Kratos just can't catch a break. You'd think after killing Ares, earning the wrath of the gods, attempting to kill himself, and ascending the throne as the next God of War, the guy would get a chance to take a breath, sharpen his magical blades, and, you know, kick it with some wenches. No such luck. Not long after the updated God of War II demo that landed on our desk today opens up, Kratos finds himself in the city of Rhodes duking it out with one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's back it up a bit first.
If you haven't played the original God of War--and shame on you, if so--then you missed one of the biggest, most satisfying action games on the PlayStation 2. The original game followed the extraordinary antics of the Spartan warrior Kratos as he goes about battling multiheaded hydras and searching out the mythical Pandora's box to do final battle with the aforementioned God of War, Ares. What made the original game so fun wasn't just its exotic setting sourced straight from Greek mythology but also the favorable controls, incredible graphics, and absolutely relentless action. We still don't have the entire picture of what the follow-up will offer, but based on the demo, we can safely say that all the above ingredients are still here in force.
The God of War II demo opens with Kratos atop his throne, watching as his fellow Spartans destroy city after city. The goddess Athena, outraged by the Spartans' actions, appeals to Kratos to end the pillaging and reminds him that it was she who was responsible for his lofty place in Olympus. But Kratos will have none of it and, in typical fashion, decides it's time to get a little hands-on time back on Earth. Transporting himself to the ancient Greek city of Rhodes, he immediately begins taking out his wrath on the ancient city, smashing buildings and crushing soldiers with his godlike size and power. Athena, petulant in a way only Greek gods can be, takes her revenge on Kratos by shrinking him back down to human size and animating the Colossus of Rhodes, a massive ancient statue that once stood at the harbor entrance to the city. Needless to say, the Colossus has it in for Kratos.
The battle between Kratos and the massive Colossus forms the centerpiece around which the God of War II demo moves. Though Kratos does slice his way through many footsoldiers, these only serve as rest stops in between the larger battles with the statue, each of which has mechanics and thrills all its own. For example, in an early confrontation, you're battling the Colossus in an outdoor courtyard. As if an unending stream of soldiers to deal with weren't a big enough problem, you have to keep Kratos out of the way of the Colossus' punishing blows. By hitting the Colossus' fists with your weapon, you can temporarily stun him. It isn't long before you notice a massive ballista (think of it as a slingshot that shoots boulders), which you can access by pressing the R1 button. Your first shot is blocked by the Colossus, but if you manage to stun him, you can load Kratos into the ballista, firing the Spartan on top of the Colossus where you can get up close and personal.
Here you can enjoy some nice contextual combat; as Kratos swings and slides around the Colossus' head, ripping and slicing all the while, button icons appear on the screen. To continue the rampage, you merely have to press the associated button on the PS2 controller. If you press the wrong button, you'll have to start all over again.
But because this statue is hundreds of feet tall, the battle isn't over after one fight. After getting through the first fight, the Colossus hurls Kratos to an entirely different section of the city where he winds up in an underground pool. It's one of the nice things about the demo; you're never doing one thing for too long. One minute you're slugging it out with the statue, the next you're winding your way through underground halls, cracking heads left and right. There is even some light puzzle-solving as well, such as dealing with pressure-sensitive gate mechanisms. Thankfully, it's not too hard on the brain, so you're never too far from your next bloody encounter.
From a mechanics standpoint, the God of War II demo feels much like the original game. Kratos' light and heavy attacks with his dual blades are tied to the square and triangle buttons, respectively. And you can "grab 'n stab" with the circle button. The L2 button sets off Kratos' magical attacks, which you can intensify by pressing the circle button rapidly. The L1 button blocks incoming attacks. Pressing the X button will make Kratos jump, and you can double jump by pressing the button twice. You can swing from ledge to ledge by pressing the R1 button and access Kratos' special attacks by holding down the R2 button and one of the face buttons. As Kratos, you will have to keep an eye on not only your health but also your mana bar; if you use your magic attacks too much, you'll run out of mana.
Fans of the series will also delight in God of War II's graphics, which are every bit as epic and detailed as the first game. The sense of scale between Kratos, the Colossus, and the city in which they are fighting is impressive. For example, we loved the first fight in the game. As Kratos mows down hordes of enemy soldiers, you can see the Colossus peeking through the window, watching the action and occasionally pounding on the side of the building. Except for a few hitches during close-up battles with the massive statue, the frame rate held steady throughout the demo. The visuals were accompanied with a stirring soundtrack and the sounds of combat, punctuated by Kratos' fierce battle cries, which really brought the relentless action to life.
Though the Colossus fight was an intense one, we'll have to wait for the final game to see how it turns out because the demo ended before we were given a chance to deal a final blow. Nonetheless, if the action in the demo is any indication, God of War II looks to be quite the thrill ride. Kratos' adventures will continue on March 13, when the game is due to ship. In the meantime, we'll keep you up to date on the game's progress--so stay tuned.