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April 8, 2007D. Riley

I think out of any of The New Gamer's illustrious long-term staff, I'm the one that most digs the mainstream games. I've referred to it before, but to be brief let's call it the Genki Genki Supaa Panic Button effect. Messieurs LeFeuvre and Turner latch themselves like moray eels to anything with a touchscreen and a pulse. LeFeuvre Beats his Elites, and Turner Katamaris his Damacys and they both love every second of it.

I am a bit more mundane, dear reader. I never got into Tetris as a child, I liked Bad Dudes. I liked simple games with simple purposes: hit that guy, move to the right. When my gaming tastes "matured" (imagine me doing air quotes) I moved on to such fantastic franchises as Devil May Cry, and Ninja Gaiden... though the new Ninja Gaiden is really a franchise in name only, as I'm not sure how much its iterative rereleases of the same game count as new content. So while Turner and LeFeuvre are experiencing a sort of video game renaissance, with feats that Guybrush Threepwood would've never imagined being possible, I have expanded my horizons into 'hit that guy... in 3D'.

Because I naturally skew towards the mainstream -- I like my Halos and my Resident Evils -- you would likely imagine the God of War series to be a perfect fit. After all, it's about as mainstream as they come! It's chock full of bashing up undead monsters and not much else. Let me tell you, avid fan, I -hate- undead monsters and under normal circumstances there would be no greater service than for you to provide me with a method to dispatch them quickly and en masse.

God of War 2-1
Don't worry, the game's only THIS awesome for about an hour.

Kratos is that method. He is a hulking Greek warrior wielding blades seared into his flesh by long chains. As one could expect from a man who swings around weapons painfully attached to his body, he's a bit of a sourpuss, but damn if the guy isn't good at what he does. With just a few quick taps of your Square button you'll find just about any mythical monster lying ruined at your feet.

So why don't I like God of War? Well, for one... with just a few quick taps of your Square button you'll find just about any mythical monster lying ruined at your feet. Those looking for an in-depth combo system will be severely disappointed with the game's rudimentary square and triangle techniques, most of which are rendered wholly useless because of the game's lackluster canceling abilities. Kratos can only cancel his most basic combinations with an evasive roll, and since the longer combos are often the most damaging, that means you'll either have to peck away at large monsters with pathetically small combo strings to avoid getting hit, or you'll just have to resign yourself to taking damage and brute force your way through the fights.

The latter is almost always an option, because God of War games, on normal mode, are embarrassingly easy. In fact, there's a specific auto-combo that will carry you through basically both games without a fuss. In fact, the only times I died (besides bosses) in God of War 2 was when I tarried too close to a bottomless pit and found myself elbow-rushed by a cyclops. This is a stark contrast to the often ball-breakingly hard difficulty of Ninja Gaiden, where even the first enemies encountered could dominate you in mere moments. Most God of War related deaths come from annoying puzzles, players might remember the spiked tower ascent in the original God of War as a strong source of frustration. There's nothing nearly as irritating in the sequel, but there are moments involving timed spikes that might just have you threatening to hurl your controller at the screen.

The game's difficulty can be augmented somewhat with the higher God and Titan levels, but these are largely an exercise in frustration. The AI doesn't change, so enemies aren't any harder, per se, however they're given generous increases in health and damage while the green orbs that Kratos uses to replenish his health are nearly absent. This wouldn't be problematic -- after all, who WANTS to get hit? -- if it weren't for the lack of a good cancel I mentioned before. Now, without your relative immunity to damage, it's basically impossible to string together any combo worth a damn and the alleged difficulty of the game mostly becomes rote and boring.

God of War 2-2
Makes friends with these guys, you'll see them a lot.

This game is not without its high points, however, but it follows the same route as its predecessor. The first level in the game, a level that is ENTIRELY a boss level, feels almost as if it were ripped directly from Shadow of the Colossus. Kratos runs around the city of Rhodes, pursued by its eponymous Colossus, and spends the entire time avoiding the angry blows of the animated statue while trying to fight off lesser foes and make his way to safety. It's a totally awesome concept, and I'd be hard pressed to find a level in a recent videogame that was executed better. It's analogous to the first God of War's shipwreck battle against the Hydra. Same gigantic scope, same being chased by a relentless enemy, same feeling of hope the player gets that this game is going to obliterate all his past action game experiences.

What the first-time player does not know is that the game will never again reach the high marks its first level set for itself. While God of War 2 doesn't totally slack off on its epic feel like the first one did (really BIG minotaur was your other boss? Come on, guys) it still never reaches the point of cool that the first level does. You'll spend most of the rest of God of War 2's ten or twelve hours killing the same cannon fodder undead, some of which are recycled whole hog from the first game, and doing it in the very samey fashion of finding one totally lame combo (mashing R1 and Square works wonders) and repeating it ad infinitum. Eventually you'll come across a minotaur who's different than the LAST minotaur because THIS one's club is on FIRE. If such niche differences don't titillate you, I wouldn't blame ya.

What's more, God of War 2 seems content to rip not only the enemies, but the plot straight from the first game. God of War centers around Kratos being betrayed by a god (Ares), getting really emo about it, then having to secure an ancient relic (Pandora's Box) in order to defeat him. God of War 2 centers around Kratos being betrayed by a god (Zeus), getting really emo about it, then having to secure an ancient relic (The Strings of Fate) in order to defeat him. There's back story about time travel along the way, but it's largely irrelevant.

And God of War's most vaunted feature, its gory kills, are no less boring than they were in the first game. It is very exciting to rip the wings off a harpy, I'll give you that, but it becomes less exciting the thirtieth time you have to watch it... IN A ROW. What irritates me all the more is certain kills, like the Minotaur and the Gorgon, are recycled frame for frame from the first game. This is in line with the God of War 2's mantra, which seems to be 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it!' straight down to including another puzzle involving sacrificing a pleading soldier in order to proceed.

God of War is a game that is very technically proficient, but has no heart. Its combat system is lackluster, its enemies are generic, and its story is barely even there. Sure it looks almost next-gen with its 480p and Widescreen support, but I'd have a difficult time pulling another positive feature out beyond its graphical achievements. If you have a friend that has it, it's probably worth plugging through the Colossus fight, a boss so big that you have to go INSIDE it to finish it off. The rub is that God of War suffers from the same colossal flaw its predecessor did. It sets the bar amazingly high in its opening moments and never gets back to that high point. Would it have been a better game if they'd placed the Colossus battle at the end? Maybe, but that'd only be addressing one of the myriad of problems that stops this game from being 'great' and makes it a more solid 'average'.

God of War 2-3
Y'know looking at the screenshots, I'm almost convinced that this game was cool.

Why God of War is receiving the positively amazing scores (averaging 94% on gamerankings.com at the moment) I couldn't tell you, except to say that any action game that doesn't contain piss-poor collision detection or inexplicable item hunts is probably enough to garner positive favor with ANY reviewer. Unfortunately that there are no critical flaws in God of War 2 doesn't make it a great game. It also doesn't excuse the fact that they basically remade the first God of War, from sacrificing a pleading soldier to solve a puzzle to jumping into the air holding R1 and Square, and nobody seemed to notice. Mediocrity doesn't need to be praised.

God of War might keep you entertained for a rental, but it's going to burn a $50 hole in my bookshelf for many years to come. I might be the mainstream gamer of TNG's crew, but even I can't like 'em all.

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1 comment for ‘God of War 2 (PS2)’

#1 HektiK Apr 8, 2007 05:44pm

Nice to read a review for this game that isnt trying to perform fellatio on it with words. Ive never understood the lofty praise the God of War games has received. Its not as though their terrible but arent exactly the crown jewel of the genre either.