God of War: Ascension single player is so good that all I wanted to do was stop playing it this evening. Slitting the throat of a monster with its own blade, smashing open red chests for orbs, staring slack-jawed at one of the most beautiful games on the PS3 - I understood early on that this was the Kratos experience we all know and love; no need to ruin it for myself. I wanted to put the controller down and wait for a complete copy of the game to arrive.
Instead, I played the first 30 minutes of the single-player adventure, but you don't have to rely on my feeble words to experience it. Here's the playthrough for your viewing pleasure. Check it out, and then read my analysis below.
Pretty cool, right? I'm sure you have your own takeaways from the demo - which I'm anxious to read, so post in the comments below - but after playing the game, I have four "big ideas" of my own.
IT'S SICKENLY BEAUTIFUL
I don't know how well a video on the Internet conveys it, but God of War: Ascension is truly striking. As Kratos tears bug people in half, their blood kicks up and covers his skin. When he takes down the cyclops, you get a glimpse inside the gash and can see the rib cage. The environments are crisp and clear even when they're rotating a la Inception. Everybody's skin looks pliable and real.
I had a few occasions where finishing moves similar to the ones in multiplayer (ripping heads off, slamming people into the wall) didn't line up right because of stairs or half walls, but there's no denying that - somehow - this game looks better than God of War III.
ASCENSION IS CINEMATIC EVOLUTION
Before I got my hands on a controller, Sony showed a video about the journey to God of War: Ascension. Looking back at some of those PS2 boss battles, it was clear how far the franchise has come in storytelling. I remember God of War III really stressing scope with camera pans and wide shots, but God of War: Ascension is taking that even further.
When the bugs enter the Hecatonchires' hand and it does that bone-breaking, monster birthing animation, I cringed. When the camera pans back to show you the tons of hands and the Hecatonchires' face as an entrance way, I understood the scope of the battle. (Fun Greek mythology fact, Wikipedia says that Hecatonchires means "hundred-handed one.") When Kratos rips one of the Blades of Chaos free and swipes at the Fury, it feels like an epic movie scene.
THE NEW MOVES FIT IN
Blah, blah, graphics. Blah, blah, cinematic talk. You want to know how it plays. Then answer is: very well. God of War combat has always been the franchise's calling card, and that's no different here. Ascension is fun to pay, but the new moves make it feel deeper than its predecessors.
You can impale one foe and remain tethered to him until going in for the kill or hurling at the other enemies. Tapping R1 on a stunned enemy gives you a break from battle to bask in a horrific finishing move. Picking up a sword on the battlefield expands your arsenal, but you can also hurl it into enemies for extra damage.
However, there's one addition I'm a really big fan of and it isn't even combat related. When Kratos buries his blade into a wall and slides down, you can now steer him. Developer Sony Santa Monica brings the camera in nice and tight for this (Cinematic evolution!) and then tosses a whole bunch of obstructions Kratos needs to get around. It's a slick way of breaking up the game and making it feel like there's more to do.
I UNDERSTAND KRATOS MORE ALREADY
I've said that Kratos is a dumb character; I think it's ridiculous that he's so angry all the time. For years, people have argued that if I was tricked into killing my wife and daughter like he was, I'd be pissed, too, but I still think it's insane to be yelling every line of dialogue. Well, I got to see the live action God of War ad PlayStation has been teasing, and it actually got me pumped and offered a window into Kratos as a man. A man who smiles and tears up.
I have no idea how much God of War: Ascension's story - a prequel set six months to a year after the death of Kratos' family - will touch on emotions other than rage, but even that fleeting glimpse made me like Kratos a bit more. This demo kicks off with him being tortured by a Fury, one of the sisters that targets those who break blood oaths with the gods, so it seems like we might get some range from Kratos. At least a little which is a lot more than usual.
And, if I'm wrong, the game will still look awesome and be fun to play, so there's that. I just hope the single-player campaign is nice and long as multiplayer has been pushed so much. Speaking of, did you see the bald guy Kratos "freed" from his prison cell? I'm 99-percent sure that's the multiplayer character, so there's the crossover.
God of War: Ascension arrives on March 12th. Look for lots more on IGN as we gear up for the return of the Ghost of Sparta.