Ripping the head off of a god: why God of War 2 is the best in the series

God of War 3 may be getting the fancy PS4 HD treatment, but it's God of War 2 that stands head and angry shoulders above the rest of the series…

How do you make a deity vulnerable? After all, when you’re a strapping slab of irritable Ancient Greek muscle who can zap himself into a skyscraper-sized slaphead, you’re not going to sweat a narked-off Harpy. After Kratos conquered Ares and claimed his godly seat on Mount Olympus in the original, Sony Santa Monica had set itself quite the challenge in creating a worthy follow-up to PS2’s most iconic actioner.

Sensibly, God Of War 2 immediately nerfs your antihero’s Olympian powers, reducing him to a mere… uh, near-unstoppable killing machine. Ah well, at least your freshly man-sized, surly Spartan has to contend with a sentient statue that makes the giant metal dude in Jason And The Argonauts look like a garden gnome. And that’s what really defines this sequel: scale.

As the Colossus Of Rhodes politely reveals before stomping you into a squidgy paste, it’s definitely about the size of the Cerberus in this fight. Bigger in almost every conceivable way, GOW is a veritable kill list scrawled with the names of Greek mythology’s A-listers. It’s this irresistible combination of sprawling grandeur and X-rated monster murder that makes old homicidal britches’ pursuit of the Sisters Of Fate such a success.

Now, while Kratos’ first tale was a lean and muscular action game carved out of sturdy combat and set-piece spectacle, it was also a bit of a tease. After opening with one of best sustained scraps on PlayStation, GOW’s mighty Hydra scuffle is followed up by just two other boss fights in the entire game. Compare that to the sequel’s dozen offerings and the increased scale of Ghost Of Sparta 2.0 is as striking as a tiara-sporting Cyclops entering the Miss Teen USA Bikini Finals.

And oh, what bosses they are. Eviscerating Perseus (cutely played by Clash Of The Titans’ Harry Hamlin), yanking off the serpent-encrusted noggin of a big-boned Gorgon that looks like a cross between Kaa and Lisa Riley, or impaling the monstrous Kraken on what’s essentially a giant fish tackle; God Of War II’s headline battles are a masterclass in spectacle and controlled fury. Oh, and did we mention the baddy with a thousand boobs? Yeah, perhaps we’ll save that story until the young ‘uns have trotted off to bed.

What we will tell you about is the game’s impeccable pacing. Although this is an experience still based on decapitating hundreds of identical beasties, Sony Santa Monica keeps your journey constantly breezing, thanks to varied set-pieces and a revolving carousel of evocative locations. Whether it’s clambering across the Steeds Of Time (imagine four Mount Rushmore-sized ponies) or tumbling down a near-bottomless cavern as you tussle with Icarus over his wings, God Of War II constantly cycles through grisly sights to keep you enthralled. Hell, there’s even a Pegasus flying bit where you gut an armada of Griffins.

Released in the UK just over a month after PS3, Kratos showed PS2 was still capable of technical feats that could wow in the era of the Cell chip. Indeed, in terms of sheer spectacle, Sony’s new baby arguably had nothing to match God Of War II until the Titan-taming third adventure. It also proved the series could blossom without the vision of David Jaffe, as the first game’s lead animator Cory Barlog effortlessly slid into the sweary creator’s loafers to steer the sequel to critical acclaim.

It’s a dirty great barrelling boulder of a game. Relishing in over-the-top pantomime violence, God Of War II reimagines the works of Homer and Hesiod as an R-rated Ray Harryhausen picture where gory polygons, not plasticine, prove God is a Greek.

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