God of War: Ascension Hands-on (PS3)

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One of the principal attractions of last weekend’s rAge expo was getting the chance to play unreleased games like God of War: Ascension. I’m a huge fan of God of War III so the prospect of going hands-on with Santa Monica Studio’s latest PS3 exclusive was a very appealing one.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 1

The God of War: Ascension singleplayer demo featured at the PlayStation booth at rAge was the same one shown during Sony’s E3 press conference and was also playable at the Tokyo Game Show last month. The demo is very much combat-focused and sees Kratos making mincemeat of a variety of fearsome-looking enemies, including an epic final boss battle against an armoured Elephantaur.

The demo only featured around ten minutes of gameplay, but this was enough time to get to grips with some of the new mechanics in God of War: Ascension. The game still has the non-adjustable camera featured in previous entries in the series so it didn’t take long to reacquaint myself with using the right analogue stick to roll out the way of enemies’ attacks. Similarly, the Triangle and Square buttons are still used for heavy and light attacks respectively, while L1 still acts as a modifier. A new gameplay feature is Kratos’ ability to use enemies’ weapons against them which provides players with more choice when stringing combos together. You can even perform a weapon-specific special attack when you’re ready to part with it, although you may want to reserve this for one of Kratos’ more powerful opponents.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 2

Other new gameplay mechanics featured in the demo include Kratos’ ability to create shockwaves by thrusting his Blades of Chaos into the ground (this depletes your magic meter), and green Life Cycle points that allow Kratos to manipulate time for puzzle solving. Early on in the demo a section of a wooden pier is destroyed by the sea beast Charybdis and you need to use one of these points to rewind time and pause it halfway through the pier’s destruction in order to create a path leading to higher ground.

Subtle changes have also been made to the Quick Time Events (QTEs) used to finish off enemies or escape from their grasp. For instance, there’s a section of gameplay in the demo when the Elephantaur grabs you in one hand and time slows down as he takes a swing at you. In the past this would have resulted in a QTE, but now you simply have to press a direction on the left analogue stick before he hits you to dodge the attack.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 3

Apart from these changes God of War: Ascension looks and feels very much like God of War III, which is high praise indeed for Santa Monica Studio’s latest project. Combat feels smooth and responsive, and the enemy design and animation is top-notch. The attention to detail in the demo is astounding – textures, lighting and shadows are right up there with the very best from this console generation and small details like Elephantaur’s ears flapping realistically and blood splattering over Kratos’ torso really demonstrate the developer’s commitment to graphical excellence. Motion blur is also used liberally to give the game’s frame rate an accelerated feel, and a non-obtrusive cinematic camera is employed when the director wants to show you dramatic goings on in your vicinity such as Charybdis’ tentacles raining down on Kratos’ head!

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 4

I walked away from my all-too-brief session with God of War: Ascension craving more. Only time will tell if the game can surpass the mighty God of War III but everything I’ve seen of it so far suggests that it will. With a refined combat engine, jaw-dropping graphics and the promise of brand new boss encounters, God of War: Ascension looks set to be one of the biggest adrenaline rushes on PS3 next year.