What’s more, these critters are really, really nasty. Think a giant Cyclops is scary? Well, how about one with a fiendish beast-lord sitting on its back, using two giant axes to goad the beast into an even greater fury? Did the gorgons in the original take you back to that first time you watched Clash of the Titans in the cinema, squinting through your closed fingers so the snake-haired, snake-tailed witches couldn’t get you? OK. Maybe that was just me, but the sequel has a gorgon to make Medusa and her sisters look like the sort of harmless old lady who might invite you in for a nice cup of tea.
The same thinking goes for the scenery. Why have Kratos scale the side of your regular monumental temple when he could be climbing up something the size of Chartres cathedral that’s been stuck on the top of an enormous flying island? There’s one moment where Kratos walks across a massive chain suspended thousands of feet above the ground that gave me an almost horrifying sense of vertigo. At times – in fact much of the time – the landscapes, the architecture and the creature designs match WETA’s work on Lord of the Rings. Combined with a superb sweeping camera that zooms in to catch the chaos of battle then pulls back to reveal awesome vistas, not to mention a graphics engine that, with its reflective surfaces, superb lighting and lush textural detail is probably the high-point of PS2 programming, and the overall effect is frequently breathtaking. Resolution aside, many 360 and PS3 games don’t look this good.
But God of War was never just about the eye candy. In the original, Jaffe and the team at Santa Monica studios created the finest third-person melee combat system known to man: a smart combination of spectacular flailing weaponry, killer combos and satisfying finishing moves where – by pressing the right buttons in response to an onscreen prompt – our hero could polish off fallen foes in the grisliest possible fashion. God of War 2 runs with this, adding some enjoyable new arms such as a punishing barbarian hammer and a fearsome magic spear, then sending enough eldritch horrors and furious beasts to keep you busy with them for a while. The resulting gameplay is fast-paced, hugely violent but most of all an awful lot of fun. What’s more, as in the first game, enemies dispatched unleash mystical red orbs. These can be spent on cool weapon upgrades and even more destructive combos, so if you think Kratos is a whirlwind of fury at the start of the game, just wait until you reach the halfway point.
And lest you find yourself too exhausted to go on, the game throws in deceptively simple block, floor switch and lever puzzles that are often more tricky than they first appear. There are even new time-slowing powers that prove crucial in the games puzzling and platform-hopping endeavours. This might be the most macho game in town, but that doesn’t mean its all brawn and no brain.
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