Saturday, November 10, 2012

God of War II - The Beginning of the End

The first God of War is simply an amazing game. The combat is simple, the story is engaging, and you really get to sympathize with the main character, Kratos. While it feels like a stand-alone game, the end of it assures more God of War, which is exactly what players got in 2007 with the release of God of War II. With two years between this game and the one that started it all, I feel that this sequel keeps up the quality of the first.

After defeating Ares and becoming the new God of War, Kratos still can't shake the nightmares of his past. The Spartans call for help, which Kratos sets out to do as Athena tries to stop him. Suddenly he is reduced to the size of a mortal, with the Colossus of Rhodes coming to life in order to kill him. Zeus then tries to help Kratos by giving him the Blade of Olympus, requiring him to channel his godly powers into it. After defeating the Colossus, Zeus reveals that it was a set-up, and sends Kratos to Hades. Kratos, however, manages to literally climb back out with the help of the Titan Gaia, setting on a journey to find the Sisters of Fate in order to change his...fate and, along with help from the Titans, get revenge on Zeus.

This game features a number of improvements graphically, with sharper and more detailed graphics while sticking to the visual aesthetic of the original. The cinematic cutscenes are a vast upgrade from the ones in the previous game, putting a lot more detail into the animations and at the same time retaining their overall fluidity, if not becoming more realistic. Occasionally there are flashbacks to Kratos' past, which generally recycle footage from the first game's flashbacks. Though it is a convenient shortcut, one can use this to see just how different the cinematics are between each installment.

The combat is carried over from the first game, making it familiar to previous players; I am unable to delve further into it since I played on Easy, but I can say that there are some slight tweaks in the controls. For instance, rather than pressing Circle for some actions, they have been replaced with pressing R1. This takes a little time to get used to, but it does introduce some variety. By pressing R1, you are also able to slide down climbable walls, which really helps get through some areas faster.

The music for this game, much like the first, perfectly captures the atmosphere of the story, due in part thanks to some more amazing choir work, including at least one or two recognizable pieces thrown in that really sell it. While playing the game I discovered that the soundtrack has also been released by itself, so I hope to pick it up when I see it. The voice acting continues to be equally impressive, with TC Carson's role as Kratos becoming somewhat more hammy than before. Excluding Carson and Linda Hunt, there has been some change in the voice actors, but they still do a really good job. Though Paul Eiding is no longer Zeus, he is replaced by the equally talented Corey Burton, who some may recognize as Shockwave from Transformers (G1 and Animated). Overall, this game still has some amazing talent behind it.

The PS2 version of God of War II also comes with a special bonus, in the form of a second disc containing special features. These features are a number of videos, much of them a peek at what happened behind the scenes while the game was in production. I haven't looked at all of them, but what I have seen contains some interesting information, including the design process of Kratos and what happened during playtesting (did you know that the Hades level in the first game wasn't playtested?); from what I've seen I got the impression that the testers were treated well and the developers listened to their feedback, which is more than I can say for what I've read on Tales from the Trenches. These videos are grouped together in categories, including one marked "Spoilers", which I can confirm is labelled as such for a reason. I would tell you to wait until actually beating the game before checking out this disc; even if you don't watch all of them, it is definitely worth  a look.

As a whole, God of War II is a good follow-up to the experience provided in the original game. The story doesn't have the same consistent impact on the player that the first one had, but, like Iron Man 2, it's best to think of this game as the middle portion of a trilogy (though it does present a really good plot twist at the end). The overall experience is still worth the time in the end, and is a necessary stop for players (of age, of course) who are just getting into God of War (in addition to aiding the flow of the story).

As a side note, for those that enjoy the first God of War, I would highly recommend the novel adaptation by Matthew Stover and Robert E. Vardeman. It does take a few creative liberties here and there, but it's still a fairly faithful adaptation of the game and a rather enjoyable read on its own.

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