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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Sony Studios Santa Monica
GENRE: Action
March 13, 2007

God of War: Origins Collection

God of War: Ghost of Sparta

God of War III

God of War Collection

God of War: Chains of Olympus

More in this Series
 Written by Adam Woolcott  on April 10, 2007

Review: Talk about anger management issues?

The original God of War was a demonstration of pure, savage aggression, resulting in an immensely satisfying action game that quickly won over the hearts of PS2 owners. The so-called ?dream game' from SCEA legend David Jaffe racked up numerous awards and a star was born in the brutal and slightly angry anti-hero Kratos, meaning a sequel would be coming. But rather than make God of War II for PlayStation 3 and give the fledging console a sure-fire system seller during the launch window, the game has appeared on PS2, as a last hurrah of sorts for the 7 year old system. And what a last hurrah this is - GoW2 takes the intensity and brutality of its predecessor and jacks it up to the power of about?a zillion. For fans of the original, this is all you really need to know, as the game simply oozes polish and quality; everything else is just gravy, and this ?last generation' game is the first legitimate candidate for Game of the Year 2007. For the minority that disliked the first adventure of Kratos? this too is all you need to know, because if God of War wasn't your cup of tea, this sequel won't be either.

God of War II picks up shortly after the original, with Kratos fully into his new role as the God of War. Problem is, Kratos is even more treacherous and brutal than Ares, who he killed for this ?job', and thus has alienated himself from the other Gods. In Rhodes, where Kratos and his army of Spartans are attacking, Zeus hatches a plan to strip Kratos of his abilities and ultimately, kill him. Kratos gets a reprieve, however, from the Titan Gaia, who sends him to see the Sisters of Fate, to alter his destiny and thus avoid his apparently unavoidable death. Of course by ?see' I mean you'll have to fight your way through the island where the Sisters live, where resistance is plenty, and like Pandora's Box, nobody has ever actually reached the Sisters of Fate. Like the original, God of War II is seeped heavily in Greek Mythology, and many of the heroes and villains from these myths make appearances in some way. Alas the plot does take a backseat to the action, with only a few cinematic sequences to explain what's going on. But it's done in such a concise way that it's easy to keep track of things.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, God of War II is a refinement of what worked in the first game, with some stuff that didn't make the cut last time. Thus, you can expect combo-driven, frantic, and twitchy gameplay designed in a way that everyone can hop in and play, thanks to the various difficulty levels. Kratos carries the Blades of Athena, and while they have a new name, they function the same way as his Blades did previously. Though you acquire other weapons later on, the Blades are the go-to tools of destruction and once you upgrade them to the max...they are quite brutal. But aside from some slight alterations to the controls, veterans can just leap right into the action. Kratos does have some new tricks, but they come later in the game, most notably the Icarus wings that, if you watched the bonus content from the original, were left on the cutting room floor, but placed into this sequel. Also, while it's used sparingly, Kratos gets the ability to stop time for some puzzles ? but you can only do it when the game tips you off with a statue that has a green glowing ball in front of it.

Where the game truly shines is...well, the beginning, the middle, and the end...everything. There's really no 'down time' to take a breather in the game ? right at the beginning you're forced into fighting a giant colossus in numerous stages between fighting foes on the ground. Those who played the demo know what to expect here, as it's one of the most epic battles in any game...and it takes place in the first 45 minutes. After that one might assume it would calm down a bit, and it kind of does, but usually every step of the way Kratos ends up battling tons of enemies, mostly retreads from the first game but there are a few new foes. Unlike the original which only had a few boss battles, there's frequent encounters with bosses that are usually multiple tiered, as you chip away at their invisible health or play the quick time event-style button press games. It's hard to explain just how intense the game is without playing it, as it's almost indescribably brutal.

Though the combat is familiar to those who played the original, God of War II has an increased emphasis on puzzles ? there's one almost every time you turn around. Most of them are simple in nature, but perhaps aren't evident right away. Those are the best kinds of puzzles ? the ones that are tricky but once you figure it out, it's as if a lightbulb goes off because they actually make sense ? no weird Resident Evil puzzles, but there are some 'keycards' to find here and there. But that's no big deal. The frequency though, wow. In between killing lots of things, there's plenty of thinking involved in a game that was once known as something of a mindless button masher with an occasional combo string and magic usage.

Though more of the same is not a bad thing, some of the things brought back weren't that great in the first place. Most of them are minor, like the repetitive combat that generally was designed for hitting the Square button constantly with a couple presses of Triangle to break things up, which does make the game a tad easy, but there's always more challenging difficulty levels. At least the game does let you revert to Easy if you die a lot on normal, though usually deaths come from mistiming jumps or when you have to swing around and sometimes the R1 detection is spotty and it leads to a cheap death. It can be disabled but the game tries to hold your hand a lot with tips and hints to advance players who are stuck, which is kinda handy in some spots if perhaps you forget an ability. Finally...ugh, the camera. It was annoying at times last game but it seems worse now ? using the right stick for dodging certainly is an intuitive way of doing it, but the inability to manually move the camera around to see things better or find off-screen enemies. Sigh. At least with PS3 it's likely a manual camera will be added to God of War 3, given the abilities of the Sixaxis.

Without question, God of War II pushes the PS2 hardware to its limits. I know that's said a lot, but geez. Granted I'm playing it on PS3, but the return of 480p and widescreen support makes the deal so sweet, and the impressive graphics outclass some next-generation games, if not in technology but artistic style. It's just a beautiful game to look at, and the action is so fast and fluid yet the game never chugs. It has a couple V-Sync issues in progressive scan, but those rarely bug me so it's a minor thing. The epic soundtrack and excellent voice acting round out a presentation that tops even the original game. One could question why the game wasn't bumped up to PS3, but it can't be said that Sony half-baked the game and threw it out to make one last fast buck on PS2 ? the game is simply one of the most polished and hardware pushing titles the system has ever seen, and probably won't be topped unless something unforseen happens.

The original God of War was known for its wealth of bonus features, and God of War II continues the tradition. Instead of a higher-priced, gimmick Special Edition, Sony included a special bonus DVD in every copy of the game for the standard $49.99 price. This disc features behind the scenes goodies like deleted levels, interviews, etc. Maybe only the hardcore will care, but it's a nice freebie. On the game disc, a series of challenges akin to the last game appear, and there's a multitude of unlockable in-game content, like added difficulty levels and warped special costumes designed by fans (GAP members got to vote and let me say, they were some way out there designs). Most importantly, the game is about twice as long as its prequel, making all the bonus goodies even more glorious for the die-hard God of War fanatic.

Bottom Line
With all the attention directed to the next-gen systems, here comes a game that shows that the PS2 is still the baddest boy on the block and probably will be for a good while. If it's a final sendoff before Sony begins to slightly phase it away in favor of PS3, God of War II is a hell of a finale. Sure it doesn't rewrite the books and has some nagging design issues, but what you get is still one of the most intense, savage, and satisfying action games out there. There aren't too many games out there that are designed for pure thrill anymore, but this is one of them, and Sony is to be commended for delivering such a quality title, and delivering a sequel that arguably surpasses its predecessor in almost every way.

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