canuckeh's God of War II (PlayStation 2) review

Violence and the 2010 Olympics, part 2


God of War 2 is a lot like the Olympics, if you think about it for a second and no longer. There’s a decidedly Greek undertone, you have multiple nations going to war against each other (in this case, gods vs titans), there’s an overpriced musical score to accompany it, and there’s a torch or two involved. Of course, there are differences, too. One uses torches are part of tradition while the other uses them to charcoal the living. One costs the player $60 at launch while the other costs a city about $2,000,000,000. And one isn’t a complete bore to watch. Of course, like the Olympics, God of War 2 does have a few embarrassing flaws…it’s just that the game is courteous enough to not display them during the opening ceremony. 

 Here's your Kid Icarus remake, folks.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Kratos acts a fool and has to go on a long journey to un-act a fool of himself. God of War 1 got a lot of the emotional backstory of Kratos out of the way; less time is spent moping about dead family members and more time spent killing over families’ members. Kratos does not develop at all as a character; he’s an angry dude at the beginning of the game and he ends the game an angry dude. I don’t think his fans would have it any other way. Many, many mythological figures make cameo appearances, all of which will leave their God of War experience having been stabbed by Kratos at least once (and not always because Kratos is mad at them either.) Ultimately, it’s a Greek mythology story, and the more you appreciate Greek mythology, the more you’ll appreciate the use and abuse of famous characters and story formulas.

Meanwhile, people who are well-versed in the gameplay of God of War 1 will be more appreciative of the small tweaks made in God of War 2. Having just played both back to back, I can’t help but show gratitude for the ability to not have to hold a button for a minute to upgrade abilities from the pause menu. Or to make leaping strides across ropes or walls during the assorted climbing sequences. Or how you can turn on and off the Super Rage Emotion mode. They may be petty changes but…okay, they’re petty changes. God of War 2 is basically God of War 1 Redux. 

You’re still swinging your chain blades around like a pretentious artist splashing a canvas with random strokes of passion. You’ll still pull out a Medusa-head to stone enemies in the literal sense. You’ll still use the area-of-effect magic attack more often than the other special abilities. You still have that goofy chicken-legs double jump. And you’ll still timely finish off enemies with quick-time events. They’re not as frequent-occurring as in other post-God-of-War-2 releases, but you’ll still resort to finishing off most enemies with them, if just because it’s easier. 

 Never known for intelligence, Kratos rips the wings off the very creature he is riding.

I feel like the flaws of the combat system in God of War 2 are starting to show. You’ll face off against many enemies at once on any given scuffle, and one’s natural instinct is to clear the room with flailing chain blade sweeps. But I often felt like there was a discrepancy between the visual splendor of my attacks and the damage being done. It’s hard to gauge whether an enemy blocked your last attack or was in some kind of invulnerability animation. Thus, your wacky blade death strike may have had less an impact than visually implied. You can carve up some enemies, including a boss or two, for minutes at a time and feel like nothing is accomplished. 

Which connects to the boss fights. For people that complained about the first game only having three boss fights, well the gods have answered your prayers with 5 times the battles. But like any promise made to the gods, there comes a price. The battles themselves aren’t terrible, but like many of the regular encounters, you’re left wondering whether or not your sword swipes are either causing damage or just popping pimples. A health meter would’ve been nice. 

And while I’m creating barely-substantial grievances about God of War 2, no subtitles! Think about the hearing-impaired. Or the soundproof-room-impaired. 

Whole lot of horse ass

Flipping back to the positive notes, God of War 2 at least bests its predecessor in terms of gigantism. A combination of the Santa Monica developers having mastered that Playstation 2 hardware and being conniving trickster has led to the game featuring moments featuring things that are uncharacteristically…big. The opening sequence has Kratos attempting to play with a giant, animated colossus, and using as a toy box. While the game never quite matches that level of excitement in subsequent areas, it does at least find plenty of large creatures and sights for which to wow little Kratos with. And naturally, it saves the most grotesque for last. 

But like Kratos’ petty attempts to hack at the colossus’ shins, the game still finds a few ways to annoy me. Switch puzzles involving infinitely respawning enemies are never a good idea, and yet the game still manages to squeeze in far too many for my liking. For all of Kratos’ bravado, one would get the idea that he would think of himself as above pulling levers and flipping switches. But alas. 

Finally, my biggest issue with God of War 2 is that it ends on a rather cheap cliffhanger. Without giving anything away, the game ends abruptly, in Halo 2-like fashion, at the peak of the plot’s interest. The ending movie merely ends, leaving the player with a tagline for the inevitable God of War 3. By the time God of War 3 is released, about 3 years will have passed, and that’s a long time for people to be left wondering what awaits . But even for those only experiencing God of War 2 for the first time now, having a teaser trailer for an ending cheapens the entire preceding experience. 

God of War 2 is about 3-4 hours longer than God of War 1, for the crazy game-devouring folk that claimed the first one was too damned short. A crowd I may never understand. As for God of War 2, it has its moments, and it’ll be worth a look if you loved God of War 1 so much that you must follow Kratos’ every moment of bliss. But the experience feels cheapened. Even though I had both positive and negative experiences throughout the God of War 2 journey, I feel as though the experience is meaningless. Maybe if God of War 3 proves a worthy conclusion to the trilogy, then all will be made right in the world. But right now, I’ll be happy merely knowing that God of War 3 is the final chapter. 

3 ½ stars

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