by Srijon Mukherjee
The fact that someone like me actually played and completed God Of War II isn’t a testament to how easy the game is - it’s a testament to how much I enjoyed playing it. I’m not a gamer in any sense of the word, and it’s not because of a lack of gaming skills, but more because I usually tend to abandon playing a game as soon as I’m stuck in a part for some time. This strange voice in my head whispers to me, comforting me, and assuring me that life is about moving on, and anyway, who needs that kind of pressure to perform in a fucking game?
I know, a lot of you do, and yes, it’s not really pressure, but hey, my life, my escapist argument, okay?
God Of War II begins with a cutscene of Kratos, the, well, God of War, ignoring Athena's requests and rushing down to Rhodes to assist the Spartan army laying siege to the city. He is suddenly stripped of his size by an eagle that appears; the eagle also re-animates a statue of the Colossus Of Rhodes, which immediately starts smashing and destroying buildings post-haste. The cutscene ends and the game begins, with the player being made to fight a few undead guards, and make his way to the giant statue come to life. Colossus proves to be more than a hefty opponent for Kratos, who is all but overpowered.
Zeus then comes to Kratos’s aid, sending him the sword of Olympus; using it, Kratos is able to defeat the statue come to life. The sword however, drains Kratos of all his powers. It is revealed that Zeus, intimidated by Kratos’s accumulating strength, had taken the form of the eagle - Kratos had mistakenly assumed that it was Athena - and conspired to unburden himself. He strikes the powerless Kratos and leaves him to die.
Kratos is rescued from the Underworld by the Titan Gaia, and on her suggestion, sets out to seek the Sister Of Fates, to turn back time to the point where he was betrayed, and defeat Zeus.
The path to the Sisters is not a smooth trail, and Kratos must deal with adversaries, and mishaps due to unforeseen circumstances (that I can’t mention because I don’t want to spoil) and well, his rage issues.
Greek mythology is a subject that most find interesting, and I am no exception. The game keeps players enthralled very tactfully, using mythology to narrate a tale about power and the betrayal associated with it, while incorporating loads of popular Greek characters, including a certain demigod who has a YA book series dedicated to him, a scientist who flew too high, and many more idiosyncratic, easily identifiable characters. Kratos’s swashbuckling - and usually violent - interactions with them make it all the more alluring, like a crossover issue in a comic.
One might complain that the constant violence and rage is irritating and one-track minded. The game’s use of a fixed camera and the myriad showy set pieces make it seem like a movie, and and that's how I took it, as I kept on playing. Kratos’s constant scowl and rage-fuelled violence is almost amusing. I feel that the game does not take its own presentation of violence seriously - not that it’s some very intelligent form of satire or parody - and only strives to present a character so exaggeratedly violent that his antics make up some sort of dark and aloof comedy.
Think of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, especially Kill Bill. It features violence, and another quest for revenge, but the Bride’s constant hacking and slashing is comic - in spite of the serious implications of the actions depicted, and their constant monotony. It's almost as if the gratuitousness of the whole endeavour overlaps on itself and makes the character seem sillier than he/she will ever imagine.
God Of War II was one of the last games to be released on the Playstation 2, and pretty soon, became one of the best. While its previous version was well received too, it was criticized for focusing too much on the combat, not having enough items and weapons and needing more boss battles. For God Of War II, the developers only improved on these aspects and kept everything else pretty much the same. As the AV Club put it: “This sequel doesn't evolve the God Of War series so much as refine it.”
It features different weapons from its predecessor, such as the Barbarian Hammer (a giant hammer, and the second most powerful weapon in the game), the Spear Of Destiny, and the Blade Of Olympus. The Athena's Blades that Kratos receives at the end of God Of War I are now his default weapon.
Kratos is given five new unlockable magic abilities, all different from the his abilities in the last game. Poseidon’s rage is an exception, though Kratos loses it very early on in the game, when his power is drained by Zeus.
He retains Poseidon’s Trident - an item he received in the previous game-which allows him to breathe and swim underwater. He also finds the Golden Fleece, which allows him to reflect shots back at the attacker, Icarus Wings allowing him to glide, and the Amulet Of Fates which slows down time for a while, and is extremely important, with the game incorporating a large number of quick time events.
Which brings us to the puzzles. While God of War I was a huge success too, it received flak from gamers for being all about hacking and slashing. God of War II makes immediate changes to this, making puzzles and platforming an important part of the game. Almost every boss battle - there are four times the number of boss battles in the last game - is followed by a puzzle scene, where Kratos must operate multiple levers, move around statues, random heavy objects, and at times, even dead bodies to certain points on the floor, to open a secret trapdoor, or find objects essential for progress. The puzzles are never mundane, and the solutions are simple enough-though they’d require a little time to be worked out-for you to resent looking up the walkthrough, if you do. This does good in keeping players like me, who only play games for the sake of playing them, and would have no qualms ditching the game if it proved too hard, interested. I imagine that gamers used to platforming and puzzles in games would appreciate it too.
The combat is quite visually stunning, especially when using Athena’s Blades. Their yellow aura and bright color, matched with Kratos’s scintillating dances (of violence), are almost a treat to watch. The controls are fairly standard, and easy to learn, and the combat allows for extra combos and benefits for gamers who like to know their moves, though it’s not necessary to play the game that way. It does, however, get a little tedious when it requires players to to play through mini-games when performing a kill, or frantically press the circle button to kill an enemy or unlock a cutscene, but it's still very doable, and not too big a deal.
Also included are bonus features like behind-the-scenes videos, extra costumes for Kratos, and a Challenge Of The Titans game mode, that can be unlocked after the game is finished. Bonus Play is a new feature in the game that allows the player to play through the normal story using all the weapons and items collected when the game was finished.
The game has brilliant pacing, with the gamer given no chance to feel at home with the way the plot and gameplay moves along. It does this with the help of various intense boss battles, and insane set pieces, with beautiful locations and cutscenes. The puzzles are provided to the player almost as a respite from the action and cinematography, which can prove to be very draining in its epicness.
Though we’re in the age of Playstation 4, and the graphics are quite outdated by the standards of today, I would still use this game as one of the earlier examples of the future that cinematographers can, are, and will be enjoying in video games.
The soundtrack, composed by Gerard K Marino, Ron Fish, Mike Reagan, and Chris Velasco, is brilliant. The music matches the game in its epicness, and fits so well with the gameplay, that it doesn’t really seem like a separate piece attached to the game: It’s more like an inbuilt background feature of every setting Kratos is in. That is not to say, however, that the music does not have stand-alone value. The soundtrack - which features an assortment of orchestral pieces - is an intense experience when listened to alone, harrowing and beautiful for one who hasn’t played the game; beautiful, reminiscent and energizing, for one who has.
God Of War 2 sure made an impact when it released, and why wouldn’t it? Here is a game that will always keep you enthralled - be it with the vibrant action sequences and elusive puzzles; in the few instances where you’re not in the middle of either, you’ve also got breathtaking set pieces to sit and admire.
Here is a game that’s so universal in its brilliance that it appeals to both gamers and non-gamers. All you have to do is pick up a controller and play it. All you have to know is that Kratos is the God Of War and HE MAD.
I might not play another game in my life, but I do know this: I’ll be talking about God Of War II for a long time.
It was an experience, alright.