PS2 Review: God of War II
By Casey Lynch Mar 13, 2007, 16:41 GMT
Does GoW II offer more blood-drenched Spartan action then 300? Check it.
“This… is… Sparta!”
By now, most of you have probably seen Leonidas roar those words in 300, the theatrical adaption of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the fall of Sparta.
When we watched 300, we couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if there had been 301 Spartans to take on the Persians.
To be more specific, what if Kratos from God of War, the PlayStation 2 game that revolutionized the action genre, had stood side by side in red cape and leather Speedo with the Spartans? Seriously, the Persians wouldn’t have had a chance in Hades.
Arguably one of the best games to ever hit the PS2, God of War won over legions of fans in 2005 with its Greek mythology-inspired story and heavy combination of furious third-person chain-blade combat, challenging platforming, and headscratching puzzle solving. Today, the sequel is upon us and God of War II, dare we say it, does everything the original did, but better.
If you haven’t played the original God of War and you own a PS2, go throw yourself off a large cliff and beg the gods for mercy. But if you’re a fan, the gods have found favor with you - the sequel picks up literally just minutes after the conclusion of the first game and finds Kratos still suffering from PTSD – post traumatic Spartan disorder – and unable to deal with the psychological fallout from spending his formative years eviscerating his enemies. Kratos soon finds himself stripped of his newly found god powers and heads out to find the Sisters of Fate to exact his revenge.
On to what works...
Bottom line, Sony’s Santa Monica studio have absolutely prepared a ride that is worthy of the God of War name. It is epic, expansive and engaging and what it is does right, it does in utter abundance. More boss fights and deeper Plato-esque character arcs - even the ménage à trios is back and improved upon (if you can find it) – and that’s all just in the first 15 minutes of the game.
The obvious big news are in-game elements like getting to ride and fight atop Pegasus and fly like Icarus. These features were hinted at during production of the original but never came to fruition due to time, money, etc.
In terms of sheer scope, this game is HA-UGE. We’ve already played through it several times but there is so much here, and everything is big. You’ll be taking on a Colossus, fighting gorgons, cyclops, cerebi, and a horde of specific characters from the pantheon of Greek mythology. Speaking of myths, GoW II leans heavily on the Greek stories of yor, way more then the first game, which gives the game an added sense of depth. This deeper storytelling aspect, along with all the other elements, really create a sense of immersion in the game that will have you feeling like you’re in the middle of this epic story yourself.
At the end of the day though, GoW games aren’t about big environments and rich backstories as much as they are about killing - killing monsters and creatures and baddies and bosses, and then killing more stuff – and GoW II doesn’t disappoint.
Kratos’ hybrid chain-blade attack ala Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia is back, so people who gave themselves premature arthritis of the thumbs playing the original will be able to jump right in and carve away at the baddies.
There are some welcome additions to the combat – you can now pick up specific weapons from fallen bosses and use them, like a gargantuan hammer – and you’ll have a fantastic trusty bow that really comes in handy. You can also grapple swing with your blades, which is really cool.
Speaking of bosses, it seems like there are 10 times the bosses in GoW II compared to the scant few in the original. And the final set of boss fights (yes, set) totally rule over the Ares fight at the end of the first game.
Plot and pacing-wise, there is nary a time when you aren’t doing something – you’re either slaughtering countless foes, solving a puzzle or climbing up some giant set piece that makes you feel as small as worm, in the best way of course.
Graphically, the game looks better then the original, which is amazing considering the PS2 is almost seven years old. On the topic of the PS2, Sony is smart to release GoW II on its older platform – they have an install-base of over 100 million, and not everyone is ready to take the hi-def PS3 plunge just yet, so kudos to Sony for not strong-arming every GoW fan into buying a PS3 just to play the sequel.
On to what doesn't work...
What doesn’t work
While GoW II ups the ante on nearly everything the original did, it makes some key mistakes, albeit little ones, that keep it from being an absolutely perfect game, namely in areas that start with “P” – presentation, platforming and puzzling.
Presentation-wise, GoW II looks fantastic for the PS2 and will likely be one of the last (if not the last) triple-A title you play on your PS2. One area in particular that is amazing is the pre-rendered cut scenes, which look flawless. It is strange then that the producers chose to set up one of the key story elements at the beginning of the game using the in-engine system to render the cut scenes rather then the lush animated sequences it uses later. When Zeus is introduced, he ends up looking shabby and second-rate until we see him in the later animated sequence, which hurts the presentation of the game. Also, the artsy, 2-D paneled sequences from the first game are gone, save a flashback sequence. We really missed these and noticed their absence when the flashback began.
Also, platforming and puzzle-solving are key to the GoW franchise, and there doesn’t seem to be as many or as challenging platforming and puzzle-solving situations in GoW II. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing - the game doesn’t have as many grinding to a halt, what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do-now moments - most of the puzzles you can solve the first time and zoom through, but where’s the fun in that? Some of the tricks from the first game had us stumped for hours and made us try all kinds of weird things before we found the solution, which resulted in an amazing sense of accomplishment.
The platforming is about the same as the puzzle-solving – not too tough. Remember balancing 500 feet in the air, shuffling along 3 inch wide girders while jumping over spinning pieces of lumber with spinning saw blades attached in the first game? The platforming doesn’t even get close to the level of complexity and tension in GoW II – it’s fun, but there’s nothing on the order of leaping across the moving platforms to jump through the gate into the Architects Tomb before it closes from the original here. But again, this may not disappoint people, it may make give them that same sense of accomplishment, albeit a little less hard earned.
What does it all mean?
In the end, don’t let our criticism fool you - God of War II is an overall better game then the original. It has more boss fights, better weapons, looks better, plays better – it is just better. You will immediately get sucked into the fight and won’t put this game down for a long, long time, which is good, because it may be the last thing keeping you from mothballing your PS2.
+ Everything you loved about God of War, but better
+ More boss fights, better weapons, more killing
+ Looks great and we didn’t have to buy a PS3 to play it
- In-engine cut scenes look shabby
- Platforming and puzzle-challenges weren’t as difficult
- What happened to those stylistic 2D paneled cut scenes from the first game?
4.5 out of 5