torstai 2. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - God of War II (2007)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2007
Available on: PS2, PS3 [God of War Collection]
Developer(s): Sony Computer Entertainment, Santa Monica Studios
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment, Capcom
Players: 1

Sony launched the PlayStation 3 in late 2006, and most people, rightfully so, believed that the end of production for the PlayStation 2 was at hand. Well, now it's late 2010 and the production of even some quality games for the PlayStation 2 still hasn't stopped. However, it has been a long time since we've seen something mindblowing exclusively on the decade's finest gaming apparatus. A while after the PS3's initial launch Sony published a game that was to take up every inch of their last-generation console's capacity and at the same time, help the PS2 to make one glorious, final stand. Well, that stand wasn't final, but the sequel to one of the decade's finest action games turned out glorious and even more epic than its predecessor, and it indeed pushes the technical capabilities of its platform to the maximum. Here's God of War II.

Mortal -> God -> Mortal -> Legend

Linda Hunt :
TC Carson : Kratos
Michael Clarke Duncan : Atlas
Carole Ruggier : Athena
Harry Hamlin : Perseus
Corey Burton : Zeus
Paul Eiding : Theseus
Bob Joles : Icarus / Barbarian King
Leigh Allyn Baker : Lahkesis / Bathhouse Girl #2
Debi Mae West : Atropos / Bathhouse Girl #1

Ever since killing Ares and being named the new god of war, Kratos has begun to remind the other gods on Olympus of his predecessor. Driven by a grudge towards the other gods, as well as his greed, ambition and selfish, merciless nature, Kratos commands the Spartan armies as he pleases and destroys just about everything he sees. Zeus sees no other choice but to take matters into his own hands; he drains Kratos of his divine power and finally murders him. Ancient Titans, fathers and mothers of gods, give Kratos yet another chance to escape death and exact revenge on the children that betrayed them ages ago. The resurrected, yet once again mortal Kratos sets out to seek the three Sisters of Fate - Clotho, Lahkesis and Atropos - to travel back in time and turn the tables on all of Olympus.

The visual design of the characters degrades when it comes to standard cutscenes and their close-ups, but during gameplay, God of War II is without a doubt visually one of the most astounding games on the PlayStation 2. Just look at all the environments, and the animation, especially in combat. It's hysterical. And dare I say, EPIC, even moreso than in the first game. I'll get to exactly how epic the game is in a little moment. The developers fiddled with a lot of different figures in Greek mythology to create a huge cast for the game and use their own imagination to go with real mythical references. The character design turned out great. More about that in a moment, as well. The script is once again superb, with just a couple of off-key moments, and the voice actors are constantly on the mark a bit better than last time around. The music's different than last time, but in the exact same vein, by the exact same four composers who worked on the previous game's score. Excellent, adrenaline fueled, epic war music.

I'm not sure where I should begin - but I must first make a comment to all of those people who think God of War II and all subsequent installments are nearly identical to the first game, just a bit nicer-looking. How long have you played God of War II, exactly? The game is similar to the first one, yes, but it has a whole different setting, which indirectly influences the variety of magic, weapons and equipment at Kratos' disposal. It's longer, more difficult, and even more epic and surprising than the first game. On top of all, arguably though, it's more comfortable to play than the first game, even if some new features make me miss it every once in a while. All in all, I've said it before but I'll say it again - at its key points God of War II makes the first game look like a prototype of itself.

The first boss in the game, FROM AFAR. Kratos
is that spot in the middle, with the glowing
Let's take a look at the design. Once again, what we have here is an array of epic, beautiful landscapes with absolutely ridiculous (but extremely cool) proportions, for us to scan and navigate as we guide Kratos to a dangerous meeting with an alternative fate. The environments are as interactive as they can be on this capacity, and you have a whole lot of new tricks to learn if you want to survive this grueling test, more than just a mind for puzzles or dastardly combat skills. Well, not all of God of War II's just an awe-inducing moment after another, it has some "gimme a break" moments when it comes to just what you see - Harpies working as grappling points is something that's really awkward and "off", some of the ancient technology's a bit corny, and the developers really could've come up with some more original enemy designs. There are too many more vicious renditions of enemies from the first game, and there are only a few really cool new fiends. The QTE kill animations have been worked on, though, and the bosses... well, let's change the paragraph.

The bosses are mostly humans, or humanoid, or things that were once humans, so there are not that many truly HUGE battles in every sense of the word, but there still are a few, and you will feel those few in your eyes and brain. The intro sequence in this game, not much unlike the intro of the first game, is like a boss fight in itself - the only difference to a normal boss fight being that it lasts for about an hour and there's all kinds of shit you have to do whenever you're not face to face with the big cheese, who just happens to be a colossal statue, brought to life by the angry gods. Besides, the fact that most of the bosses are humans doesn't make them any less epic. And besides that, you know that there are a few unworldly entities and at least one god coming your way towards the game's end, so no complaining. Overall, there are more boss fights than in the previous game, which has its own influence on the game's overall difficulty.

A friendly necklock in Kratos' patented style.
Apparently, Kratos in the first game wasn't enough of a shithead. Granted, he did redeem some of himself in the end of the game and even I felt sorry for the dude, but apparently feeling sorry for him was completely against the developers' vision. Here, every worst quality in Kratos' inhuman nature is brought out. He's so greedy and self-absorbed that he's even oblivious to clear danger, if he's tempted by something. The true plot of the game begins with Zeus handing Kratos a sword, the mythical Blade of Olympus, to strike down his opposition while he's taking down the isle of Rhodes. Kratos doesn't realize that his actions have angered the more powerful gods, or if he does, he doesn't care. Either way, the Blade is clearly a trap, a tool to remove Kratos' immortality. He questions Zeus of his sudden urge to aid him, but grabs the sword anyway, since he hungers for its power. These themes of greed and appetite for destruction are repeated constantly, along with Kratos' ridiculously selfish and cocky rants, to make sure he would never become a "hero" in any player's mind. He's just bad ass; the meanest motherfucker ever to hail from Sparta.

Speaking of Spartans, this game came out about the same time as the movie 300 hit the theaters. Somehow, I can't help but feel that one has influenced the other in some small stylistic way. I bought the game on the day of its release and it took me months before I watched the movie for the first time, and just judging by the trailers, I saw a lot of 300 in God of War II. At least the amount of blood matches... between the movie and the first 20 minutes of God of War II.

Kratos starts out in an armored attire fit for a god and a fraction of his old abilities from the first God of War game left. After the first major turning point in the plot, he's back to his old, helpless, half-naked self again, armed only with his knives and an epic attitude problem; even the mana meter takes its leave. The game's plot gives very impressive explanations on the sudden degradation of Kratos' abilities, unlike in most games. You get a new employer as the identity of the previous game's narrator is revealed, and she will guide you from location to location, until you get to your final destination, the Temple of the Fates. The journey will not be easy, as you will face more fiendish puzzles and amazing battles than you ever thought you could in a PS2 title.

The button scheme has changed a bit. You still use the same button combos in combat to execute special moves, but the extensive use of the L2 and R2 triggers is over, which does the PS3 version in particular a lot of good, since mashing the sensitivity-based R2 just to open a door didn't feel too comfortable in the PS3 version of God of War, without those rubber thingies some people use on their Sixaxis controllers. Now you just have to tap L1 once and mash O in the game's QTE style to open a door. Speaking of QTE, there's a lot more of these events than in the first game. Contrasting all the potential cynicism: the controls are great. Even the rotation of the analog stick works perfectly. It's all up to the player's reflexes now.

You'll spend most of the time, once again, venturing for key items and abilities as you make your way to the Temple. Athena is one habitant of Olympus still on Kratos' side (sort of), so she lets you keep the blades she gave up in the first game, but they're degraded to Level 1 once you really get into the game. All other but Poseidon's Trident - which gives Kratos the ability to breathe underwater - is lost, and you need to replace all the shit you got from the gods while scouting for Pandora's Box. This is where gifts from the titans, as well as trophies from your fallen enemies step into the picture. All of the basic, upgradeable abilities, like the head of a gorgon and Cronos' Rage, are somewhat similar to the ones in the first game. Kind of a bummer, but the more diverse action in the game takes away some attention from these similarities - as does the importance of equipment. The equipment are two different weapons you can carry in addition to the blades, a fleece which can be used against projectiles and beams for blocking and counterattacking, and wings you can use to travel short distances. I don't want to give it all away, but there are also flying sequences which take the basic God of War gameplay to the skies above. It's... well, due to the lack of a better word, epic. Once again.

Perseus just fucked with the wrong former
god of war.
Grappling by using the blades is a new addition to the very basic God of War gameplay experience. It's mostly automatic, but jumping off grappling points (indicated by a very clear light, props for that) demands precision from the player. Like in most games with a similar feature, grappling can get quite nasty every once in a while, and definitely not in a good, challenging way. There are a few sequences that require speed and good timing. Even if you can handle both speed and timing, you'll have to learn to handle Kratos, too, as he has a tendency to re-grapple the point you're trying to get off and move to the next, regardless of how much closer you are to your next target. I don't get it. Thank goodness for the checkpoints, once again.

So... the grappling system's a bit lacking, but the developers did fix a lot of minor issues that always bugged me about the first game, starting with the graphical twitch and occasional scanlines. I already mentioned the quality of the QTE's, and what's best about the events for regular enemies is that Minotaurs and Medusas no longer just give out green or blue orbs when you fuck them up good, instead they yield all kinds of orbs. That's practical too, since maxing out the equipment and magic in the game takes forever as it is. We need every red orb we can get. Also, ripping up certain enemies with bare-handed tactics also yields orbs, this time around. Time to get brutal in any way you want. Rage of the Titans - which, of course, replaces Rage of the Gods since Kratos no longer runs with the "bastard sons of Olympus" - can be turned on any time, as long as the minimum limit of energy is exceeded. It can be turned off, too. The Rage meter replenishes as you kill enemies and break up stuff, as before, but now you also get gold orbs from chests and battles, which replenish the meter faster.

The secrets are now SECRETS. You must really go to some distances to find all of the stuff in the game. They're still not hidden too well, but definitely better than in the first game. To motivate you a little more than a few red orbs, Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers already do, there are 20 Cyclops Eyes, obtainable by killing Cyclops', and six artifacts known as Urns of Power. These grant Kratos special abilities, unlocked by using the Urns on bonus playthroughs. Now these urns ARE extremely well hidden, or if not hidden, beyond some tricky puzzles. God of War II puts the "p" in "puzzle" for the first time in a video game since Silent Hill 3. It's practically puzzle after puzzle, in a slash-action game format.

To wrap this all up, I guess I'll go with the two things that bothered me the most about the first God of War and how these things are effectively eliminated, or at least tweaked in God of War II.  First off, the narrow walkways. They're not as narrow, so there's no psychological stress involved, and Kratos' balance in conjunction with the sensitivity of the analog stick is better. The fixed camera's still a pisser, but now the true meaning of it unfolds as some puzzles and secrets in the game are strictly based on the camera angle. At one point, Kratos gains a very, very important ability he can use only in the vicinity of a certain type of statue, and more specifically, the light they emanate. The camera's weaknesses are turned to strengths as far as related puzzles are concerned, the camera makes them difficult to figure out in a truly challenging and fun way.

"As the sun breaks above the ground, an old
man stands on the hill..."
As a game, God of War II is difficult, but once again numerous checkpoints and well highlighted solutions make it easier for the player to eventually conquer it. Gigantic deathtraps in the form of the Temple of Pandora from the first game are pretty much missing, however; most of the difficulty is based on puzzles and incredibly sweaty combat, the kind you've never seen before in a video game... just check out the last few fights in the game and you'll see what I mean. The remastered God of War Collection edition for the PS3 is 100% identical to the PS2 game, except for HD graphics and the inclusion of 35 Trophies, which add to the game's difficulty level and replay value by quite an amount. Adding to the challenge in the original game is, of course, Challenge of the Titans, as well as Arena of the Fates, which lets the player put him- or herself in the toughest bind imaginable in a freeplay mode against a set number of any of the game's enemies.

God of War II is simply one of the finest games on the PlayStation 2, I don't have much more to say about it. There are a few reasons I chose this of all times to go into the first two God of War games. First of all, I still haven't even tried the full version of God of War III. I helped a recently found friend of mine move a week ago, and checked out his very subtle PS3 collection, and I found the God of War Collection, which I intended to buy at one time, but passed on the idea since I already have the original PS2 games. Well, I borrowed it for the Trophies, and to see if the magic was still there, and I was completely hooked so fast that I absolutely had to take this trip back right now. This bundle of some of the best third-person action ever reinforced my will to buy, see and conquer the much acclaimed God of War III some day in the nearest future possible. God of War II shines as its better half. 

Graphics : 9.4
Sound : 9.2
Playability : 9.3
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 9.4


GameRankings: 92.62% (PS2)

Casting director Amanda Wyatt originally attached Christopher Lee for the role of Zeus, and moved Paul Eiding from the previous game to the minor role of Theseus. Due to creative differences, Lee was replaced with Corey Burton.

Harry Hamlin, a.k.a. Perseus, plays the same character in Clash of the Titans (1981).

Some concepts like the Icarus Wings were written for the first game, but scrapped due to time constraints and technical issues.

Scrapped concepts include Atlantis as a playable area, and Oceanus the Titan.

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