The biggest criticism of the original still survives – this is a game with little room or incentive to explore, and while you’re not constrained as such, there really is only one main pathway through. But if this is the game equivalent of a thrill ride, then it’s one of those whopping great megacoasters you only find in US theme parks, the lift-hill towering hundreds of feet over the landscape and each drop dishing out seconds of glorious airtime. Like most rollercoasters there is a feeling that it loses some momentum towards the end – possibly because it’s a longer God of War this time around – but if the pace lets-up slightly, it gives you time to appreciate what an excellent, brilliantly balanced game this is.
So good, in fact, that even the Pegasus-riding flying sections are enjoyable. At first, you’re thinking “Why? Why? Why am I suddenly playing a crap version of Afterburner with a flying horse instead of a jet?” But once Kratos starts leaping onto hostile flying mounts in order to administer his coup de grace, your response soon changes. Maintain the level of mayhem, and flying is actually pretty cool. It also helps that these interludes are relatively short and sweet, meaning that they don’t outstay their welcome. In fact, my one real gripe about God of War 2 is that the storyline doesn’t quite have the melancholy undercurrent that made Kratos so intriguing in the original. Here he’s more a straight thug and you’re expected to revel in his brutal quest for vengeance. No problems there and – let’s face it – anyone who can swing around two swords on eight-foot chains without losing an appendage is pretty cool, but you can’t help wishing for a little of the first game’s psychological (well, psychotic) depth.
Frankly, it would have been impressive if God of War 2 has merely equalled God of War. The fact that it surpasses it on every single level is practically a miracle. It starts big, gets bigger, then just keeps on getting bigger and bigger and bigger, not to mention better. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Jaffe and co throw out something else to amaze you, and it’s this – the need to see what they have got for you next – that keeps you moving from gore-drenched brawl to puzzle to blood-soaked scrap without wanting to pause for a minute. Other games give you more to do, more to explore, maybe more to think about and feel, but few knock you off your feet as frequently and powerfully as this. It’s not particularly innovative and it’s not particularly deep, but God of War 2 is a glorious, savage masterpiece all the same. So get your PS2 down from the attic, nick it back from the kids or buy a new one if you have to. This might be the last game on the system that you really don’t want to miss.
A stunning game begets an unmissable sequel. If this is the PS2’s swan song, then it sounds more like a defiant, bloodthirsty war-cry.