So here we are; two months after the US release and a hop, skip and a jump past the UK, Australians finally get a chance to step into the best action game on the PS2 - usurping the original God of War for the honour. Yes, God of War II is the PS2's swansong and testament to how much power a talented developer can crank out of archaic hardware. More than that, though, it proves once again that good gameplay will virtually always make up for graphical shortcomings. Taking place a little while after the end of the original God of War, after Ares' defeat, Kratos claims the throne as the God of War. However, missing the thrills of battle and presumably unsatisfied by his harem of mostly naked Athenian babes, he is drawn back to the battlefield with his Spartan army in an attempt to take over Greece. Athena, knowing better, tells Kratos to back off but he ignores her pleas. Things don't go well for our favourite tattooed slap-head. An enormous eagle swoops down and saps Kratos of his godly powers while bringing a giant marble Titan to life. Predictably, it sets off destroying and rampaging, Godzilla-style. Kratos goes toe to toe but is unable to bring it down without his powers. Suddenly Zeus offers him The Blade of Olympus - which allegedly can slay the beast - in exchange for the last of Kratos' abilities. He accepts, defeats the statue and is promptly stabbed in the back and knocked down a hole into the burning underworld.
Zeus, it would seem, is bent on power and revenge. Kratos is effectively dead. And all of this occurs in a thrilling prologue that is jammed with more creativity and epic scope than most games include in their final climactic battles. Like the original, combat is frenetic and flowing; Kratos' movements around open courtyards and through the air are more akin to acrobatic floor routines and springboard demonstrations. The animations are linked together, keeping the flow of the fight liquid and catering to fights with swarms of enemies outflanking you. Your main combat buttons are square and triangle. Square deals standard sword swipes and slashes, while triangle is a power-attack button. By tapping or holding down the attack buttons and timing your blows, you can chain together anywhere from ten to potentially an obscene 999,999 hits.
Stunning. There are few other games that come close to this on the PS2.
If you've ever played Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, these games employ a similar system. However, we tend to prefer God of War II's attack system - it feels more fluid and evolutionary in the sense that you can spend collected red energy (again, along the lines of Devil May Cry) on building up each level of your attacks, thus extending ones you already know, rather than just adding new, more complex button combinations. A magic bar is factored into all of this, situated below your health gauge. This allows you to conjure magical weapons such as Typhon's Bane, a bow capable of locking on and sniping your target, and Atlas Quake, which allows Kratos to pound the ground below him and cause devastating damage to any hapless fool in wide proximity around him. Rage of the Titans replaces Rage of the Gods from the first game. As you fight, you accumulate rage, which can be activated by clicking both sticks inward. Kratos is then transformed into a flaming maniac and each attack is spectacularly powerful and perfect for clearing the room in tight situations. We love it. We're also deeply infatuated with developer SCE Studios Santa Monica's ability to nail the structure and pace. As soon as Kratos begins to scale his way up out of the bowels of the realm of the damned, things rarely slow. As you progress through the fairly lengthy story, it's a pleasure to encounter new creatures to smite. Combat never comes across as a chore - even when some enemies respawn after leaving combat areas momentarily. The retrieval of new items is also integrated into major encounters - unlike a Zelda game, you won't simply open a chest for your next necessary piece of kit.
One of the newest inclusions, Pegasus-riding, is also one of the coolest. Played on-rails, ala Panzer Dragoon or Star Fox to a point, Kratos takes to the sky periodically when travelling between destinations. While mounted on the Pegasus, Kratos can swing away at other flying monsters and their pilots. The game's reflex-oriented, timed button press moments (present in the first game and throughout the combat in the second) also occur up in the air. Deal enough damage and Kratos will be prompted to leap across to back of his winged foe and either behead it, tear its wings off or introduce his blade to its spine. Is it wrong to enjoy gratuitous spurts of blood? It's kind of perverse, sure, but it's all in the name of character-establishment. We feel the same way about the moderately kinky lovemaking mini-game - it's not tasteful exactly, but we'd miss it if SCE Santa Monica hadn't included it. It's all done with a sense of humour, after all; boobies and blood for the 18+ audience.
We really only included this screen because Medusa here has adorable Kratos nipple ornaments.
The story is divided by the occasional pre-rendered cutscene, well directed and up there with Square Enix's masterful works. It's a step forward since the original in terms of overall quality and scope, and the voice-acting is top-notch. Progressing through most of the minor areas triggers either an in-game cutscene to continue moving the plot forward.
Much of God of War II's advancement beyond the original is evolutionary. Levels are considerably larger and more impressive in the scale of the set-pieces. The Island of Creation in particular is spectacular to behold, towering into the blue sky and filling the horizon with gargantuan statues of Pegasus' and various imposing Greek gods. The design team has gone to ground and created hands-down the best looking game on the PlayStation 2. Very rarely does the framerate take a hit, either, which is saying something when you gape at some of the vistas worked into the engine.
We're not exaggerating when we say that if you were able to up the resolution to 720p and run God of War II in native widescreen, it wouldn't look out of place on the PS3. The art direction is amazing - there isn't a single room in the game that hasn't been lavished in detail - vines, intricate stonework (that goes beyond a simple texture effects) and a clear understanding of Greco-Roman architecture. Our mind boggles with the notion of what the team will eventually do on the PS3 hardware.
God of War II's adaptive animations are incredible.
It's hard to level criticism at a game of this calibre, but the only sticking points of note that surface are twofold - occasionally, the objectives of some puzzles are a little unfocussed or the solutions are kind of obtuse. For instance, we entered a room via an elevator only to find that your one possible exit is on an elevated platform that must be activated and lowered down. There is a switch that is reactive to weight, but something must press it down at all times, or it will deactivate the platform. Hence, we scoured the room for something to hold it down, tried quick-rolling with the right-stick and using a few different items before caving in and backtracking, only to find a moveable corpse that must be carried across to the elevator and taken down to the other room. For some gamers who have seen and played it all, perhaps this might seem painfully obvious; we'd generally consider ourselves action-platform gamers of the highest order, but the very obscure placement of an item required to solve the puzzle seemed a little stab-in-the-dark.
The other issue is the spacing of save-points which is generally fine, but every once in a while will be spaced too far before a major boss encounter (which are frequent) during which you'll kick the bucket and be forced to work your way back through a portion of a level to the encounter.
There. Can you live with that? We think you probably can - given the sublime action, sex and gore and a great story that is compelling and entertaining from the first moments to the last. It's long, comes with extra modes and a heap of secrets; above all else however, it's fun. It doesn't stop being fun, either. God of War II sits at an exclusive table shared by other gaming greats - Mario, Halo, Zelda, Final Fantasy. Kratos has proven he has the potential to be something that Sony really needs right now - a face for the mature masses, a figurehead and a game that is bold and brilliant. Go out and buy it.
IGN AU Ratings for God of War II (PS2)
out of 10 click here for ratings guide
Great menus and cool Spartan design motifs abound. The character progress menu system is clean and easy to use, too.
This is about as much as the PS2 can handle, but the little-system-that-could keeps on doing wonderous things in its old age.
A great orchestral score and flawless voice-acting, plus good environmental sounds and customary grunts and clangs.
Almost perfect, and definitely the best the genre has to offer on the PS2. Deserves to be viewed as such in the annals of gaming history, too.
8.0 Lasting Appeal
It's a solid 10 or so hours - or much, much more if you take advantage of the secrets and unlockables.
(out of 10 / not an average)
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