When God of War was released on the aging PS2 back in 2005, it was immediately hailed as one of the best action games of all time, going on to win numerous accolades and game-of-the-year awards. But the videogaming landscape has changed significantly in the past two years. The big three (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) have released their "next-generation" consoles, and player expectations have risen accordingly. So how could God of War II, designed on the now-ancient PS2 hardware, possibly live up to the expectations of its fans? The answer is that while it fails to make any significant leaps forward, it mostly succeeds simply by being at least as good—if not slightly better—than the original.
The action starts during the Siege of Rhodes, where Kratos—now looking suitably gigantic as the new God of War—has descended upon the beleaguered city to help deliver the final blow. In the midst of his rampage, a large eagle swoops down, drains out most of his godly power, and injects it into the Colossus of Rhodes. As Kratos writhes in fury, his power-depleted body shrinking back down to its original human size, the enormous colossus stirs to life and starts its angry advance. So begins the story, and so too begins a nearly two-hour-long opening battle that comprises one of the best first acts of any game I've played. After that, however, the game settles down to a more moderate pace and the plot becomes increasingly convoluted.
God of War II's story lacks the clear focus and emotional punch of its predecessor. Whereas the original told of Kratos' tragic origins via carefully constructed reverse flashbacks, the sequel, which centers on Kratos' quest to find the Sisters of Fate and return to the moment when he was stripped of his powers, feels like a big mess by comparison. The mixture of gods, titans, the Sisters of Fate and (believe it or not) time travel doesn't exactly make for the tightest narrative, and after beating the game, I had a hard time remembering exactly what had happened. Fortunately, the story is only secondary to what the game is really about.
Like its predecessor, the heart and soul of God of War II is its ferocious combat, and luckily, it is even more bloody and brutal than ever before. Using the Blades of Athena, a pair of swords attached to long chains that are permanently seared into his arms, all of Kratos's attacks feel equal parts fluid and brutal, like a dancer fueled by pure rage. The action is further intensified by an array of beautifully choreographed finishing moves—e.g., neck snapping, eyeball yanking, wing severing, eviscerating, and decapitating. The sense of raw aggression and brutality conveyed through God of War II's combat is truly unparalleled.
Interspersed with the action is a mixture of platforming, puzzle solving, and even a few flying sequences. Getting around sometimes calls for precise jumping, climbing, or using the Blades of Athena as grappling hooks—mostly fun, and not too tricky. The puzzles, which include such tasks as displacing a massive stone floor to create a bridge and activating four gigantic horse statues to drag an entire island via massive roadway-sized chains, serve as an enjoyable breather. Flying on Pegasus makes for a nice diversion initially, and it is fun to watch Kratos chop the wings off gryphons, but the flying ultimately feels too constrained and dissimilar from the rest of the game.
God of War II's visuals and sound are some of the best to be found on the PS2. Whether ascending the inner structure of a colossus, soaring through snowy caves atop Pegasus, or scaling the walls of Hades, the visual design never fails to impress. I must admit, however, that I kept wishing the game had been designed on a more powerful system. As it stands, the graphics sometimes seem more than the system can handle, as evidenced by instances of slowdown and other visual artifacts that pop up during camera pans. On the audio side, the heroic and militaristic soundtrack does a great job of heightening the excitement, and credit must be given to the game's composer for creating music that consistently elevates and enhances the action.
Yet even with everything that God of War II has going for it, I can't deny a certain twinge of disappointment. I wanted so much to experience the same sense of exhilaration that the original had given me, but that feeling never arrived. There were moments that came tantalizingly close, such as the opening battle with the Colossus of Rhodes, but it never got all the way there. Make no mistake, God of War II is a great game. But I was already here two years ago. Two years is a long time in the videogame world, and with “next-generation” gaming in full swing, God of War II can't help but feel a bit dated.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
Parents would be well advised to keep this game away from their kids. This is one of the most violent and bloody games on the market. Exampes include a bird eating out a man's stomach as he screams in pain, ripping the arm off an enemy and shoving it down its throat, and repeatedly smashing a man's face into a pedestal until he is dead. In addition to the violence, players can also engage Kratos in a three-way sex
Fans of the original God of War will enjoy playing the sequel insofar as it represents more of what they loved about the original. It is best, however, to think of this more as an expansion than a sequel. The core gameplay and overall quality is comparable to the original. The story is new, the settings are new, and some of the enemies are new, but it is essentially the same game.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers will have difficulty following the story since none of the dialogue is subtitled; however, the combat does not rely on any audio cues.