The original God Of War and its sequel remain two of the finest titles ever to grace the PlayStation 2. Blending Greek mythology with a bucketful of blood, SCEE's action-adventure series pushed the previous hardware generation to its limit, and the firm has made a Herculean effort to emulate its success with the third entry in the franchise.
Taking control of anti-hero Kratos once again, players run the gauntlet against a horde of mythological abominations. From legions of undead soldiers led by a beefy centaur commander to a fiery giant the size of Mount Olympus, there are plenty of innovate foes to carve up with your Chaos Blades.
The demo is essentially one set piece after another with ample opportunity to get your hands dirty. Controls are intuitive, with light, medium and heavy attacks used to dispatch minions and hefty combos for taking down bosses. Basic combat feels fluid; Kratos's new Cestus gauntlets certainly pack a punch and have range on their side, but feel sluggish compared to the Chaos Blades. A gratifying battering ram attack is a welcome addition to the fold, allowing you to tear through a crowd of enemies using one of them as a riot shield.
The encounter with Chimera (an amalgamation of lion, goat and snake for anyone not well versed in their Greek history) is a highlight, particularly when Kratos eviscerates the beast with its own horns. Equally memorable is the skirmish with the bloated Cyclops, which sees the protagonist overpower the creature and use it as his puppet before tearing out its eye.
Midway through the taster, the player must take down the sun god Helios's chariot with a bolt from a catapult. With your adversary lying broken at your feet, hitting L1 and R1 simultaneously has Kratos tearing the hapless hero's head off. You can then brandish your trophy at will to unveil secret passages. This mechanic only comes into play once during the demo - although the severed head is later used to light up a dark passageway - but it's sure to add an interesting dimension to the final game.
The last set piece sees Kratos spread his Icarus wings and take flight. Default controls are inverted but the merciful developers have provided us with the option to reverse this. Airborne escapades handle smoothly enough from the evidence at hand and are a refreshing break from the blood-soaked carnage. The scene merely lasts for a short period, but it does have the distinct feel of something that would only be fun in small doses.
Going by the latest demo version, God Of War III has boundless potential. It is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, embodying everything fans loved about the previous games with a visual facelift and some additional bells and whistles. It remains to be seen whether the final product will meet the impeccable standards of its predecessors, but if what was on offer at the Eurogamer Expo is anything to go by, it will be a Greek tragedy if it doesn't.
God Of War III is released for PlayStation 3 in March 2010.