To say that God of War’s creator, David Jaffe, thinks big might be the understatement of the year. His 2005 Greek myth epic seemed purposefully designed to confound your expectations, not just of what you could do and show in an action game, but of what you could do and show with the ageing PS2 hardware. At a time when Microsoft’s Xbox was making the PS2 look old and tired, and with the next-generation of hardware waiting in the wings, God of War proved that the little black console still had the power to amaze. As one man fought his way through hordes of foes and battled monstrous beasts, then scaled vast buildings sat atop a Titan’s back, you could practically hear jaws dropping around the world. God of War was, without doubt, one of the most phenomenal video games of the last five years.
God of War 2 makes it look like Jaffe was only half-trying. If the first game was Jaffe’s Fellowship of the Ring – a signal that a previously middleweight talent has suddenly shifted into creative overdrive – this is his Return of the King: a fully-realised feast of imagination combined with sheer technical muscle. It makes a lot of so-called next-generation games seem small.
Where do you start with a game like this? How about where God of War 2 opens, with our musclebound anti-hero, Kratos, now elevated to godhood, leading an army of Spartans in a raid on the city of Rhodes. Athena, quite reasonably concerned at her protégé’s bloodthirsty leanings, gets our boy demoted to demigod status right in the middle of the fray, leaving Kratos not just to fight his way through masses of justifiably annoyed Rhodes guardians, but at the mercy of the towering colossus; an enormous metal giant whose hands tear through buildings and whose face can fill the whole screen. After defeating this enormous foe – a running battle that takes place not just around the walls and battlements of Rhodes but inside the colossus itself, Kratos then has to battle the mighty Zeus himself. For most games this would be the spectacular climax. God of War 2, however, is merely getting warmed up.
From there it’s on to the depths of Hades, a titan’s icy tomb, and then the Island of Creation, split into three huge chunks floating high above the sea, each chained to a gigantic stone horse. There are stygian temples to be explored, mighty bosses to be fought, enormous weapons to be wielded and some fairly sneaky puzzles that need to be solved. None of this would be out of the ordinary but for two things: the artistic imagination of the development team and the game’s extraordinary sense of scale. Where Devil May Cry 3 might have you battling foes twice your size, God of War 2 comfortably doubles that, then gives the hulking giant a terrifying sense of strength and mass.