Prepare the testosterone injections! Apply the baby oil! Shave your head! Get a tattoo! Hammer the triangle button! Kratos is back!
Yes, everyone's favourite grumpy killing machine returns to the PS2 in the near future, and today we got our feeble mortal hands on a hot-off-the-press demo version. Cue excitement and exclamation marks!
Kicking off with a quick overview of how the gods conspired against Kratos, the follically challenged deity has his reign of unrelenting terror cut short when his gigantic body is wracked with an electrified charge. "Athena! You conspire against me?" he roars, before shrinking down to normal size and finding himself inside the confines of a shattered, architecturally majestic villa surrounded by blade-wielding minions.
Unfortunately for him, a statuesque colossus (think a giant statue of Liberty, but in Rhodos) also wants him dead. His steely, electric blue eyes peer through the cracks in the walls in search of his prey and so begins a concerted, lumbering, wall-smashing chase sequence that kicks off the game in typically stunning style.
Ultraviolent Ray (Harryhausens)
In keeping with the ultraviolent ways of God of War, dispatching hordes of oncoming death is a fairly straightforward business that involves little more than a blizzard of button-mashing and determination. Triangle unleashes the more powerful of the two main attacks, while square gives you a faster but less powerful melee option. As before, circle gives you a chance to grab, L1 along with an attack button provides a 'special' version, while holding down triangle lets you launch enemies into the air (apparently - when we tried it, we just soared into the air sans enemy). Elsewhere you've got L2 for magic attack (made more effective by hammering circle), X for jump (or double jump), and the right stick to pull off a quick 'evade' roll, so players of the original will slip straight back into it.
Since you asked, the demo is split between fighting off hordes of determined but rather easy to eliminate enemies and the kind of spectacular boss interludes that made the original such a memorable gaming event back in 2005. So, for the most part, you're tasked with hacking away merrily at waves of enemies, swishing those blades attached to your wrists with blizzardous abandon and automagically sucking up the red soul orbs they leave behind. Outside through the cracks in the wall you'll see your pursuer angrily trying to locate you, but via watery tunnels, ladders and a succession of wonderfully detailed locations you'll be all too aware of his stomping presence.
Once you get to the old stony faced Colossus, you find yourself trying to suss out his weaknesses. A catapult allows you to fire Kratos at high velocity in his direction, but you're snatched out of the air and dumped unceremoniously back where you started - and with less energy. Hrmph.
[Mild spoiler alert] Plan B suggests slashing wildly at his hands and arms when they smash down in your direction, and after a few hapless attempts (and being generally pounded into a million pieces by fists the size of double decker buses) you'll get the hang of it. Eventually, the pain of your blows stuns him for a while, allowing you to fire yourself at his face, and a few button prompts later you'll have plunged your blade with sickening force into his right eye. In rage, he grabs hold of Kratos and throws him about half a mile away - and so begins another round of delightful hack and slashery.
Beyond that, you get to complete the most obvious block-pushing puzzle in the history of videogames, and try out your new grapple manoeuvre, which frees up the level design a touch. Rather like Tomb Raider: Legend, you'll notice a white glow on the things you can grapple with, and with a swift jump followed by R1 you'll swing back and forth over the gap you need to traverse, with a jump or double jump to complete the effortless feat of athleticism. Later, you'll be reminded of how easy Kratos finds wall climbing, and just how refined the controls feel in general.
Once you reach the second stage of the boss encounter, you'll be fully refreshed and reminded of how to control Kratos, so with a mixture of grappling, evasion, special moves, magic and guile you'll suss out how best to deal with Stony Face. Again, it's a case of delivering enough blows to stun him before climbing up to his head and following the button prompts like a good boy. Twice. Sure, this opening section isn't the most challenging, but nor should it be. It's a vital period of refreshing old hands while gently introducing the game to those who were foolish enough to not play what was, arguably, the best action game of 2005. In short, it's just the comeback we were waiting for, and getting our hands on the finished article can't come soon enough. [End spoiler]
It's hardly a startling revelation to note that the game's visuals are sumptuous in the extreme, but Sony's LA studio has - on this evidence - topped even the original in how far they've managed to push the dear old PS2. Without exaggeration, God of War II looks as impressive as any so-called next generation effort - and you know when a PS2 game looks good when you can get away with running it on a big, hi-def screen without wincing. Replete with prog-scan mode and widescreen, the game still manages to pull off every graphical trick the PS2 is capable of without any noticeable frame rate drop or glitch. And it's not just impressive in terms of the technical tricks it's pulling (lovely dust motes, by the way guys), but the sheer artistry that has been infused into every corner. Every potentially bland corridor, every empty room comes alive, and benefits from probably the best automatic camera system ever invented. No camera complaints here, sir. Have an entire box of Jaffe Cakes.
So there you have it. A quick fire assessment of a quick fire demo. Be sure to check out our more in-depth preview of the game from E3, where game director Cory Barlog details some of the new moves, AI, monsters and more. Expect a full review shortly before the game's release and an interview in the near future.