Although many were disappointed to learn that Sony is developing God of War II for the PlayStation 2 and not the PlayStation 3, the company's Santa Monica studio sure does seem to be on the right track with the game, squeezing every ounce of power out of the PS2 (at least, that's my impression anyway).
They have an early build of the game here at the show, which takes our favorite anti-hero Kratos through a single level involving an expansive mountain path, a temple (in and out), and into a clearing for a culminating battle against an irritated minotaur.
The demo opens with a scene showing Kratos falling from the sky, cast out of the Gods' kingdom for reasons unexplained. An aged female narrator hints that Kratos has been bid by Athena to hunt down the Fates at the ends of the Earth, but the old bitty doesn't explain why.
After Kratos lands, the demo puts him at the base of a mountain path, confronted by skeleton warriors. Gameplay pretty much picks up where the first God of War left off. Within seconds, I was performing bloody blade combos with the X and square buttons. As before, a tap of the circle button lets Kratos grapple and pummel enemies. New in this game is the ability to perform "charge" attacks, by holding the block (L1) button and then pressing X or square. The X button causes Kratos to do an end-over-end somersault attack with his chained blades, while the square button causes him to spin in a circle while the blades cast outward... like a buzzsaw.
Most certainly, the final version of the game won't be anything like this demo. The game isn't due out until March of 2007, and the "percentage complete" listed on the display unit said 40%. Nonetheless, the demo shows the new directions Sony's Santa Monica studio is taking with their sequel.
After heading up the path and reaching the temple, a goblin warrior appeared and summoned a giant troll by whistling. The troll climbed up the cliff next to the temple and the goblin mounted it, rather gruesomely I might add, by using his swords to climb onto the monster's back like an electrical worker might a utility pole. Trolls are dangerous and can dole out major damage by slamming their clubs onto the ground. With a goblin guiding its actions, a troll is doubly dangerous. In order to dispatch the goblin and the troll efficiently, Kratos first has to eject the gobling off of the troll. In the demo, this was done by pressing the circle button rapidly, which caused Kratos to snare the giant in his blades and then pull his shoulders to the ground, leaving the goblin close enough to pull off. Dispatching the goblin after that is easy. The troll, however, is still a giant killing machine. To slay him, you have to get close and tap circle to initiate a quick-timer event. Each time you press the button shown, Kratos performs another vicious attack. The sequence culminates with Kratos pulling out the troll's eye.
Just in general, the enemies in God of War II vary in size, and there are more large enemies than were found in the first game. In the demo, I ran across a couple of those giant trolls, a large three headed lion creature, and a huge minotaur made out of molten rock (the "boss" in the demo).
There seems to be more emphasis on environmental interaction too, and, related to that, the levels are more interesting. Kratos can use his swords to grapple and swing, and to yank himself up to higher areas. In one spot in the demo, I had to help him cross a raging river by jumping between large floating gears... which then had to be spun in order to maneuver the gears closer to one another. Whether you love or hate platforming, there's definitely going to be more of it in God of War II. Right after the gear area, there was a spot where I had to guide Kratos across a couple gaps by jumping, followed by an area where I had to help him climb sideways across a cliff face.
Environmental damage is another aspect they've implemented. In one area of the demo, there are archers attacking from atop pillars. Kratos can unseat them with his wind bow weapon, but I also noticed it was possible to smash the bases of the pillars, causing the archers to fall to the floor below.
Graphically, God of War II looks very much like its predecessor. The water effect on the river looked nicer than what we saw in the first game, the draw distance seemed further, and the explosions were richer, but otherwise it was "same old, same old." Not that that's a bad thing. The game's release is nearly a year off though, and they'll probably beef up the visuals by then. Heck, the demo wasn't even running in progressive scan (480p) or widescreen.
Not shown in the demo was the sequence many magazines have seen, where Kratos fights warriors while flying atop winged gryphons. Just noticing how many enemies the demo was pushing on-screen at any given time though, I have no doubt that sort of sequence will make it into the final game and be visually impressive.
Fifteen minutes later, after avoiding the minotaur's spinning attacks and cutting off its head (by climbing atop it), the demo was done. My first taste of God of War II left me wanting more. I guess that was the point.
5/10/2006 Frank Provo