When the original God of War hit video game shelves a couple of years ago, with its arresting visuals and dynamic gameplay, it left reviewers reeling. They crowed over the rage-filled odyssey and looked excitedly toward a sequel. Well, II is here and it aims to ably fill its sibling's bloody toga.
The story continues in an ancient Greece that's steeped in mythology and dominated by the gods of Mount Olympus. Kratos, the battle-scarred, powerfully-muscled Spartan has defeated Ares and taken his place as the god of war. But he's not content just sitting around on a throne in the sky being fawned over by scantily clad beauties. So he goes back to doing what he does best—killing—and leads his army of Spartans to joyously raze the world's cities.
This incessant warfare displeases the pantheon, however, and Kratos finds himself tricked, stripped of his powers and gutted by Zeus. On his descent into Hades he's rescued by Gaia of the Titans (a giant race that the gods defeated to take power on Olympus). She tells Kratos that his only hope of wreaking revenge upon the deceitful Zeus lies with the Sisters of Fate. He must find their cloistered temple, wrest away their power over time itself—and change his past.
Creative on Top
As much as that may seem a rather dense saga for a video game, God of War II's fixation with shaping its story around a quasi-mythos of the Greek gods actually gives it an involving quality and sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill in this genre. Battling a living Colossus of Rhodes, grappling between Empire State Building-size Steeds of Time and running along the facial ridges of the Titan Atlas offers gamers both a visual intricacy and an epic scope. Equally fascinating are recognizable figures and creatures out of Greek lore that Kratos crosses paths with, ranging from the flying horse Pegasus to the flying man Icarus.
These elements, combined with creative puzzles, well-performed voice work and emotional orchestrations, are a few of the reasons critics are once again lining up to cheer God of War. Play Magazine proclaimed, "What a rare and engrossing experience this game is," while GameDaily called it a "masterpiece." The pundits at GameSpot were more than happy to report that it's a "significantly more brutal game than the last." Which is where—beyond twisted spirituality—the real problems lie.
The unforgivingly cruel antihero Kratos slings his dual "blades of chaos" (that are chained and seared into his arms) to rend, rip and disembowel everything within, well, arm's reach. Creatures are broken in half, beheaded and run through while the blood gushes, pours, spatters and streams. Perhaps the game's creator, Cory Barlog, helped illustrate it best when he bragged, "Kratos takes some of the lower minions of the Fates and rips their arms off and then actually spears their heads with them. He also will break a guy's leg, grab him by the neck and then slice his throat. And we've got wild boars running around the island, and Kratos can gut them while he's on the ground or in the air."
That's just during ordinary play. The really gory moves are reserved for special button combo-based minigames. Once you've worn down a larger opponent, a Cyclops for example, with your savage blows, a flashing button icon will appear above its head. If you're able to react quickly enough and tap the right pattern of buttons, Kratos sinks his chained swords into the hide of the Cyclops, hacks his way up to the beast's massive shoulder, pulls back its eyelid and gouges out its eye with grisly delight (20 such gory orbs earn a special prize).
Unfortunately, even the puzzles join in on this ghoulish bent. In one section, for instance, a wounded soldier asks for help, but the only way to pass on to the next area is for Kratos to hoist the guy over his shoulder and toss him beneath the grinding teeth of two huge gears.
And a Blade You Can't Put Down
As with the original, II also features a variety of partially and fully naked men and women. A hidden minigame finds two topless "bathing beauties" in a shallow pool who beckon Kratos into their embrace. As the gamer hits the right button combos, the camera shifts its gaze to a nearby trickling cherub fountain that spurts water in unison with the trio's erotic moans. (A nude reclining female, seen from the back, garnishes another scene.)
That kind of sexuality easily earns an M (for mature) rating. It could be argued that the game's barbarous violence should have pushed it well beyond. The brutality has been ramped up here to the point that it numbs your senses and overshadows everything else. The driving, fluid pace swirls you through intense boss battles and catches you up in a kind of gaming bloodlust. GameSpot responded to it by callously calling the gruesome doings a "giggle fest for violence junkies." Wow. God of War II certainly is an intoxicant. That I can concede. But neither GameSpot reviewers nor the violence junkies they reference seem to realize that, especially now, horrifically bloody should never equal huge fun.