Review – God of War 2

Here is a checklist of some of the highlights from the original God of War: challenge a god, escape from Hades after being killed, defeat numerous figures from Greek mythology, murder a soldier in order to solve a puzzle, travel to a variety of shiny temples, hunt down ancient treasures in order to face your foes, obtain mythical powers from the gods. Like it or not, the pieces came together to make a game that was more than merely successful.

But what happens when the sequel does the exact same thing? The story, gameplay, pacing and visual style of God of War 2 is almost identical, as if they took the old checklist from the drawer, rearranged a few things, and got right to work on making enough behind the scenes features to span their own disc, which I suppose proves how much more work they did compared to the first time.

Luckily for Kratos, this baddy doesn’t realize that if he stopped flailing his legs he would still be standing on solid ground.

The game is so lazy it hurts. Kratos doesn’t just kill a person again to advance his own needs; he does it twice more to two translators, both times in the exact same manner. The magic spells are slight retoolings of the previous ones. And somehow they weren’t able to fix the broken aspects of the combat engine without also making the game even more button masher friendly. The original God of War gave some reward to players who found a way to use the slowest, most powerful moves. GoW 2 almost punishes you for taking your finger off the square button.

There are some additions. The Icarus Wings, an item that was removed from the original game before release, actually make an appearance. Rather than allowing you to fly through levels and avoid wall to wall traps (as seen in the GoW1 special features), here the Wings merely allow you to float forwards after a double jump, a game mechanic that has existed since Mario 2. Nothing about the game shows a sense of craft or care, just a bunch of whiz-bang stuff duct taped together and given a slightly different coat of red paint. It exists merely to look cool and to make us feel cool by extension.

Amazingly, there are times when it actually works. The boss battles can be incredibly fun, requiring old style pattern recognition and surgical offense. The QTE-like finishers are great when used at the end of a boss as something of a reward for your hard work. There’s an extra level of satisfaction when you don’t just beat them, but absolutely humiliate them. There are a few cases where the regular enemies provide a solid challenge.

But each one of these highlights is overshadowed by recycled content and, even worse, obscure puzzles. In what appears to be an attempt to add length and challenge to the game, many of the puzzles offer no clue to their solution, instead hoping you’ll understand what they want you to do, or locate a clue in a very, very poorly lit room. The first boss of the game requires you to strike at it, yet there is no clue that doing this will actually have an affect unless you happen to do it for long enough. The only clue it gives is the same sound effect you get for beating down on all of the unbreakable walls in the game. Somehow, I don’t think this is a wise design choice.

Where do giants get giant horses from?

Recently, David Jaffe complained about reviewers who criticized his PS3 game Calling All Cars for not having enough content. Apparently, they didn’t understand that it is a small downloadable game that is not supposed to compete with a full fledged product. He then left the blogging scene in a cloud of drama. The only thing I could think of at the time was that maybe the reviewers simply liked the game so much, they believed it deserved to be a full fledged product.

I can’t really say for sure, because I still can’t understand the man. He has the passion, he has the energy, and it seems like he has the right ideas. And yet nothing I’ve seen from him in actual retail form smacks of brilliance. Why didn’t we get the original Icarus Wings the second time around? Why do we see so many of the cutscenes from the first game being reused? Why is it that this game, this kettle of blood and bastardizations of Greek Myth, becomes deserving of an artwork presentation?

Jaffe and his games are not going to go away. The question is simply what we should do with them. We can’t get rid of them, as there is a great need for games like God of War. But do we also need to put them on so high a pedestal? I’m getting flashbacks of Mortal Kombat here.

I guess as much as things change, they remain the same.

8 thoughts on “Review – God of War 2”

  1. Wasn’t Jaffe just a ‘creative consultant’ on GOW2? As I understand it, he didn’t have much say in how the game actually came together.

  2. I certainly hope that’s the case. He’s listed on the credits over at Gamefaqs as Director, if that means anything.

  3. that was my impression as well. this game was cory balrog’s (good videogame name, that) baby. jaffe is listed as producer on gamefaqs.

  4. you retain some integrity for eschewing what would be the standard move of a politician in this situation: claiming you never said such a thing when the evidence is clear and damning.

  5. This game, I thought, had really good puzzles. Particularily where you need to float the corpse around the moat/sewer so you can put it on the plate. Also I think the game is slightly more together than pt 1 despite the colossus in stage one being a total mess. the varying weapons have strengths and weaknesses and each give you a different power up orbs – hammer gives you spazz mode metre. Also the bosses, particularily the kraken and Clothos were rad. That said it was a totally been there done taht game.

  6. I just love this game but I’m stuck, can you help, I stuck at the “battle of Icarus” I jumped off the bridge a gazillion times and nothing happens, There is also no cutcene as some of the sites ref to, Am I a idiot or is there something wrong.

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