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Gamers pumped up for 'God of War III'

By Larry Frum, Special to CNN
Kratos, right, battles a mythical monster in the hotly anticipated video game "God of War III," to be released March 16.
Kratos, right, battles a mythical monster in the hotly anticipated video game "God of War III," to be released March 16.
  • Action-adventure sequel "God of War III" may be the most anticipated video game of 2010
  • Video game analyst: "The demo was phenomenal"
  • "God of War" series follows the exploits of a warrior, Kratos, as he battles Greek gods
  • Game developer: "This is going to be a generational-defining game"

(CNN) -- "It has been a long road. To be at the finish line is great."

So says developer Stig Asmussen, who has just put the final touches on what has been called the most eagerly awaited video game of 2010: the fantastic action-adventure sequel "God of War III."

The game, coming March 16 for Sony's PlayStation 3 console, is the culmination of nine years of work for director Asmussen and the rest of Sony's creative team for the "God of War" series.

High-profile games rarely live up to massive hype, but early reports on "God of War III" -- in which gamers battle gods from Greek mythology -- have been glowing.

" 'God of War III' is expected to deliver the most bombastic, over-the-top action-adventure game ever," said video game analyst Scott Steinberg, author of "Get Rich Playing Games." "The demo was phenomenal. This has never been a series known for a light touch."

A description of the forthcoming game on PlayStation's site even promises "new heightened levels of brutality and gore." Hollywood also is considering a movie adaptation of the series -- which Sony says has sold over 8.7 million copies worldwide -- although no project is imminent.

The "God of War" series debuted in 2005 and follows the exploits of a former Spartan warrior named Kratos as he seeks revenge against Ares, Zeus and other Greek gods who wronged him. The 2007 "God of War II" ends with Kratos enlisting the aid of the legendary Titans in his quest.

The popularity of the first two games (not counting two lesser "God of War" titles), plus the fact that that "GOW III" is expected to be the end of the series, has fans clamoring for this final chapter. At last year's Spike Video Game Awards, "God of War III" was named Most Anticipated Game of 2010.

Some observers even wonder whether "GOW III" can top the all-time fastest-selling PS3 exclusive game, "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots," which sold a whopping 1.7 million units in its opening week in 2008.

Demo and gameplay videos reveal that "GOW III" is expected to pick up where "GOW II" left off -- with a massive assault on the gods' stronghold of Mount Olympus.

The ambitious scale shown in previews is what Asmussen had hoped to achieve when he took over the "God of War" franchise. Sony hired Asmussen away from Midway Games in 2001 to work as the lead environmental artist on the series.

"I built a number of the major levels of 'God of War' and worked on the early designs," said Asmussen, who drew on his previous experiences to help him achieve his vision for "God of War III."

Asmussen said they never originally intended to make a trilogy but realized they had a hot property on their hands after the original "God of War" won the Game of Show award at the E3 gaming conference. They immediately jumped into working on "God of War II."

Working with director Cory Barlog on "God of War II" helped give Asmussen a greater understanding of all the skills needed to put together a blockbuster title -- skills that would be put to the test after he was named game director for "God of War III," he said.

He said work on "GOW III" began while developers at Sony's studios in Santa Monica, California, were still working on "GOW II." A small group of designers and developers began testing the limits of a new console: the PlayStation 3.

"First, it kind of scared the crap out of us," Asmussen said of the PS3, which hit stores in 2006. "We knew the expectations were going to be high."

When production on "GOW III" began in 2007, Asmussen was given a script outline with major points on characters and locations, but it was missing a true narrative to tie it all together.

"I needed to really understand [the script], and the best way to do that is fashion it into something that fits my vision," he said. "I created a new plot ... [with] a lot of the locations and characters, but used them differently."

Asmussen believes the PlayStation 3 system gave his team the opportunity to take the game to a more sophisticated level. He cited one particular sequence where Kratos is battling a horde of enemies on the back of a Titan, which is talking to him while climbing up a mountainside. It is something they could have never done on the PlayStation 2, he said.

"This is going to be a generational-defining game using this technology. Others are going to see what we did and realize they can use the PS3 like that as well," he told CNN.

There are more weapons available to Kratos than in "GOW II," and they are accessed on the fly instead of through a power-up menu.

Steinberg, the video game analyst, has demoed "God of War III" and said the gameplay is fast and furious. He described it as "heavy metal meets Greek tragedy."

Steinberg believes games like "GOW III" and "BioShock 2" raise the excitement level for hard-core gaming by making games that involve more than just bloody button-mashing.

"'GOW III' is as much about storytelling and atmosphere as it is whacking away until horns, tusks and arms go flying," he said.

Asmussen said there will be no "God of War IV," no matter how well the third chapter does. But the lessons learned with "GOW III" will be used to make other titles enjoyable for future players.

"We think about the fans all the time," he said. "We have an enormous amount of pride here. We won't accept failure."