God of War II
Our protagonist Kratos clearly has some anger management issues. If you were a psychologist or something and wanted to make a chart of this sort of thing, the pale-skinned Greek antihero would be somewhere near the top alongside the likes of Tony Montana, Stewie Griffin and the Mystery Men’s Mr. Furious. Those of you who played the excellent original to its conclusion will know that for his efforts Kratos earned the mantle of God of War and the place on Mount Olympus previously occupied by the former God of War and Kratos’ former master, Ares. The only problem is, the other Gods and, indeed, all of Greece quickly learn Kratos is far more bloodthirsty and more destructive than his predecessor ever was. Angry at the Gods for refusing to relieve him of the memories of his murdered family, and dark, brutal past, Kratos takes his revenge by commanding his newly-recruited Spartan army to conquer all of Greece, city by city. The game picks up during the God of War’s assault on Rhodes, where things reach a head and a cataclysmic betrayal is revealed.
Upon playing the spectacular first level, it quickly becomes apparent that the same set-piece-driven action that was used to such excellent effect in the first game is back here, with a vengeance. Although it almost seems hard to believe, Sony Santa Monica really have pushed the boat out, and made the action sequences and boss fights even more extravagant and colossal than before. As before, levels are generally very linear as a result of this, but there’s usually the opportunity for a bit of exploration and a few secrets to unveil.
The combat is one area where things haven’t really changed, although many would argue that very little actually needed changing anyway. Strong moves are still done with triangle, weaker moves with square, enemies are grabbed via circle and you jump with X. L1 is block and R2 is now used to switch between your Blades of Athena (which, you may recall, replaced the Blades of Chaos at the end of GoW) and your sub-weapon (of which there are three in total – a hammer, a spear and a sword, although they’re not all available at the same time). Combat is fast and slick, and Kratos still has the excellent evade move via the right analogue stick, which is effective, fluid and definitely one of the best elements of the fighting engine.
Much like the first game, the story very much takes the precedent here, and there is a batch of excellent cutscenes, created using both the in-game engine, and FMV sequences for some really pivotal developments. Kratos soon learns he is but a pawn in a far bigger, more potentially devastating conflict, and his [latest] selfish quest for revenge is soon overwhelmed by the fate of the entire world of ancient Greece. Although the plot is excellent and extremely well presented on all fronts, the ending is unfortunately left open as a cliffhanger, and you’ll need to buy God of War 3 and a PlayStation 3 to find out the story’s continuation (the idea of having to buy one will no doubt horrify some people). So those who baulked at the non-ending in Halo 2, steel yourselves for a similar occurence in God of War 2.
Graphically, it’s incredible what Sony Santa Monica have achieved with this archaic hardware. Character models are significantly improved (noticeable immediately in the very first cutscene) and some of the grandiose environments and scenarios look truly incredible, such as the colossal Steeds of Time or the opening battle in Rhodes against possibly the biggest foe ever to grace the PS2, replete with a city-wide battle occurring in the background. It’s also home to an excellent art style and some wonderful incidental details, like dark cobwebbed corners, scattered fallen warriors and cracked and uneven paving or walls. In fact, the artistic prowess and technical accomplishment extends through the character and in particular enemy design, who are amongst some of the most interesting, awesome and downright gruesome foes ever encountered in a videogame. It’s fair to say this is almost certainly the most attractive PS2 game, and it’s not hard to believe it will never be bettered in this respect – particularly this late in the console’s lifespan.
Aurally things are also wonderful, again much like in the original. TC Carson returns as the antihero’s voice, delivering the anger and rage of the God of War with aplomb. Other commendable voice work includes The Green Mile star Michael Clarke Duncan in a fairly brief piece as Atlas and Linda Hunt reprising her excellent role as the narrator as well as Gaia, the mother Titan. The Oscar-worthy soundtrack returns, and if anything is even better than the original; a sweeping orchestral score with a haunting choir reflecting perfectly Kratos’ trials, tribulations and incessant fury. This is quite literally one of the very finest soundtracks in videogames, and is possibly the highest point of an extremely competent title.
As before, GoW2 generally succeeds in striking a near-perfect balance between exploration, puzzling and combat (the latter of which being the emphasis). Some of the puzzles are inspired, and it’s not unlikely you’ll be stumped for a good ten or fifteen minutes on occasion before figuring out what to do. The key is often something in the environment which you will have missed, and upon thorough exploration the answer will reveal itself and you’ll find yourself smacking your head at the blatancy of it. The puzzling is surprisingly in-depth and at times challenging, and is definitely one area in which this series excels past the likes of Onimusha or Ninja Gaiden.
One criticism which could be justifiably levelled at the original was the lack of bosses, and this is something Sony have clearly sought to remedy for the sequel – and very much succeeded in every respect. From the outset there is a deluge of boss and sub-boss monsters, and most of them are very well-designed, challenging to defeat and will require much patience and practice [and restarts]. Unlike the first game some of the bosses here are mortal warriors, which puts a different angle on the confrontations and give a slightly different strategy to the proceedings. This is definitely one aspect the series is excelling in, and it can sit alongside established franchises such as Zelda, Metal Gear Solid and Devil May Cry in providing bosses of the very highest calibre.
There are a couple of new embellishments to the combat and general gameplay which really help vary the experience. The most apparent of these is Kratos’ new grapple ability. He can now latch onto shiny hooks or protrusions with his Blades, and use them to swing all over the place to get access to high areas or far-off locations. It works a lot like Samus’ comparative ability in Metroid Prime, although tends to be a little more regimented, as you can only swing in the specific fashion the game lets you. Kratos also gets hold of the Golden Fleece partway through his adventure, attained in a superb showdown against a legendary Greek warrior. With the Fleece, he gains the ability to reflect the majority of attacks back to his enemies. This requires split-second timing and can be difficult to make the most of, but puts an interesting spin on the combat, and you can even use it to reflect magic attacks back at your enemies, such as the Gorgons’ petrifying gaze (which, pleasingly, turns them to stone instead of you). Kratos also gains the ability to glide on a pair of wings (again, they are – shall we say procured – from a character from Greek legend), which adds a new element to the platforming and exploration. It’s nothing that you won’t have seen in other titles like, say, Soul Reaver, for example, but is a welcome addition to the platforming and exploration side of things. The last major gameplay addition is some flight sequences where you ride an airborne fiery steed and do battle with griffin-riding foes. There’s only a couple of flying levels and they are fairly brief, but they’re a well-implemented addition and help vary the pacing and content of the game.
You’d be hard pressed to find anything generally accepted as a fault with this game, such is the all-round excellence and competence on show. It does feel very similar to the original, which may polarise your opinion on whether this is a good or bad thing. The additions such as the fiery Pegasus-alike steed and the grapple help broaden the gameplay a little, but there can be no denying just how familiar the game is in places. Another element which may annoy a little is how linear the game generally feels at times. Admittedly, this is largely symptomatic of the genre as a whole, and GoW2 does do a better job than probably all of its contemporaries in terms of giving you the opportunity to investigate, but it’s a shame there’s not the opportunity for a little more non-obligatory exploration. Thankfully, one aspect which was not brought over from the first title was Kratos’ sexual encounters, and the abundance of semi-naked women the game favoured so. Although the sex mini-game was slightly amusing, the entire aspect was embarrassing, and did not sit comfortably alongside the game’s brutal and violent content. Its omission this time around is not missed.
Technically you couldn’t really ask for a more impressive game. The levels are completely unbroken and it plays out in the manner of a huge, seamless adventure, again much like the original was. The frame rate sits pretty at 30fps and never struggles or dips, and the number of foes onscreen and amount of detail being thrown around is pretty impressive, even in light of the new-generation consoles. The special effects such as explosions, fire and water are lovely across the board and the amount of impressive artistry and overall technical accomplishment on screen at any time is almost without peer – on this or any other console.
Kelvin Tay’s Opinion…God of War II attempts to bring in more of what we liked about the first game (nearly everything) to the table, and in this respect it succeeds on all accounts. But have you ever heard of the law of diminishing returns? This is in full effect here. If we hadn’t been exposed to all of this before, this would have been the definitive action-adventure. Leaping through the sky, landing on a griffin’s back, ripping both its wings off and flinging it to god knows where – stuff like this is awesome, but then so is baked beans and eggs on toast. Unfortunately, the more often you have it, the less fulfilling it becomes. But it still satisfies like not much else on Earth.It’s likely it’ll take you somewhere between 12 – 14 hours to complete the main adventure, which is pretty similar to the first game and not bad at all for a game of this genre. Upon completion lots of additional extras become available, such a replaying with a different costume, restarting with your attained weapons and abilities, and the punishing Challenge of the Titans. In CotT you get eight mini-games where you must complete certain tasks like ripping out Cyclops eyes, or destroying certain foes before the time is out. Unlike the original, Sony have relented and allowed for saves between challenges, and so this is a challenging and compulsive test for those who complete the main game and crave more. If you’ve managed to pick up the Special Edition version, there’s also an extra disc with a few hours’ worth of documentaries, trailers and behind-the-scenes videos. They’re pretty good on the whole, and an interesting look at the game’s evolution from concept to designs to reality. It’s a little bit cheeky these documentaries were held back for the SE version, but nonetheless if you’re a big fan of the series it’s definitely worth picking up this version over the normal edition.
What you get with GoW2 is undoubtedly the equal of its predecessor, although not particularly superior. At times the overwhelming similarities to the first game can be a little off-putting, but at the end of the day this is an action adventure of the absolute highest calibre, outstanding in every respect, and with some of the most awe-inspiring set-pieces and fantastic action sequences ever committed to a videogame. This title has been created by a development team at the absolute peak of their talent, and it will be interesting to see what they can produce with the untapped potential of the PS3. Utterly utterly essential if you enjoy action games, or even good games in general.