Kratos is back. Gaming’s biggest contemptible badass has returned for another “Herculean” adventure of epic proportions. After defeating Ares and usurping his position as the “God of War,” Kratos finds himself succumbing to the same lust for power that brought about all of his original problems in the first place. He forgets to “keep it real” with his newly-achieved god status and commands the Spartan army to decimate one city after another. The same bloodlust his predecessor had been seduced by had culminated in his downfall when he attempted to destroy his own godly sister’s city, Athens. Kratos’ choice to go down the same path displeases the other Gods and they embark on an elaborate scheme using the Colossus of Rhodes to wipe out Kratos’ power. They succeed and Zeus himself does away with Kratos… or does he?
All of this occurs within the first fifteen minutes of the game.
What the Gods who conspired against Kratos failed to realize is that you cannot easily put down a man who will climb out of hell itself to seek revenge. This time, Kratos’ life and soul is rescued by Gaia, a Titan who has seen more than his share of pain during the war between Gods and Titans. He instructs Kratos to a remote temple that houses “The Sisters of Fate.” These sisters possess the key to reversing what has befallen our “hero,” and Kratos will have it… whatever the cost!
This title does not disappoint in any way. Those who have completed the first game will find themselves right at home with the new control scheme, as only a few button assignments have been changed. The hard part for veterans of the first title will be re-adjusting to a “human-like” Kratos (and building his abilities back up from scratch) after having so much fun wielding his god-like powers. Visually, the title exceeds its predecessor in its beauty. The stunning vistas and vertigo-inducing scale are the kind not seen since the “Prince of Persia” series. The stunning level of detail in every character and environment is sheer eye candy, even when the subject itself is the height of Greek mythology repugnancy.
The frame rate is rock solid with barely a hint of slowdown anywhere. The whole presentation even has a distinct “next-gen” feel to it, and players are likely to not even realize they are still using a PS2. (They will be even less likely to notice if playing this game on a PS3 in back-compat, as it runs flawlessly on the new system as well… save for the missing rumble feature.) Character animations are silky smooth, which is particularly awe inspiring when doing battle with one of the Titans. Kratos himself seems to have a few more moves added to his repertoire since the last game and appears a bit more detailed as well, as he looks absolutely smashing in the ashes of his dead family.
The audio design is of the highest caliber once again, just as it was with the first title. If a non-gamer were to hear GOW II’s orchestral compositions from another room, they may be compelled to ask the player if it’s a game or a top-tier Hollywood film “going on in there.” The sound effects achieve a level of accuracy and clarity that only a few titles can proclaim. Not only does everything sound exactly the way your brain tells you it should, but in some cases they make you believe that if such an object on screen were to somehow come to life in reality (say, the Colossus), it would sound exactly the way it does in the game. Rounding out the aural delights are the top notch voice actors, some of which include Linda Hunt, Harry Hamlin (reprising his “Clash of the Titans” role, Perseus), Michael Clarke Duncan and Corey Burton. The actors and game developer’s efforts have produced a fabulously dramatic and immersive experience.
As for the core gameplay, it has pretty much remained unchanged from the first title. If the game has any drawbacks to be mentioned, it would be in the fact that the core combat itself isn’t very challenging from a technical standpoint and at certain times seems more like the button mashing mayhem of titles from generations ago. If you are the type of gamer that can breeze through Ninja Gaiden on its hardest difficulty, God of War II will seem easy and a bit repetitive to you. For everyone else, however, the challenge level may appear to be “just right.” The difficulty is also adjustable.
The gore factor seems to have been cranked up to eleven as well, and the “finish him” icon is much more prevalent this time around. The “finish him” icon is a visual depiction of one of the controller buttons (or analog stick motions) that appears above an enemy’s head after Kratos has sufficiently worn them down. With one push, Kratos begins a “Dragon’s Lair/Shenmue” type event that will finish off the opponent in a grisly, demeaning way. For gigantic boss characters, it usually enacts one gory piece one of the “weak point” puzzle that the bosses in God of War tend to be. Don’t let the concept fool you; these sequences are extremely compelling and dramatic.
A few new combat moves have been added as well. Kratos now can earn such devastating attacks as a giant hammer and earthquake magic. Unfortunately, the design itself is too close to the original game in this respect as most weapons and magic become largely irrelevant or useless after certain sequences. Focus all of your upgrades toward Kratos’ main dual swords and one favorite spell and you will be able to make it through the entire game relatively easily. If this were an RPG, such an approach would be certain death.
The puzzles are challenging but not overly complicated, and usually consist of the usual “fulcrum/platform/switch” variety found so often in adventure titles. One really fancy addition (and another “reference” to the Prince of Persia series) is Kratos ability to use his swords and chains as grappling hooks. Whenever there’s a point he can hook onto and swing across, it will appear as a glinting spark at the point of connection. One simple button press is usually all it takes to send Kratos flying across a chasm or similar pitfall.
God of War II begins with a bang louder than a falling Kraken and does not let up for the next dozen or so hours you will spend engrossed in its mythos. Once again, David Jaffe & Co. have delivered a masterpiece of visual beauty, brutal violence and compelling gameplay that will serve as a befitting end to the PS2’s natural life. Do not think twice about spending your money on this one, as it is destined to become a revered classic of the PS2 generation.