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God of War II
Score: 98%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
If you are like me, 300 left you with the desire to kick ass Spartan style. While a suitable 300 video game doesn’t exist, the follow-up to our 2005 Game of the Year, God of War, is a more than a fitting substitute.

God of War II surpasses the visuals of just about every other game available on the PS2. While there are a few noticeable clipping errors, as well as some other goofs, the entire package makes up for them. As with the original, the sense of scale is epic. There is no shortage of giant mythical beasts to fight, and the game takes no time throwing them at you. The intro finds you facing down a colossus the size of most skyscrapers…

Levels also use a number of nice visual tricks to help make things pop, including lighting effects, reflective surfaces, and even a few haze and fog effects. There are also a number of stylistic, in-game camera angles that, once again, help to push the immense scale.

All of the in-game voicework is well acted, including minor characters whose lines mainly consist of begging for their lives. As for music, the only complaint I had was that, unlike the first game, Sony didn’t send the soundtrack alongside the game. Yeah, I know, cry me a river…

Before going any further, it is probably best to note that God of War II earns its Mature rating. The language isn’t all that bad, but there are a number of gory, brutal death scenes, as well as topless (and sometimes naked) women. The "special" mini-game from the original also makes a return, though it is a tad bit harder to find.


Gameplay:
God of War II meets and exceeds the lofty expectations set by the original. The same tight design and attention to detail is present throughout the gameplay. The design is so tight that it manages to make some of the game’s few balance flaws unnoticeable.

The story picks up shortly after the original. Kratos is now the God of War and has managed to piss off most, if not all, of the gods on Olympus, including Zeus. His only companions are the armies of Sparta, who have become his own personal army. During a military crusade, Zeus tricks Kratos into using the Sword of Olympus, allowing him to syphon off all of Kratos’ powers, making him an ill-tempered mortal with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Just when Kratos is about to be banished to Hades, he finds allies in the Titans, who seek revenge for their banishment at the beginning of Zeus’s reign. Guided by Gaia, Kratos heads out to find the Three Sisters of Fate and change his destiny.

The narrative elements alone make God of War II worth playing. Story sequences blend into gameplay. There are even a few "interactive" story sequences that help to draw you into the story. However, God of War II is more than just an interactive novel; the gameplay puts the entire package over the top.

As with the original, God of War II is a non-stop action fest. Many of the same combos and spells show up, although with different names and functions. One of the bigger changes is that Kratos is no longer bound to the chain blades, making way for more weapon variety. While the chain blades are still the more versatile and viscerally satisfying of weapons, additions like the Spear of Destiny and Barbarian’s Hammer offer new ways to crush, maim and otherwise decimate foes.

Combat is only one part of the equation; puzzle solving also plays a big role. While none of God of War II's puzzles reach the complexity of Pandora’s Temple, there are still a number of huge, level-sized puzzles, many of which require real out-of-the-box thinking.

Completion is, again, a rewarding experience. Although the unlockables pale when compared to the first game, you can still unlock an additional play mode as well as alternate costumes and hi-res versions of the in-game movies. Instead, many of the items that were unlockable in the first game are included on a special bonus DVD.


Difficulty:
Three difficulty levels are available, though only combat and the placement of some health/mana chests seem to be affected by the change in level. If you ever get stuck within a certain situation, the game will offer the option of reducing the difficulty level to the next lowest setting (unless, of course, you are already there).

Nothing about God of War II is overly challenging, though you can still expect to repeat some areas more than once. Most situations can be overcome with smart thinking and strategy. One of the stand-out differences between the first game and sequel is that the block and evasive roll maneuvers are used more frequently and, in some cases, are necessary to win battles.

Even with revised tactics and frequent use of the block/roll actions, there are a few areas that could almost be called overkill. Sometimes there seems to be just one more enemy than needed, or puzzles that are tricky enough without the added bonus of enemies to hinder progress.


Game Mechanics:
God of War II offers a mix of old and new mechanics. Many of Kratos’ powers from the first game return, though in different forms. Combos remain the same and the ability to switch weapons on the fly adds another layer of depth to the combat system.

And, what would God of War be without its oft-copied, timed-button action sequences? Even when facing smaller enemies, seeing the Circle symbol above an enemy’s head is still just as satisfying as the sequence that follows – provided, of course, you time your button presses correctly.

A number of new abilities also factor into gameplay. These include the Wings of Icarus, which allow Kratos to glide, the ability to stop time and Rage of the Titans, which gives Kratos’ attack power a short boost. Most of Kratos’ weapons can be upgraded by spending orbs, which are earned by killing enemies. The more violent the kill, the more orbs you’ll earn. Kratos’ max health and magic can also be upgraded by collecting Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers.

With the number of original, exclusive titles showing up on the PS2 dwindling, God of War II is perhaps the system’s last great send off – making it a must play for any action fan, or fan of good games in general.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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