God of War is even more stylish and brutal than before.
God of War II is a case of style over substance, but when games have this much style, it is a little difficult to complain. Sequel to smash hit and critically well-received PS2 game God of War, Sony surprised many when they announced that the sequel would arrive for the PS2 instead of the PS3, which had already been released. But you won't miss the next (or rather current) generation when you boot up your PS2 to play God of War II.
This is partially because the game pushes the PS2 to its absolute limits. Generally regarded as the weakest system of the previous console generation, few people thought that the PS2 would ever be able to deliver such stunning vistas with relatively smooth gameplay, but there's no doubt that here it achieves this. In fact, the scale of God of War II is easily the best thing about the game. Opening with an absolutely stunning boss fight that easily eclipses the much-loved opening Hydra boss level, God of War II rarely lets up in giving you breathtaking visuals.
The relatively few boss fights of the first God of War was one of the only criticisms often leveled at it - it wasn't the quality of the bosses, rather that there simply weren't enough. SCE Santa Monica (the developer) proves it was listening, providing many more boss fights than the first game, which generally provide the highlights of the game. It's worth noting that "boss" here has a looser definition, while some are of the incredibly massive and awe-inspiring variety, others are more like minibosses, human-sized even (although they always have some powers). Regardless, they are all of high quality and very memorable.
God of War II doesn't change all that much from the original God of War otherwise, it's simply generally more consistent and polished. The experience is of a more even difficulty than the first, which had sudden spikes in difficulty, and is also more entertaining throughout than the first. The gameplay is still a mixture of brutal, flashy action and puzzles, which are generally kept separate. Most of the puzzles are fairly simple, although there are a couple minorly tricky ones, nothing too taxing and thankfully nothing really unfair. The gameplay is a relative weak point. The quick-time events, where a sequence of timed, randomized button presses occurs, feel less fresh than before due to being widely copied but are as stylish and bloody as ever, but while the action itself looks fantastic, it lacks a certain depth, and mostly comes down to button-mashing. A little more depth in the fighting system would have been appreciated.
The story from God of War II continues directly from its predecessor. I found the story from the first to be fairly unsatisfying, and although this one is better, it succeeds mostly on the basis of providing the extraordinary settings for you to play around in than in being actually interesting. Part of this is due to a real lack of compelling characters, as the tale is naturally centered around the series protagonist, Kratos, a guy who can mostly just be described as an angry jerk. His voice is perpetually in a hoarse shout, and although it is hardly the fault of the voice actor (no doubt this was the given artistic direction), it is easy to get the temptation to just tell him to give it a rest already. The rest of the voice acting, I should note, is of very high quality, but still isn't rendering all that interesting a tale. The game ends on an obvious set-up for the sequel, which presumably will appear on the Playstation 3 at some point, but the ending manages to be satisfying in its own right nevertheless.
Really, the best thing about God of War II is the production values (I would be negligent not to mention the excellent score at some point) and set-pieces. Time after time the game delivers on exciting sequences and ideas and manages to keep them varied and play smoothly, and overall keeps you entertained up until the last minute. The game does have some faults, and next time around hopefully the game will have some more depth in the basic combat. But in any case, if you loved the first God of War, you will love this one even more.