Just like Hollywood in the mid-80s the last few years have seen a barrage of quality action games explode on to scene. Half-Life 2 had stunning set-pieces, Resident Evil 4 had rock-solid pacing and now God of War II has the most brutal, visceral combat of any action game on PC or consoles. Kratos could chin Schwarzenegger as well.
In typical God of War style you're flung straight in to the action, manoeuvring the newly-devine Kratos around a chaotic city under siege. Thanks to a mix of great art and plenty of smoke and mirrors it looks gorgeous, and the brutal slashing-and-grabbing combat is way more intense then anything we've experienced on Sony and Microsoft's wallet-crushing boxes.
This being God of War though things aren't straight forward for long. You've soon got a 100ft possessed statue smashing through walls and eyeing you through the windows. When the PS2's doing scenes like this - with a foot the size of a bus smashing through the ceiling and on to your head - it has us wondering why we've yet to experience ANYTHING this intensely epic on PlayStation 3.
GOD OF PHWOOOAR
After joining the gods on glamorous Mount Olympus Kratos is betrayed and mortal-ised by the trident-wielding holy men. This puts you on a revenge-fuelled killing spree (that also involves time travel) all the way to the moment when you strike back and stick your dual-blades right through Zeus' glowing and bearded arse.
Still simple yet never boring, every punch, grab and headbutt of Kratos' fight is stupidly satisfying. SCE's talented team of animators have painstaking refined, refined and refined again to make Kratos' every move angry, violent, angrier and then even more violent. After ten minutes battering Cyclops and harpies we're psyched enough to go outside, batter the Marylebone tramps with a cardboard tube and throw our shirts at the bus stop. The tramp could probably have us though.
Just like it's predecessor God of War II is exactly the right mix of combat, puzzles and ugly boss characters. But Kratos has also picked up some new tricks on his trip up to god-status, swinging from ceilings like a playground champion and using Metroid-like swinging grapple points at every opportunity.
Proving that there's plenty of Greek mythology untouched in the first game there are a wealth of cloud-peering locals and sacred temples for you to kick open the doors of. The quality of art lavished on every polygon is, again stunning and we're still not quite sure how this puny, last-gen console is possibly rendering three 300ft statues while we swing demon-goat men by their hind legs. This is quite simply the PS2's technical peak.
The set pieces are more ambitious than ever; along the way you'll encounter the breadth of beasties ancient Greece has to offer - and usually dispatch them in the most violent method imaginable, snatching relevant power-ups such as Medusa's head or Icarus's wings.
Certain sections break up the action by saddling you up on the back of a Pegasus for flight sim-esque flighting and shooting combat, which is a lovely break from trotting around tattered temples and caves.
BIG FAT GREEK KILLING
Overall it's an eerily familiar formula for the gaming action hero; pulling a switch might not be the most original premise in the genre and oh - that is a statue lying next to that floor switch, but GoW II is well aware when it's treading close to familiar ground, which is why it keeps the rollercoaster moving so fast that you really don't care if it's been done before.
Like most great action games the pacing has been excruciatingly tinkered with and sticks to a tight formula. It never keeps you sitting around and you hardly ever have the chance to figure out your next move; the moment you're done escaping the Indiana Jones-style spiked wall trap you're thrust back into battle against a hulking Cyclops and dozens of flaming skeletons, and beyond...
Despite the odd overly-difficult puzzle that will get on your nerves, it's a satisfying experience, and the game makes sure you're rewarded for sticking with it.
GoW II proves that you don't need £400-worth of technology to make a fantastic game, as Kratos' second outing is more intense and rewarding than anything we've played last- or current-gen.
One of the most technically impressive games ever seen on PS2 but undoubtedly the greatest action game released in recent years.
- Brutal, hugely satisfying combat
- Epic boss battles
- Amazing environments
- Near-perfect pacing
- Puzzles can get in the way of the action