God of War 2 is the sequel to 2005’s critically and financially successful PS2 title, God of War. As before, the protagonist is a brutal Spartan warrior named Kratos. In the first God of War game, he appealed to Ares, Greek God of War, for aid during a desperate battle; he was granted victory in exchange for his fealty. Ares, in his quest to construct the perfect warrior, tricked Kratos into killing his wife and young son. As penalty for this murder, Kratos was coated in the ashes of his family, giving him a pale skin that earned him the nickname “The Ghost of Sparta.” Rather than making Kratos a more effective servant, this sent Kratos on a rampage, culminating, with the assistance of certain other Greek deities, in the violent dispatch of Ares and the ascension of Kratos to the throne of the God of War.
God of War 2 opens with a new conflict. Kratos, having been betrayed by his master, Ares, will now pledge loyalty to no one, causing him to become a rogue element in the Greek pantheon and a threat to the other gods. Kratos must defeat them or face eternal torment.
The God of War series has a theme of revenge fueled by hatred, and is a paean to exhilarating fantasy violence. The games grip the player on a visceral level; enemies can almost be felt as chunks of meat to be disassembled as harshly as possible. A few times during the game, Kratos violently murders scrawny, intellectual sorts, reinforcing the player’s point of view as a brutal warrior in an unforgiving, Darwinian environment. I had to wonder if these murders were a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the customers buying the game; the puzzles in this game are an intellectual challenge, the only physical struggle involved in playing the game is vigorous thumb movement, and gamers are not known for being physically imposing.
As in the first God of War, the graphics in this game are beautiful; better than one would expect from even a late-generation PS2 game. Aptly enough for a Greek mythological setting, the architecture could generally be described as Cyclopean or titanic. Kratos is usually dwarfed by well-rendered, massive structures that the PS2 handles surprisingly well. Textures are beautiful, whether they are depicting swampland, caves, organic tissue, or luxuriously appointed temples.
The only issue that mars the game’s appearance is a momentary framerate problem that crops up from time to time, outside of combat; it appears as a horizontal line that descends from the top of the screen. It’s annoying but does not interfere with gameplay. Enemies look just as good as they did in the first game. Many of them are, in fact, exactly the same, although a few new enemies, such as short Cyclops-riding warriors and mysterious Greek wizards with spell-scrolls, are new.
Combat is the same as in the prequel; it is just as fun, and on Normal difficulty, combat is an enjoyable but never frustrating challenge. Kratos has weak and strong attacks with the blades that are chained to his arms, he can block, and he can grab. Combinations of these attacks result in more powerful attacks that are earned throughout the course of the game. When enemies are near death, context-sensitive attacks are enabled; timed button presses finish off the enemies.
There is a wide variety of enemies, typically encountered in a confined space, requiring nimble dodging. One minor criticism I have is that when the game opens, Kratos has all of his main weapon’s combos unlocked, resulting in a confusing array of choices; I would have preferred to have had all but the most basic combos locked right from the beginning, so that I could learn gradually. This ceases to be an issue after an hour or two, however, when Kratos is reduced to the basic level at which he started God of War 1.
Environmental challenges offer a wide array of opportunities for instant death-for example, if Kratos falls into lava, he does not gradually take damage, as in some games; he just dies. The checkpoints are spaced quite closely together, however, so even though Kratos will die a lot, he generally restarts very close to the point of death.
Although combat is excellent, my favorite part of the game is the puzzle element. The puzzles will cause the player to become frustrated, form theories, experiment, die repeatedly, and finally have a wonderful moment of discovery that allows him or her to proceed. The puzzles that I encountered were sometimes difficult, but they all eventually made sense to me. I appreciated that they used similar elements-statues or blocks of stone, usually, along with levers-in different and creative ways.
Because of all the backtracking in the game, some of the puzzles were more frustrating than they should have been, though; sometimes I would encounter and attempt to solve puzzles before it was possible to solve them, and I would finally just give up and move on. Ideally, I would like to avoid exposure to puzzles that could not be solved yet, or at least receive some kind of signal that the puzzle pieces I was trying to work with could not be used until later. Also, the puzzles did not always seem entirely consistent; sometimes destructible things were shiny and flashing, and sometimes they were not.
Usually, I am not fond of fixed cameras, but God of War 2 handles the camera extremely well, creating cinematic perspectives and freeing up the right thumbstick for dodging. The only time I found the fixed camera disorienting was when Kratos switched from climbing a wall to traversing a ceiling; at that point, I would consistently move, for a moment, in the direction opposite of the one I intended. This is, however, a very minor issue.
All of the voice acting was competent, as would be expected for a high-profile title like this one. The soundtrack, appropriately for an epic adventure, is orchestral and dramatic.
The two major elements of this game, combat and puzzles, were both implemented very well. Combat seemed flawless; the puzzle element, while at times unnecessarily misleading and therefore frustrating, was even more rewarding because of the joy of discovery. If you have not already purchased this game on the strength of the first God of War, I would highly recommend it.