"That was at least sixteen kinds of awesome" - Me after finishing God of War II
I am Kratos, God of War, and all shall cower before my wrath.
If the quality of a videogame can be measured in how well it engages the player both viscerally and mentally within a consistently fun environment, then God of War II is the kind of unqualified success of which most developers can only dream. While it might be complained that God of War II doesn't offer a dramatically new experience, it also doesn't fix that which is not broken. Like most great sequels it takes what worked in the first game and builds on that without trying to redefine the player's expectations. Not quite an evolution from God of War the sequel is a refinement with more puzzles, more bosses, more story, more sex, violence and Wagnerian music.
How much a player will like God of War II can best be measured by how much they liked the first God of War.
Developer/Publisher: SCEA Santa Monica
Release Date: March 5, 2007
Hours Played: ~12
Completed Game: Yes
Number of quotes from 300 I shouted at the screen: 176
In the pantheon of gaming badasses, surely the 'kill 'em all and their gods too' philosophy of God of War II's anti-hero Kratos must take some kind of hyper aggressive prize for going above and beyond the call of typical ruthlessness. With weapons literally chained to his forearms, and an endless capacity for dismemberment, Kratos approaches all problems as any good Spartan should. He kills them. There is no solution that does not end in blood spilled, and enemies might as soon turn to a hive of angry wasps for pity than appeal to Kratos' humanity.
The game opens with newly adorned Greek God of War Kratos, having bested and succeeded Ares, still wallowing in his endless rage of masked ennui, his lust for blood not the least sated by life on Olympus. Defying even his godly sponsor Athena, Kratos descends from on high to join his marauding Spartans in sacking the city Rhodes, and quickly finds himself again at conflict with gods and monsters in the game's first centerpiece battle against an animated Colossus of Rhodes.
Echoing in many ways the opening of the first God of War where Kratos is pitted against a titanic hydra, the battle against the Colossus is a mission statement for God of War II. It puts the player into situations reminiscent of the first game grown bigger in every respect. Defeating the Colossus is a multi-phased task spanning the scope of Rhodes shoreline, more like five increasingly complex boss battles in a row than a single one. The mechanics of the epic fight, and the many to follow, still rely as much on solving a puzzles in the gamespace during the heat of battle as unleashing stunning combos and destructive magics, invariably ending in the familiar button punching minigames that unleash Kratos' finishing blows.
The Colossus is the first of nearly a dozen such centerpiece battles, and SCEA Santa Monica has done a wonderful job of more than tripling God of War's now paltry 3 boss fights without ever letting the conflicts become stale or repetitive. Each boss is memorable in its own fashion, though the battles that complete the game are truly satisfying without crossing the razor-thin edge of becoming either obscenely difficult or trivial. The game does an impressive job of providing subtle clues that inform the player how to defeat each enemy while maintaining a high-tension environment and button-mashing frenzy that will often leave players breathless.
God of War II is not always quite as successful in the crafting of its many puzzles, a few of which seem obtuse, providing incomplete information at the wrong spots without consistently giving the player a good feedback or hints on how to proceed. Fortunately there are only a few truly frustrating puzzles, and they become easy enough to solve once you can get oriented on the right track either by luck or by the endless resource of internet game guides, a crutch I must admit using on at least three occasions. Most of the other puzzles, usually involving some combination of levers, cranks, pressure plates and stopping time, are more successful at providing the player with that meaningful a-ha moment in quick enough order, which makes the occasional trouble spots exceptions to the rule rather than points of serious annoyance.
What the game does most successfully, however, is provide a balance of play. There is rarely a sense of overload, and just when you have slaughtered a cadre of demons, imps, sirens, minotaurs and skeletons the game shifts gears and provides you a puzzle, a visual centerpiece, a new environment, a cutscene, or a boss. God of War II does a better job than the original at avoiding the staleness of any one element and forcing the player to adapt to an ever changing environment. One never finds themselves feeling like they're just doing the same thing they did a half-hour before, and there's constantly the threat that something terrifying and massive might suddenly erupt from the heavens or earth.
There has been much talk of God of War II being a swan song for the Playstation 2, which apparently has gone from leading console in the industry to irrelevant in a matter of a dozen months, and if that's true then this is a fitting send off. The production is all one could expect from a triple-A title, and these final generations have shown that the PS2 was well equipped to scale visually and technologically over the years. While not quite next-gen visually, the characters are beautifully animated and detailed and the environments are breathtaking at times and impossibly immense at others. The voice work is near perfect, and recasting Harry Hamlin in the role of Perseus is a stroke of absolute genius that reinforces the near endless coolness oozing out of this game.
God of War II's subtitle The End Begins is all the hint you need that the game will end in something of a cliffhanger, and while the story leaves no question that a God of War 3 is inevitable, it doesn't fall into that Halo 2 category of disappointing endings. Enough is resolved at the end to bring a satisfying conclusion to the ten or fifteen hours that most players will need to finish the game to leave you wanting more without feeling cheated.
A game certainly not for the weak of heart or the easily offended, God of War II is a worthy successor. Some might find the game a little on the short side, easily beatable with a single rental, but the experience is so densely packed that the whole seems greater than the sum of its parts. The combat can occasionally devolve into button-mashing and the puzzles are not always top-shelf, but you'll really only notice if you're actively looking for something to bitch about. A game that is as hard to put down as it is easy to pick up, God of War II offers everything that made the first game great and turns it up to eleven.