Two years ago David Jaffe and his team at Sony Santa Monica took the gaming industry by surprise with their near perfect adaptation of the action adventure genre. The first God of War game fused the action-packed gameplay from titles such as Devil May Cry with the amazing environments spawned from Greek mythology while making the whole thing accessible and fun to play. Last month marked the European release for God of War II, can it live up to its predecessor, even with Jaffe not on the team?
A small word of advice for those of you that plan on playing God of War II but haven’t completed the first level yet; this paragraph contains small spoilers from the end of that level. After Kratos defeats his nemesis Ares in the first God of War game he assumes Ares’ position as the God of War. Frowned upon by his fellow Gods, Kratos keeps doing what he does best; wage war. He decides to aid the Spartan army in their quest to conquer Greece. However the Goddess of justice, Athena, tries to prevent him from doing so and she shrinks Kratos back from Godly proportions to a human length, strips him of most of his powers and to top it all off the Colossus of Rhodes is summoned to Hulk-smash Kratos. During the epic city-shattering battle Kratos seems to be on the losing end and Zeus pops in to give Kratos his Blade of Olympus. However, Zeus’ intentions aren’t in Kratos’ favour and Zeus uses the blade to drain him of his powers and ultimately kill him. Kratos is taken to the Underworld where Gaia tells him to seek an audience with the Sisters of Faith to travel back in time and kill Zeus before he kills Kratos. For us gamers this means another good 14 hours worth of hacking, slashing and puzzle solving.
The reason that the first God of War was such a success among both critics and gamers was probably the fact that it was extremely polished. Every move felt right, every environment looked pretty and every puzzle was fun to solve. It was easy to get into but hard to master and the gameplay simply clicked from the very first moment until you saw the credits. This perfect blend caused God of War to get the highest possible scores from almost every media outlet and sell millions of copies. A mere 2 years later Sony Santa Monica is determined to prove themselves once again, emphasizing on the original game’s strong points and throwing out the bad.
Instead of taking more time and making the second God of War game a next-gen one, SCEA decided they had to let their precious PS2 go out with a bang. With an install base of over 120 million PS2s this seemed to be a smart decision and the Santa Monica team showed that they have no problem with draining out the very last bits of power the PS2 has to offer. Every environment in God of War II looks amazing, every move is animated beautifully and the amount of colors that you’ll get on your screen can compete with those in some Disney flicks. The occasional screen tear and the polycount of certain models are painful reminders that this title is running on 8 year old hardware but it’s most definitely one of the most beautiful titles of its generation. The God of War engine makes it perfectly clear why good art and presentation are far more important than complex shader models and 16x FSAA.
Another great thing about God of War II is its pace. From the moment you gain control over Kratos the game feels like a rollercoaster ride filled with adrenaline, leaving very little time to breathe. God of War II is not for the faint of heart and will keep you on the edge of your seat for the good 14 hours that it takes to finish the game. The levels are laid out well and it never feels like a chore. The balance between puzzles, battles and platform bits is spot on and it’s hard to lay down the controller as you’ll be wanting to explore more and progress further each and every time. The puzzles themselves are never boring and designed much better than they were in the first title. You’ll generally get a good idea of what’s expected of you from the moment you encounter a puzzle and the bulk of the puzzles are solveable within a matter of minutes.
One of the aspects that gained the first God of War all the praise that it deserved were the Quick Time Events. These cinematic events, that usually occurred at the end of boss fights, forced the player to quickly press a certain button as it popped up on the screen. This resulted in semi-interactive sequences where Kratos pulls off the most bad-ass moves on his enemies, making them regret the moment they even engaged the fight in the first place. These events are back and more impressive in both quantity and quality. From the first stage on you’ll be flying through the air, shoving your blades into faces with great swiftness and flair. These events are great testaments to Kratos’ sick level of badassery, making him one of the most memorable game characters of our time. This game simply wouldn’t have worked with a less-impressive lead character, who else would make time for a threesome in a Greek bathing house while the city is being torn apart by a 100 feet tall iron Titan?
Another point that God of War II improves upon is its longevity. The story mode feels longer and more extensive this time around, introducing more locations to explore and more weapons to collect. The unlockables are plenty and the replayability has been improved due to the Bonus Play option which allows you to replay the story while keeping the powers and weapons you’ve gained on your previous playthroughs (it also allows you to pick zany costumes that you have to unlock). On top of that there’s a Challenge of the Titans mode which contains 7 small challenges you have to complete within a certain amount of time to unlock even more bonuses.
All in all God of War II does the unthinkable and improves on its predecessor on almost every aspect, making it the second ever title on ICGamers to receive a perfect 10 (the other one ironically awarded to that Xbox 360 title with the similar acronym). This accomplishment makes God of War II not only the best action adventure we’ve played in recent history, it even earns God of War II a spot amongst the very best games ever released on the Playstation 2, and that says a lot. Kudos to Sony for supporting their platform for 8 years, right down to bitter end and good luck to Ready at Dawn, who face the seemingly impossible task of bringing the epicness of God of War to the PSP later this year.
Final Score: 10 out of 10 - Excellent (How do we rate games?)