God of War II

Kratos isn’t a very nice man. This unsettled some people the first time around, as games in the past, such as Knights of the Old Republic and Fable, have always granted you the choice of being good or bad. Kratos though was bad to the bone, angst ridden and remorseless. This sequel is no different – one section involves sacrificing innocent worshipers, while another sees the fallen God tear off Icarus’ wings for his own use. Just try and think of him as the Incredible Hulk. A thin, white Incredible Hulk.

God of War IIA touch with death after a larger-than-life opening boss battle sees the anti-hero sent down to hell. What ensues is a Herculean quest of revenge while befriending a new set of Gods to restore lost vigour before overthrowing Zeus. Even though Kratos has to re-learn most of his skills gained in the first game – such as turning foes to stone – he’s fortunately still able to swing flaming blades around like a pro and tear a Greek phone book in two.

Combat has essentially remained the same with dozens of over the top combos and attacks at your disposal. The spear and giant hammer aren’t as fluid or fancy to wield as the dual chained blades, but if you power them up by collecting souls they eventually become very destructive. The more brutal the kill, the more souls you earn, although you’d have to be a very vicious player to finish the game with a fully powered up Kratos. Some of the Mortal Kombat style fatalities are the same as the last game, which is rather lazy, but the QTE events always impress. We’re particularly fond of drop kicking wild dogs across the screen.

The sense of scale and level of detail in the environments puts some so-called next-gen games to shame. Like a huge palace with marble walls and a polished floor, each tile individually rendered – some are cracked, others are missing – while outside a picturesque view can been seen which stretches for miles. Just as we thought “yeah, this is the PlayStation 2 pushed to its limit” around ten enemies appear – not just puny undead soldiers, but mighty Minotaurs and Cyclopses. Now that’s the PlayStation 2 being pushed to its limits. The loading times are also minimal, while the cutscenes, most notable for the facial expressions, are only rivalled by Square-Enix’s efforts.

Another joyous sight: a trip under the Earth’s crust to visit Atlantis – a screen-filling stone giant with (literally) the weight of the world on his shoulders. As you navigate paths in the background you can see his face grimacing in the background. He gotta big face! Then early on in the game a puzzle has to be solved that entails removing the blinkers off enormous stone horse statues so that they can pull two islands together. A lot of developers could learn from the inventiveness displayed during boss battles – the later ones really make you think and encourage experimentation instead of button bashing.

It’s no surprise that God of War II went down a storm in America – it’s big and brash and Kratos’ strength makes things that are usually a chore, like pushing puzzle-assisting blocks or climbing ladders, something less of a chore. It’s not earth-shatteringly different from the first game, but it flows more fluidly, lasts longer (around fifteen to twenty hours) and has more surprises. Having to hammer the circle button to open doors becomes tedious near the end, but the unlockable Cod of War costume more than makes up for it.

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