God of War II Review
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God of War II is absolutely incredible, and a must buy for every single PS2 owner.
- Thrillingly violent and thoughtful puzzle solving.
- Graphics constantly astound. Fantastic soundtrack.
- Sweet unlockables, an improved Challenge of the Gods and an entire second DVD packed with making-ofs.
- It can at points feel a little too familiar to players of Kratos' first epic.
Since God of War 2 is likely the PS2's swan song, let us briefly reflect on what made the system so great: lots and lots of games, split into an impressive stable of worldwide development support, and Sony's willingness to get behind unique ideas (Amplitude, Shadow of the Colossus, etc.) and support them alongside their more trusted, traditional products - which is exactly what God of War has become. Wherever there is a Sony system, Kratos will be there to split skulls, yell at the skies, and engage in unspeakable acts with multiple women.
But just because God of War has become a property to bank on doesn't mean that the sequel is any less epic, viscerally satisfying or downright entertaining. With the impressive engine and smooth combat already built for the first game, Sony Santa Monica have had two full years to focus on pure game and level design, and it shows. While ultimately not as expertly paced or quietly innovative as the first game, the fantastical Greek mythology-derived sequel provides one hell of a fun action/adventure game and a parting slap in the face to anyone who even considered packing their PS2 away just yet.
Every last bloody drop
As high as the visual bar has been raised in the last six months with next-gen games like Motorstorm and Gears of War, you'd still be hard-pressed to describe God of War 2 as anything less than beautiful. It's a sublime cohesion of great art design and raw technical prowess, and can stand tall even amongst the afore-mentioned next-gen powerhouses. It's just that good-looking. If we'll be comparatively squeezing this much juice out of PS3 at the end of its life, the mind truly boggles.
Regardless of what visual plane of a given scene you're moving on, every corner above and below you, and miles off in the background behind you is drawn and rendered with an eye for detail and artistic finesse. Never does the graphical direction feel lazy; even if you feel like the combat and story are dragging (which is hard to imagine) you'd likely be motivated to progress and explore simply to see the sights and epic set pieces. The grandiose scale of the first game returns and even knocks it up a few notches, allowing for some truly jaw-dropping vistas; it also goes a long way having a cinematic flair and a camera that can be used as much for cinematography as for gameplay. The vast majority of the cutscenes are done in-engine, but they impress as much as the CG ones thanks to smart direction and clever use of the engine.
There's quite a bit of story in the game, and it's entertaining even if it isn't particularly fascinating thematically. By the end of the first GoW we found out Kratos to be a more interesting, tortured character than he initially seemed, but he's still a bit of a humorless jerk (and yells "I am the God of War!" a few too many times throughout the course of his adventure). I won't get into the tale itself for spoiler reasons and because it's ultimately not why you're playing the game, but I will say that you're after Zeus himself this time (after besting Ares previously), so things are a bit more complicated. By the end of of the game it's basically alley-ooped the narrative to God of War 3, but more in a "goddamn I can't wait to play this next chapter" way than anything approaching frustration (like, say, Halo 2). It would be nice to see a modicum of subtlety introduced to the characters in that inevitable next installment, but one more time around for the over-the-top, unflinchingly aggressive cast is okay for now.
Gameplay, ultimately, is largely unchanged from the first GoW. You'll venture through temples, ruins, caves, cliffs, and across the bodies of giant creatures in sprawling-yet-linear levels, fighting pockets of enemies and solving environmental puzzles along the way. There a few pegasus-flying segments in the first half of the game, but they serve more as a fun change of pace than a significant addition to the series (think what we've seen of Lair meets Panzer Dragoon Orta, though not as good as either).
Many enemies return from the first game, ... (continued on next page)