While it seems a bit unfair to smite the newly-crowned God Of War for simply doing his job, as the sequel to Sony's legendary action game gets underway that's what happens. Never one to toe the Olympian line, Kratos has continued helping his native Sparta in its bid to conquer the globe, defying the express wishes of the Gods. As he descends to wreak supernatural havoc on the people of Rhodes it falls to Athena, the architect of his ascendancy, to strip him of the powers he can't help but abuse.
Shrunk back to his natural size and left in the bloodied streets, Kratos can only watch as the city's towering Colossus statue is brought to life. There's a chorus of grinding metal as it wrenches free of its lifelong pose, eyes lit with divine electricity and feet tearing themselves from a crumbling pedestal. And it's here, before you've even tapped out your first combo, that you realise God Of War has lost absolutely none of its power.
Bringing cut-scenes, minigames and complex hack-and-slashing together into a seamless clash, this opening level is what David Jaffe's series first became famous for: a good old fashioned rollercoaster ride, with all its rails and clockwork props, writ large by the power of PlayStation. God Of War 2 is universally more ambitious than its predecessor, linking together enough plot devices to justify - almost - the who's who of monsters and legends that satisfies its hero's blades. Just a minute of Kratos's journey to the distant Temple of Fates, where heroes such as Perseus and Jason hope to rewrite history for their own gain, is worth dozens of your average set-pieces.
Business as usual
The Devil May Cry nazis will tell you it's a bogus thrill, of course, and that GOW is a game in which the simplest inputs - a triple tap of a single button, for example - produce a greater output than they deserve. And it's true to a degree. Though it's back to square one for Kratos's move set and equipment list, there's rarely a time when his attacks don't light up the screen and spill the blood of everyone within 30 feet. Again, combat is all about chaining attacks and dodges, countering flanking manoeuvres and watching the kill count fly. But it's not without technique - there's much to be learned about which moves can be interrupted for the sake of a dodge, and where chances lie within each opponent's attack patterns. But you only have to reach a certain level of proficiency or max out the power of Kratos's blades to make a routine out of bombarding enemies with magic and combos, parrying the occasional blow.
One thing Sony clearly didn't want in this game was downtime. There are no overlong runs between points A and B, no cut-scenes without the odd interaction to spice things up, and no chance to take a breather and plan your attack. This, once again, is all about the rush - the berserk charge through armour and flesh, and cavernous traps that open suddenly into the most extraordinary outdoor scenes. Almost half the game seems to occur midway between the Earth and Heaven, where the sun breaks over coloured clouds and vast kingdoms hang in the sky, waiting, of course, for you to clamber up their walls and kick in their luxuriously textured doors.
A few new actions have crept into Kratos's repertoire, such as overhead monkey climbs and grapple swings that orbit around rather than beneath their anchors. Almost all the mythical figures he encounters meet an astonishingly violent end, adding a legendary artefact to his inventory - Perseus's shield, for example, or Icarus's wings - that alters his basic skills. By and large, though, the game plays by familiar rules. Where there's a door that won't budge there's a lever or key, where there's a pressure plate there's a statue, where there's a glint of light there's an object to be manipulated. And when a bird-footed pygmy jumps out and blows his trumpet, you know he's calling out a cyclops to stomp all over you.