- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Here’s a review of one of the best examples of a third-person action game ever to grace video-game consoles.

God of War II for PlayStation 2 (from Sony Computer Entertainment, Rated: Mature, $49.99).

An epic struggle of legendary proportions returns to Sony’s entertainment console in a sequel to the struggles of an anti-hero on a mission to dethrone a god.

Any player who has seen the movie “300” will immediately appreciate Kratos, nicknamed the Ghost of Sparta — the mortal who became the official god of war after his defeat of Ares in the previous game.

This guy has issues and is out to prove his worth on the ancient city of Rhodes. He wants power and revenge and to live up to a Mount Olympus-fueled warrior’s reputation. Unfortunately, Zeus is not pleased with his rampant carnage and through deception turns Kratos back into a mortal.

This premise leads to a Peter Jackson-style, Hollywood-like entrance into a Greek mythological world as a single-player-controlled Kratos must escape from the bowels of the underworld, defeat Zeus and try to return to the status of a deity.

The breathtaking and over-the-top, violence-loaded cinematic spectacle is bigger and better than its 2005 brother and takes place among massive landscapes while nearly every second of screen time is filled with a quest, bloody battles or riddles.

Just take, for example, the incredible opening conflict against a living Colossus of Rhodes statue. This type of boss battle usually is reserved for the end of a game. Here, it is commonplace and marks the prologue to the story.

As Kratos finds himself up against the multistoried being, it chases him across the city and tries to squash him. The protagonist is thrown through terrain, uses a grapple to traverse chasms, delivers multilayered attacks and eventually must enter the statue and literally destroy its innards to defeat it.

In subsequent missions, the player will take Kratos through the air (atop a flaming winged Pegasus), under water and on the sides and insides of mountains to help and confront classic characters such as Perseus, Icarus, Atlas, Atropos and the three-headed dog Cerberus.

Like its predecessor, the game is not just a hack-and-slash maelstrom but instead requires the player to maneuver Kratos through cleverly constructed environmental puzzles that will have him climbing, swinging, twisting, shaking, dragging and opening a variety of terrain elements and items.

The only way God of War II could have been better would have been to be available in a high-definition format and using the graphics power of the PlayStation 3.

Once finished with the game, the player can pop in a second disc from the package and learn about the men and woman behind the Spartan’s insatiable blood lust.

Yes, it’s the “behind the scenes” DVD that offers a look at the team of 70 developers who created the masterpiece.

The disc is led by a 36-minute main documentary and has game director Cory Barlog walk viewers through the departments and responsibilities of the game-development studio to reveal the making of a classic.

Other featurettes include an introduction on how to play the game, trailers and interviews on the music, creature creation and actors involved.

It was most fun to watch actor Harry Hamlin talk about and voice Perseus, a legend he portrayed back in the 1981 film “Clash of the Titans.” Other impressive voice-over cast members interviewed include narrator Linda Hunt and the booming Michael Clarke Duncan, who obviously had a great time with Atlas.

Alongside the multimedia immersion, serious Kratos players also should have “God of War II: Limited Edition Strategy Guide” (BradyGames, $29.99) which gives admirers of the game a separate 112-page book containing examples of fantastic concept art.

Of course, the guide’s main purpose is provided through the 240-page bible. It presents a complete walk-through of Kratos’ adventure along with weapons lists, historical backgrounds on all of the major mythological characters, an encyclopedic bestiary and poster-sized map of the missions.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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