Friday, March 16, 2007

God of War II review

Due to reasons I'm not going to get into, the review I wrote for my column in the New York Times of God of War II is not going to run. Since it's quite a good review, IMO, and it would be a shame for it to remain unread, I'm putting it here for anyone who wanders this way.


I have slain gods. I have snapped the spines of minotaurs. I have bent time to my will and brought Olympus to its knees. So bow down. Bow down! Not to me, but to the designers of SCEA’s incredible action adventure game God of War II, which turns every player into a raging force of destruction.

God of War 2 continues the story of Kratos, a brutish soldier who in the first God of War game set out to kill Ares, the God of War, and ended by replacing him.

As the sequel begins, the god Kratos is leading his Spartan worshipers to bloody victories. Things are going pretty well for Kratos for the first few minutes of the game, but things take a turn for the worse when Zeus comes along and kills him.

Death slows most people down, but it just makes Kratos mad, and with the help of gods opposed to Zeus he sets out to persuade the Three Fates to return him to his last minute of life for a do over.

God of War was a game of massive scale, full of giant beasts and mammoth structures, but the sequel aspires to dwarf its predecessor. The game kicks off with a battle against a living, hundred foot tall statue, and then just gets bigger. At times the game’s immensity is overwhelming. At one point Kratos must bring to life four metal horses, each one hundreds of feet tall. He reaches them by walking along their harness, a chain thousands of feet long. Elsewhere he must free his mount, Pegasus, from a rock monster whose fingernails are longer than Kratos.

Kratos himself seems unimpressed by his outsized opponents. A conscienceless anti-hero, he is masculinity run amok, unafraid of death and pain, throwing himself into every insanely dangerous situation in a way that suggests extreme bravery or severe psychosis.

As in the first game, God of War II is divided between savage battles and clever environmental puzzles. Everything about the game has a magnificent intensity. Amidst stone ruins, Kratos swings his deadly chained blades at soldiers and monsters or hurls them into the air and then pummels them back into the ground. As enemies become more powerful, Kratos gains additional powers, learning to slow time and generate earthquakes. When an icon appears over an opponent’s head, the player can press key combinations to perform remarkably savage and deadly attacks that spray blood over the scenery.

Puzzles are often just as savage, as when Kratos throws a wounded soldier to his death to breach a wall or uses heavy machinery to smash and trap the many arms of yet another gigantic creature. It might seem rather odd that every monster in ancient Greece happens to be surrounded by mechanisms whose only possible use would be to vanquish those monsters, but it certainly is convenient.

Zeus isn’t the only mythological figure Kratos has to deal with, and he gets along with few of them; when Kratos needs to glide a long distance he grabs Icarus and tears his wings off.

No matter how many times I use words like huge and immense and vast, I just can’t properly convey the grand sweep of God of War II. With an epic story that brings its twisted Greek mythology to ferocious life, gripping battles, logical, challenging puzzles and awe-inspiring visuals, the game is electrifying. And pitch perfect game mechanics that include responsive controls and a camera that always supplies the ideal view make the experience seamless. The original God of War was an almost perfect gaming experience; the sequel doesn’t need that “almost.”

Let the prostration commence.

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