God of War II Review
When you're done reading this review, check out our other great God of War II review here!
God of War became an overnight phenomenon upon the day of its release two years ago in 2005. Most critics recognized it as one of the best PS2 games out there, and most gamers embraced it as one of the most entertaining and high-quality titles of the generation. Therefore, everyone has been clamoring to get a shot at the sequel, released last week to - you guessed it - more acclaim and more popularity. Kratos is back and badder than ever, and the quintessential anti-hero finds himself in the role of the fallen once again. Only this time, there's a bit of a twist, and as the player will soon find out, there are plenty of other surprises awaiting them in God of War II. And we can say, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that not a one of those surprises is anything but appreciated.
The graphics in the original were stupendous, and if it's possible, they're even better in the sequel. The gameplay graphics maintain that same sort of smooth and nicely detailed visual palette, while the breathtaking backdrops are second-to-none in the game world. Everything is portrayed almost flawlessly, from the foreboding and intimidating interiors to the sweeping and majestic exteriors, and only a few slight clipping issues mar the overall presentation. This may not surprise fans, simply because they knew what SCE was capable of after playing the first God of War, but what really shocked us was the astounding level of technical quality in the FMV. It seems almost unreal that the out-of-date PS2 - and the weakest console of its generation - could be capable of producing those gorgeous and meticulously detailed movies, but apparently, it is possible. We didn't expect to see something that would rival Final Fantasy XII in that department, but we were wrong. In the end, the graphics in God of War II are, quite simply, the best you'll ever see on the PS2.
If there's one thing that can be said about the sound, it's that it's amazingly consistent. The sound effects and soundtrack never jar each other (with one overriding the other, as so often happens in action games), and everything is beautifully orchestrated from top to bottom. The effects are good as they can get; Kratos' grunts and roars stand out with great emphasis, and the squeals and growls of his enemies blend beautifully with the slashes, cracks, and thumps of the attacking strikes. The voice acting ranges from solid to fantastic, which is a great help for a story that requires more dialogue this time around. The soundtrack resounds with deep and purposeful intonation while you scale a ridiculously tall cliff, and picks up in speed and urgency when facing a horde of baddies. Still, we would've liked a bit more diversity in the classical assortment of tracks, as they became somewhat predictable about halfway through. But it's an extremely minor complaint, and all in all, the sound is excellent. Better than excellent, in fact.
One of the reasons why God of War worked so well was the inclusion of an incomparable battle mechanic that remained fluid, complex, and accessible all at the same time. It didn't feature the insanely intricate battle mechanics found in the likes of Devil May Cry 3 or Ninja Gaiden, but then again, it wasn't supposed to. Everything, from the most basic attack to the biggest combos and magic spells, flowed together seamlessly, providing the player with an action game that allowed you to take advantage of all abilities and skills...without feeling as if you had to master seven thousand button combinations. So the first thing on our list to examine in the sequel was, of course, the fighting. Did it remain mostly unchanged from the original or did they add a few additions and enhancements? And if you're on the fence about which it is, you clearly haven't grasped the glowing nature of this review just yet.
One of the few drawbacks in the first game was the lack of many optional weapons. You had the Artemis Blade, but it paled in comparison to the default weapon, those awesome Blades of Althena. This time around, while the Blades will remain your primary weapon throughout, you will have the option of a couple new secondary weapons to use. The first is the Barbarian's Hammer that relies mostly on power; sacrificing speed for a devastating series of blows. The second is the Spear of Destiny, which turns out to be an awfully intriguing weapon, full of range and wonderful possibilities. Each of your weapons also boast unique attacks and combos, most of which you obtain after leveling them up (done in the same way as the original game, by infusing collected red orbs into the weapons). And speaking of "leveling up," you do the same with your magic abilities as well. The magic is very well done, as it was before, only you get a few different spells this time around. Atlas Quake is especially fun to use...
The team has streamlined the use of both magic and physical attacks in this one - as if they needed more streamlining - because now you can switch between weapons with the simple press of a button, in addition to changing magic skills quickly and easily with the directional pad. Everything, from the new Rage of the Titans (an entirely kick-ass ability that sends Kratos into a fit of rage, allowing you to deliver super-fast and deadly attacks for a certain span of time) to your secondary weapon is right at your fingertips, all the time. If that's not an outstanding achievement in game design, nothing is. Furthermore, the game forces you to really utilize most of the skills you have in your inventory, primarily because both the puzzles and enemies will have you using a variety of abilities at each and ever turn. You like new? This is new. This is not the same gameplay. You get the wings of Icarus to glide around on, the aforementioned Rage of the Titans - don't mistake it with the archaic-feeling-in-comparison Rage of the Gods - adds a great deal to your battle strategy, the two secondary weapons greatly increase your fighting potential, and oh yeah, a few other things, too.
Everyone's into the whole idea of slowing down time in games these days. While it's not a unique concept anymore, no game has ever used the idea in the same way God of War II has. It's not just about slowing time to gain the upper hand in battle; it's about using it to reach previously inaccessible areas and solving tricky puzzles. And you can only use it sparingly, here and there, so you never feel as if the new feature is being abused or overused. What, you think the new stuff ends here? No way! The platforming, which was so refined and well-done in the original, has a few new tricks up its sleeve. You could climb along walls in the first God of War, but you couldn't hang from ceilings...talk about literally adding another dimension! You couldn't whip yourself around via grappling in the first title, either, and that is another major facet of the sequel's gameplay. But it's not just that all of this is new; it's that it's all so fantastically developed and infused into the gameplay with nearly perfect pacing.
One thing that has returned, though, is those wicked cool Context Sensitive Attacks, but even that concept has been expanded and built upon. You'll use it in mid-air - oh yes, you fly along on Pegasus near the start, didn't we mention that? - you'll use it in boss battles, and you'll use it to perform ultra-helpful moves in regular battle, like yanking a goblin rider from his seat atop a Cyclops. They're not difficult and they're crucial to your success, especially because the proper execution of CSA attacks will make your life a whole lot easier when dealing with certain enemies. That Cyclops is a pain in the ass if you don't nail him down with a CSA at your first chance, and Medusas also pose a problem if you fail in the analog movements necessary to rip their heads off. Now, unfortunately, no game is perfect, and while it may appear perfect up to this point, we must delve into a few small problems. Just remember, the emphasis is on "small," here.
First off, and this may just be our imagination, but we've had more problems with the camera in the sequel than we had in the original. For some reason, it often appeared to sit just a touch too close to Kratos during certain battles, and the fixed camera angle would sometimes cause us to lose eye contact with our kick-ass hero, thereby putting a serious crimp in our fighting style. We just don't recall ever having a single issue with the camera in the original, so that's why we're mentioning this minor flaw here. Also, the control isn't always 100% perfect, as one of Kratos' primary evasive maneuvers is the roll, performed using the right analog stick. But it never seemed quite accurate or responsive enough, no matter how good we got at it. This is another somewhat frustrating aspect of the combat, and it would occasionally pop up to cause problems, even though it certainly never crippled the battles. Like we said, these are small issues.
One last flaw we just have to mention isn't quite as small, though- it's the vertical synching issue that they failed to iron out from the first God of War. It just wasn't as smooth as it could be, even though the problem appeared less and less the more we played. Of course, every game has one or two small shortcomings, and this one's no different...but make no mistake: very much unlike most other games, none of the problems are ever enough to be considered troublesome or even significant. It's a testament to the development process, and we really shouldn't be nitpicking with such a fine product. Nevertheless, this is an in-depth and thorough review, so we couldn't avoid the negatives. But now that that's over with, back to another positive, and this one is the biggest positive of all-
Let's just say this to finish things off: God of War II may have the best level design in video game history. Yes, that's what we said. And if it's not the best, it's easily one of the best, and the best of the last generation, bar none. We fail to see how the design could be any better; the layout of every level and area is just incredible, and you often find yourself staring around in wonder and awe. Even the most experienced veteran gamer will probably say, "how the hell did they do this?" at least once during the adventure. You'll want to create multiple saves just so you can go back and enjoy a particularly cool segment, like Kratos leaping and grappling between crumbling columns a mile in the air, or battling Icarus once again just because a fist fight while falling really is that sweet. And of course, the best part is that you'll want to start all over and begin again upon completion, because you feel certain no other game will satisfy you in the same way.
As for the story, it works on every level. The pacing is great, the characters are even better, and as we said earlier, the FMV is unbelievable. They don't bombard us with the same flashbacks as they did in the first GoW (we understood the plot the first time around; we didn't need it bashed into our skulls), and we even get a few cameos from some of the more recognizable names in Greek mythology. Oh, and don't forget that there's top-notch voice acting, too; Michael Clarke Duncan seems like a fitting choice for a titan, don't you think? In fact, if the gameplay wasn't so far expanded over the original, we'd say the biggest increase in quality from original to sequel centers on the story because it really is that much better. One wish that didn't come true, though- we so dearly wish we could've had the chance to control Kratos as the towering and invincible God of War at the beginning before...well, we won't give anything away.
God of War was indeed a phenomenon. It was a game that did so many things right, at the time, it was difficult to even imagine how much further SCE could push the envelope. But shockingly enough, they pushed it...and they pushed it a long way. They took a tried and true formula and made everything better - including erasing that horrid spikey platforming disaster near the end of the original - and when we say everything, we mean everything. Sure, the fixed camera wasn't flawless, but you know what? It's still the best fixed camera you'll ever see. It sits at the most wonderful vantage points for the puzzles and platforming sections, that's for damn sure, and while the vertical synching just doesn't gel with the rest of the game's refined presentation, that won't stop you. No, it won't stop you from gaping in astonishment at the world of God of War II. The challenge seems more significant on the default normal setting, and it also seems as if the main quest last a few hours longer than it did in the original. As far as extras, yes, they're around, and well worth tackling. Challenge of the Gods, anyone?
To sum up, we'll make this plain- God of War II is, in our opinion, the best PS2 game ever made, and will certainly be a nominee for our 2007 Game of the Year. To say in regards to the developers, "guys, you did it again," would be such an understatement, it'd almost be an insult. More like, "damn...are you guys gamer Gods, or something? Share the wealth of your wisdom with other devs, damnit! We want more games like this one!" Oh, but we know that can't happen. We're just all spoiled now, that's all.
3/17/2007 Ben Dutka