My hands-on demo with God of War III was a familiar journey, having seen the same stretch of the PlayStation 3 game played through three times by someone else. I knew exactly what to do.
Kill some rank and file undead, ride harpy, kill scores more Chaos Blade fodder, fight the Centaur commander, kill the Chimera—described by God of War III director Stig Asmussen as "half-goat, half-lion, half-snake"—launched a massive bolt at Helios, all that. It was largely the same sequence we'd seen in February, when the newest God of War didn't look nearly as sharp as its E3 presence.
But this was the first time we'd had the chance to pilot a Cyclops, to rip Helios' head from his body, an act more gruesome and, dare I say it, visceral than I'd imagined. The God of War series is by no means reserved with its gore and violence, but the third console entry is ridiculously over the top.
Whether Kratos is being coated with Cyclops blood spurting forth from an empty socket or disemboweling a Centaur, players will be regularly reminded that this is an M-rated game. It's over the top, designed to shock, but still occasionally pretty—yes, those multi-layered blood spatters that splash across Kratos look good.
In other words, it's still very much the God of War you may remember from the first two PlayStation 2 entries, full of giant set pieces, marathon combos, and Greek deicide. The sometimes complex controls feel well-known, with light attacks, heavy attacks and grabs; Kratos' arm blades feel just as wispy as ever.
The new Cestus gauntlets, however, feel meaty. They're effective, but slow, at short and long range. When using L1 for the special attack modifier, Kratos will whip them around in a circle with his light attack, just like the Chaos Blades. His modded heavy attack is more satisfying, firing them out to his left and right, then quickly whipping them forward for a nasty crushing blow.
More satisfying it the battering ram attacks one can pull off, picking up an enemy and barreling through a crowd of rotting Centurions.
The hand-to-hand stuff feels great, if a little disconnected from the feeling that you're killing dozens of undead soldiers. Some stuff that doesn't feel so great are the harpy to harpy rides. Asmussen said the God of War III team is still tweaking the harpy-jacking, hopefully for something that's a little simpler than the L1-plus-circle grab that's currently in place.
Visually, though, God of War III continues to impress. There was no trace of load times during my 20-minute hands-on session, in which Kratos traveled from the Olympian outskirts, through caves, up a giant shaft and ultimately onto the giant fiery Titan seen in released screen shots. Considering the graphical upgrades the game has gotten over the past quarter, I can't wait to see what it looks like when it ships next year.
Ultimately, God of War III, despite its gargantuan presentation and now-gen upgrade, felt familiar. Whether that's going to feel like more of the same or a welcome return to the universe and its wildly successful style of play will be up to you.