Ker-unch. Shlop. The echo of shattered bone and slopping coils of intestine resonates around the Leipzig demo room, as the Creative Assembly's James Carey gleefully demonstrates the inventive ways you can slaughter a foe.
Creative Assembly might be renowned for their 'historically accurate' Total War series on PC, but it's apparent that their new next-gen project, Viking: Battle For Asgard, joyously chucks any semblance of beardy realism out of the window in favour of fantastical, gory fun.
Token plot? Hel, boss lady of the Nordic underworld, has invaded Asgard with an army of undead Vikings, and it's up to strapping hero Skarin - champion of the goddess Freya - to restore balance to the world. The events of Viking unfold over three islands (each a kilometre in real world terms), each of which our hero is able to roam about recruiting troops - before engaging the forces of evil in large-scale battles. Naturally, CA admit it'd be a folly to march right up to the game's final scraps 10 minutes into your adventure, but this is the sense of scale and freedom of choice the Sussex massive are striving for.
A real genre hybrid, this. There's a smattering of Dynasty Warriors' wild scale, but with infinitely more panache and rolling hills instead of pop-up-obscuring fog. The scale of Asgard and sense of autonomy recalls Oblivion; battlefield dynamics appear heavily influenced by the likes of Braveheart while the chunky, personality-packed character models and bleak sense of 'humour' might have been ripped straight from Mark Of Kri and God Of War respectively. Meanwhile, you'd do well to remember that each one of Skarin's solo excursions is intrinsically linked to the outcome of climactic battles, whether it's purchasing a stouter sword from a smithy, freeing a posse of comrades to help bear arms or incapacitating an enemy outpost to shrink the ranks of their armies. Attempt to take on Hel's hordes unprepared and the future looks bleak. Put in some groundwork and the forces of light might prevail.
One of the miniature quests involves Skarin's attempt to shut down an enemy barracks. There appears to be a multitude of ways to do this - stealth being the most obvious. Instead of walking in sword drawn and taking on all comers, reconnaissance reveals a partially ruined wall that could be scaled. Once inside, we scuttle from cover to cover, eliminating the odd guard who, if alerted, might raise the alarm. Cunningly, stealth kills are inordinately powerful, giving Skarin an incentive to keep his head down whenever possible. Once a certain amount of assault criteria have been fulfilled, it's time to enter what Tom Clancy deems the 'Endwar' stage.
Can you feel the Norse?
As Skarin's forces plough their way through legions of undead grunts - with up to 1000 fighters on-screen - the sheer visceral abandon becomes apparent. Limbs are lopped off, bodies hewn in two, heads sail from shoulders... red ruin fills the screen as far as the eye can see. Intense one-on-one battles between soldiers flare all about as we survey the carnage from atop a hillock - each skirmish as real and desperate as the ones Skarin has fought himself. It's like finally being in the midst of one of Total War's battles, and it's breathtaking.
To the naked eye, Viking's combat resembles any of half a dozen other button mashers. Peer more closely and you'll uncover the concept of 'pips', tokens which accumulate through Skarin's repeated use of light attacks. These pips can be spent on heavy blows, which come in handy when you're faced with heavily armoured foes or those cowering behind shields. So, instead of simply hammering away on your Sixaxis and hoping for the best, you'll need to formulate strategies that exploit opponents' weakness to the full. It sounds simple - because it is - but it also adds a welcome layer of wily strategy to all that pad pounding.