God of War 2

God of War 2 is God of War turned up to 11.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. If you liked the first game you will like the second. If, like my wife, you thought the first game was juvenile and offensive, you will not think the second game is any different. Me, I liked the first game, but I also thought it was juvenile and offensive. I bought God of War 2 anyway because I was in the mood to run around in some huge levels and beat the crap out of a lot of faceless monsters.

Here is the rundown:

1. Gratutiously brutal violence: check.

2. Even more gratuitously brutal “finishing move” mini-games: check.

3. Complete mashup of Greek Mythology distorted and pulled apart to suit the plot, such as it is: check.

4. Offscreen three-way sex minigame: check.

5. Human sacrifice puzzles: check.

The whole package is here, and if anything it’s even more refined and polished than the first time around. The combat is basically the same fluid slicing and dicing as before. The levels are enormous and interestingly designed. They have thankfully removed the jumping puzzles involving spinning blades and replaced them with jumping and rappelling puzzles where you fly through the air while structures that have stood since the beginning of time for some reason decide to crumble and fall down just as you reach them. There are the same “drag block from A to B” puzzles. There are keys to fetch, levers to pull, pools to swim through, and timed locks to beat. As I mentioned before, there is a new rappelling mechanic. There is also a new gimmick where you can slow down time. That pretty much sums up the gameplay. You run and jump from place to place and you kill anything that moves.

As the game begins, our resident bad-ass Kratos is stripped of his status as God and skewered through the belly by Zeus. With the help of Gaia and the Titans, your mission is to fight and claw and scratch your way to the Sisters of Fate so that you may take your revenge on the Gods that have beat you down. In other words, it’s basically the same script as the first game. Kratos is beat down, Kratos gets back up again and gets his revenge. It’s a reasonable narrative skeleton on which to hang the gameplay and it is certainly interesting enough to keep you playing from cut scene to cut scene. The cameos from various figures in Greek Mythology are also amusing, even if they don’t make any sense.

Unfortunately, the context of the plot is a little bit different in this game than in God of War. The Kratos character in God of War was tormented by his own earlier failure and his desire to be free of this torment was what motivated his insane rage and brutality. You could almost identify with the core motivation of the character, even if he was a complete psychopath. He almost manages to come off as a tragic figure driven by his own inner demons.

In contrast, in God of War 2 Kratos comes off more as a petulant teenager storming into his bedroom and declaring with great melodrama that his parents hate him and just don’t understand his life. He spends the first couple of hours of the game just strutting around, challenging anyone to DEFY THE GOD OF WAR. It’s tiresome and annoying. But it’s an emotional tone that the core audience of the game can probably identify with.

Luckily it’s easy to ignore the fact that the main character is an emotional and intellectual cripple and just get on with the smashing of enemies. This time through I played on Easy so I wouldn’t have to replay long stretches of tiring combat. I still had to deal with long stretches of tiring jumping puzzles. But, this strategy was invaluable in surviving all of the tedious Boss fights. The game is nice enough to throw you small amounts of health and magic powerups every few times you hit the Boss, so I never got killed trying to figure out what pattern I had to dance around in to dispatch the latest oversized enemy. I even enjoyed the ending action sequence of one of the fights. It had a pleasing rythm to it, and ended in an enjoyable wad of gore.

Aside from the decidedly juvenile tone of the game, my only other real complaints are the things I always complain about. The fixed camera was still annoying at times. The savepoints are too far apart. The final Boss ends with a soul sucking “mash the button when Simon says” action sequence that seemed very unforgiving of the most minor error in timing. Maybe my TV has a tiny bit of lag that caused this trouble but I had to hit the damned buttons a dozen times to make it to the end. Why do the game designers hate us?

My overall opinion of the first game was “good but not great”. I’ll stick with that assessment for the second game. God of War 2 game is bigger, louder and Bossier than the first, but it’s not really different or better. But that’s OK, because if nothing else, Sony has given us a version of God of War that we can enjoy without being tormented by the spinning blades of death from Hades. If that’s not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.

Having survived this latest mash-fest, it’s time to slow down again. Maybe I’ll go get that Oblivion expansion pack.