LOS ANGELES--Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few months, you know by now that God of War II is coming in 2007, and it's coming to the PlayStation 2. Many wondered why, exactly, Sony would let one of its biggest new franchises remain a PS2-exclusive months past the launch of the company's brand-new console, the PlayStation 3, but considering the millions of PS2 owners out there who already have systems in hand, it does make some sense. Not to mention that the God of War engine is already done and ready-made for a relatively quick sequel. God of War II is on display at Sony's Electronic Entertainment Expo 2006 booth, and featured is a relatively lengthy, very detailed demo that gives a very good indication of what you can expect from the game; namely, much of the same brand of violent, epic action that made the first game so amazing, and a few new twists to boot.
The demo begins with a very short introduction showing the kinda, sorta hero of our story, Kratos, once again descending from some great distance at rapid speed. A bit of voice-over comes on, featuring the voice of the same narrator from the original game. This doesn't last long, however, as Kratos immediately drops in on an in-game level. A bit of exploration reveals this level to be something of a dark, ugly jungle environment, with an ancient temple of some sort taking up the bulk of the real estate. This temple is falling very much apart, and various vines and other forms of plant life strangle the architecture. The main doorway to this area is blocked off by a large stone door equipped with a huge Medusa head that turns you to stone if you get too close. Much of the level design revolves around you trying to reach a nearby platform that seems just too far out of reach. On the platform sits a fleece that can reflect any enemy attack.
In typical God of War fashion, you'll find yourself running back and forth through various corridors, fighting off horrible creatures, solving some intuitive puzzles, and then fighting even more horrible creatures. Like the first game, God of War II seems very much combat driven. Unfortunately, none of the magic attacks or alternate weapons for Kratos were available here, but once again, we were armed with the fabled blades of chaos, the twin blades that are seared via chains to Kratos' arms. Many of the combos looked pretty familiar from the first God of War, but we caught a few new juggling attacks and spins that seemed new to the game. Generally speaking, the combat controls felt just as they did in the first game. That is to say, you can basically get by with mashing on the attack buttons, but to do the best and most devastating combos, you've got to pay a bit of attention to what you're doing.
We ran into a number of new and unique enemies as we went along, as well as a few old favorites. Plenty of the undead soldiers from the original game were around to make for good blade fodder, but we also encountered a new type of skeletal warrior that doesn't exactly die when you think they will. As you attack them, the skeletons will crumble to the ground after a short bit, but after a few seconds of lying prone, they'll reassemble themselves and attack again. You can kill them eventually--it just takes a little while. Another new enemy was a dual-axe wielding, pig-looking demon creature...thing. Seriously, we have no idea exactly what these things were, but by themselves, they weren't much tougher than the average enemy. However, these guys didn't just attack in the usual groups. Every now and again, a massive Cyclops would rear his exceedingly ugly head, and when it would, one of these pudgy little jerks would grab it, sink an axe into its arm and another into its shoulder, and basically hack its way up the creature and then sink both axes into its shoulder blade, using its weapons to steer the Cyclops.
These Cyclops riders could be taken down via the type of contextual rhythm-game attacks found for larger enemies in the first game. After you do enough damage, you simply had to press the circle button, and Kratos would use his blades to grab onto the rider, then by mashing on the same button, you'd yank the rider off. Killing the Cyclops required yet another contextual attack, and in it, you'd essentially climb up the thing, sink your blades right into its eye, and yank it out, killing it. Brutal, no? That's not even the half of it. During our time with the demo, we ripped plenty of undead soldiers literally in half, snapped necks, sliced off arms to beat the former owners with them, and even went up against a three-headed beast, whose heads we promptly yanked off one by one by one.
Ah, but it's certainly not all about wanton violence in God of War II--well, actually, it sort of is, since even the puzzle-solving elements of the game seem to take on a similarly violent tone. One puzzle of note presented us with a room with three locked gates and two switches, one of which was behind a gate. A single corpse lay in the middle of the room, and a ladder leading to a lever sat nearby. Using the first corpse to act as a weight to hold down the first switch, we opened the second gate, which led us to the other button. But alas, without another corpse to situate on this button, we could not hold the exit gate open long enough. But then there's that lever--pulling it revealed the aforementioned three-headed beast, but once that thing was dispatched, another corpse sat behind it. You can basically figure out the rest from there.
Also, there were a lot of really good random moments during the course of our demo. We ran into a sub-boss of sorts at one point, with a gigantic pile of rocks blocking our path. After getting close to inspect the rocks, the thing suddenly (and we mean very suddenly) leapt to life, taking the form of a gigantic stone Minotaur. Similar to the Minotaur boss in the first game, this one was huge and required some contextual button presses to finally kill, but after leaping around all over his huge, stone body and finally sinking our blades into his chest, we found ourselves immensely satisfied. Perhaps the coolest moment of all was the revelation of how exactly we would get ourselves to the fleece. After drop-kicking a weighted box down a considerable distance, we leapt down and found ourselves on a platform that tilted in either direction, depending on where you stood on it. By moving the weights over to the ledge facing the platform where the fleece sat (guarded by a vile pit of bubbling, gross liquid), the thing tilted over, revealing a ledge on the other side that we could grab onto. A bit of button-mashing later, and Kratos lifted the whole platform up and sent it crashing into the pit, giving us a section to leap over. Once we grabbed the fleece and used it to reflect the Medusa door's attack, we busted in to find a seemingly innocuous looking book sitting on a pedestal. Immediately after inspecting it, a gigantic Medusa (uglier than ever before) bursts in and shrieks a horrible scream. And then...the demo ended. Talk about a cliff-hanger.
The basic conclusion to take away from the God of War II E3 2006 demo is that Sony is making a sequel that will be immediately accessible to anyone who played the original game, as it retains many of the gameplay qualities of the first game, as well as the same sort of epic aesthetic presentation and mean-spirited tone. We had a blast playing through the level on display and are vastly looking forward to more opportunities to check out more of the game between now and the game's February release date. You can bet we'll bring you more on the game soon.