartan warrior who foolishly makes a deal with Ares, the God of War, for incredible power. Ares delivers the power, along with a ton of madness and mischief. Kratos, fearing for his sanity, must capture Pandora’s Box from a demon-infested stronghold and use it against Ares in a desperate attempt to free himself from thralldom. While it isn’t Shakespeare, God of War’s plot guarantees action and adventure, and with weapons like flaming chain-dagger whips, that’s all you want to hear.

With a flip of the R-stick, Kratos can dodge in any direction, making him an extremely agile, hard target. Kratos can also execute heavy and light attacks. As you might imagine, the former are slower and hit harder, but if you execute a heavy combo you’ll knock all your foes into the air. You can then jump after them and execute a quick-combo in mid-air, or grab one, fling him to the earth, and execute a spinning heavy combo on your way down.

If you’re feeling clingy, you can grab the nearest enemy, slam him to the ground and pummel him with the hilts of your daggers, or just rip him in half with your bare hands. Should you decide to share the love, you can also impale an enemy, then swing him like a wrecking-ball into waiting foes. And that’s just the warm-up.

Since Kratos is attacking with what amounts to dual-whips, his attack radius is immense. As a result, you can effectively combat large groups of enemies by simply directing your attacks in their general directions, instead of locking on. And since the camera does a great job of assuming the most convenient angle possible in each situation, you will never bothered by your inability to center in on this or that enemy; they will all be within sight, so you can dust them off graveyards at a time.

The only playable level in our demo found Kratos on a wrecked ship, battling against undead warriors and a nasty hydra for the safety of the women and children on board. The level began with a bit of the old ultra-violence between Kratos and a band of zombie pirates. After some extreme lashings of his incendiary whips they scurried back down to their watery tombs, and Kratos headed down a corridor where he met the thrashing head and neck of a hungry, hungry hydra!

The beast looked remarkable: he’d coil and strike with terrible ferocity, and it was all Kratos could do to parry his attacks. After a bitter exchange, the creature slumped in a daze, and the champion leapt to exploit his weakness by slamming his head into the side of the boat, and slashing at his eyes with mighty daggers. Outraged, the beast shrieked and withdrew from the corridor to munch on easier prey, which Kratos could see him doing through a fresh whole in the wall.

Kratos then had to climb a net teeming with ghouls. As the beasts approached, he’d stun them with a couple quick cracks of his chains, then grab and hurl them into the faces of their comrades below. When he reached the top of the mast, Kratos crossed over onto another ship and descended into a grim scene in which several crewman were pinned down by undead archer fire.

One of them ran up and swore he had a vision of Kratos’ coming, but that it was too late, everyone was.. – but he never finished because at that moment an arrow pierced the back of his head and poked out of his gaping mouth. The skeleton archers were up high, on a wall, and it was immediately clear to Kratos that he’d have to push a box over to the wall, jump on top of it, and then hop up to where the archers were. But the skeletons were onto him, and they aimed at the box, destroying it. So he got another, and found that he could lure them into shooting at it, then give it a sturdy kick right before the arrows arrived. The box flew over to the wall, and Kratos bravely leapt on top to dish out a zombie butt-kicking.

From there he entered a chamber and met with Poseidon himself, who granted Kratos a powerful lightning attack, and bid him go slay the rampaging hydra. Grateful for more power, the warrior climbed another net to a deck where the three headed monstrosity was merrily munching on innocent men. With quick dodges and devastating attacks, he quickly bested the beast’s two smaller heads by pinning them underneath some heavy, sharp objects that just happened to be hanging conveniently nearby. Gotta love props!

I’d tell you what happened next, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to spoil what could possibly be one of the most entertaining boss fights of your life. We will tell you though, that every instant of the ship level benefited from incredible attention to cinematic detail. Rain fell constantly, waves crashed against the sides of the ships, little people hung from the teeth of the beast, and the flaming chain-dagger whips looked like something you’d see at the Burning Man festival.

All these tiny details would have been nothing without God of War’s impressive camera. While fixed, the camera isn’t static; it follows your progress and assumes the least intrusive, most advantageous perspective possible. For example, you’ll be on a deck fighting a swarm of harpies, and the camera will zoom in to show you the beasts’ deaths in great detail. But then, when a hydra head bursts through the floor the camera zooms out to give you a much better view of the situation.

While this sounds like a great idea, such camera shifts always run the risk of frame-rate hiccups, but we encountered none. Sony’s developers may have pulled off a hell of a feat with this camera, and hopefully it will be just as solid and helpful throughout the entire retail version.

Which, by the way, will be released on March 22. While we’ve only played a brief demo, we can already tell that God of War will be special for its zombie-butt-kicking-goodness and awesome, cinematic camera. Lo, gamers among ye, when the Spring arrives, and this wicked God is released unto the gaming world, verily then it shall be time to get down on your knees and play.

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