Thursday, March 29, 2007

God of War 2: A Review


In March of 2005, a game was released for the PS2 that took my breath away. The game was God of War, developed internally by Sony by SCEA. God of War had it all: amazing controls, lush visuals, solid sound, deep and fascinating story, and the best gameplay around. It told the story of Kratos, a Spartan who asked the God of War, Ares, to give him the power to defeat his enemies. Ares granted Kratos this wish, and used Kratos has his tool on Earth, but then tricked Kratos into killing his wife and child. Kratos begged the Gods to make him forgot his horrible deeds and let him find peace, but instead he found himself forced to kill Ares and take his place as the new God of War.

God of War 2 starts with Kratos using his powers of God to help the Spartans defeat all that oppose them. He has a very direct means of doing this, namely, becoming a mile tall and literally stomping on the Spartans enemies with his feet. Zeus sees this as too interfering with the human’s lives, and attempts to kill Kratos. He is saved by one of the last Titans, Gaia, and goes on a quest to reverse time with the Sisters of Fate, and prevent Zeus from killing him in the past.

It took me about 13 hours to complete the game, and I loved nearly every second I spent with Kratos. The game is a true joy. Kratos is a great character, and while the story was not as strong in this game as the first, it is told exceptionally well, flawlessly going from playing the game, to in-game cut scenes, directly into a CG sequence, back to in-game graphics, and back to gameplay, and all with no loading! So let me break down all the pieces that made this game so great.

God of War 2 looks incredible. ‘Nuff Said. This game is gorgeous. This game rivals Final Fantasy XII in the visuals department. Incredibly detailed environments mix with beautiful pre-rendered back drops to create a living, breathing world, and all of the characters, from the tiny dogs that attack your feet, to the mammoth boss characters that fill up the screen will make you forget about this “next-gen” stuff for a few hours.

Levels are big and awe inspiring. Everything in this game feels connected to the other places you have been. It is a great feeling when you see that the level you were playing 3 hours ago is logically connected to the next area that you about to head into. There is not really any back tracking to speak of, but the game makes you realize that everything is happening at the same place, even if you never visit the exact environment again. Even thing that are annoying in other games, like walking across a huge bridge for a full minute, is an event in God of War 2, as you get a chance to see the enormity of the world around you, and take in the breathtaking vistas. The Titans are also a treat. Entire levels are built around, in and ON the Titans themselves. The first time you see the rock Titan in the 2nd level makes you realize how big this game is, running across the chains holding thousand foot tall horses, and climbing up a Titans face and body is a thrill. God of War 2 delivers some of the biggest wows you will get in a game.

The only 2 negatives I have are that there were 2 or 3 times when the fixed camera angle made it hard for me to see what I wanted to see. It never truly hindered me, and the worst was I got hit an extra time by an enemy, but it was a noticeable hindrance. Also, the ongoing issue with PS2 games and Progressive Scan returns. When the camera rotates, a clear line cuts across the screen on my HDTV. Every progressive scan compatible game I have played on the PS2 has suffered from this, so it is not the developers fault. The original God of War was much worse in this department, Resident Evil 4 being the worst, so it has been improved, but it is a distraction nonetheless.

5 Stars (out of 5)

God of War 2 sounds incredible. Noticing a pattern here?
James Sale has composed a fantastic score that does not distract from the game, but instead sets the right atmosphere for whatever you are doing. You may not NOTICE the music that often, but when you sit back and listen to what is playing, you will realize it becomes part of the experience. The music may not stand out, it blends in, which great game music should do. There are no moving Uematsu or Mitsuda style pieces here, just a perfect score to complement the gaming experience.

The sound effects are also blended perfectly into the action. The *clink* and *squish* never get in the way of the game, and are timed with the utmost precision. As someone who very often turns down the sound effects, and turns up the music in a game, I was extremely happy with the level of the effects. Every hit sounds like you would expect, from a clean killing slice with a blade, to a solid pound with a hammer.

5 Stars (out of 5)

Here is where God of War 2 shines the brightest… other than the literally shining visuals. Kratos controls like a dream. If there was a car that controlled as well as Kratos, then we would need no roads and we could simply maneuver around our environments and avoid all accidents. The controls are so tight in this game, that I could conceivably avoid every single enemy attack, and never take a single ounce of damage. By the time I fought the final boss battle, I had no fear that I would lose, as Kratos has become like a 3rd arm. I had total control of what happened on the screen and never thought an enemy got a cheap hit in, or did something I couldn’t avoid. Every hit feels meaty and solid. Most games make you tire of fighting the same 20 enemies over and over again, but I was happy to fight the same huge enemies and speedy demons repeatedly.

The timed button presses are back, and work even better than before. When I first read about these types of sequences before God of War 1 was released, I assumed they would be boring filler sections and slow the pace of the game down. God of War 2 proves my wrong yet again, by throwing in some truly exciting sequences. Even if I only had to press the X or O button once every 4 seconds, I still felt like I was controlling Kratos as he pulls a hulking Minotaur towards the beast’s own weapon, and impales him on it, killing the creature instantly.

I was not as enamored with some of the new features implemented. The best new edition was the Golden Fleece, which lets you repel an enemy’s attack back at them. The Icarus Wings were also quite fun, but not used to their full potential. Kratos is also given 3 new weapons to use besides the Blades of Athena. Kratos did not use them. I switched to the hammer and the spear once, just to try them out, but always went back to the standard Blades of Athena, which, in my opinion, are one of the best weapons I have ever used in a game. It was also very easy to fully upgrade the Blades (1/3 thru the game) and magics (of which I only leveled up the Quake ability). While not really a complaint, I found no use for all but power ups in the game. I was quite content to stick with my Blades/Quake combo for half of the game. None of these things made the game any less fun or degrade the game in any way. They were just there, not being used.

5 Stars (out of 5)

In the end, God of War 2 is an incredible game. While not as groundbreaking as the original, I enjoyed playing it just as much. The first level alone is an epic adventure, and it only gets better from there. This isn’t the best game I have ever played, and will not be remembered as much as the original, but it is one fantastic game. The ending is a cliffhanger (LITERALLY!) and makes you wish there was more right now. Great job Sony! Sequels can so easily be mundane, but you made God of War 2 just as great as the original. I will be waiting in antici…. (say it) pation for the next in the series.

Overall score:

5 Stars (out of 5)

(images provided by Sony)

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