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Game review: God of War Collection: Volume II

HD remakes are seemingly gaming’s new black. Most cases in this current crop of revamped titles simply enable a new generation of gamers to experience some of the medium’s all-time classics with a contemporary lick of paint. 

God of War Collection: Volume II, however, brings the relatively recent Ghost of Sparta and Chains of Olympus – two God of War titles previously exclusive to the handheld PSP – to the PlayStation 3 for the first time. This is important for two main reasons: firstly, it allows PSP-less God of War fans to fill in the series plot gaps those games present; and secondly, despite the reservations many people have about portable titles, they’re great God of War games in their own right.

The high-definition overhauls really do lift the aesthetic appeal of these titles, ensuring they translate well to the home console. The resolution and textures have all been improved, and there are some particularly nice lighting effects (you’ll notice in particular that the marble floors of many of the temples now reflect in a realistic manner). Naturally, there are a few things that give away the fact that these are not titles developed natively for a current-gen console. Specifically, the character and object models haven’t exactly enjoyed a liberal injection of extra polygons (there are some rather octagonal-looking wagon wheels in this take on Ancient Greece, for instance). But there’s nothing there to detract terribly from the experience. Of the two, the more recently released Ghost of Sparta seems to fare much better in the visuals department; whether it’s simply because it’s the more recent of the two or if it was initially developed with a future HD port in mind, I don’t know.

However, even in their PSP iterations, Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta are very much fully fledged God of War games in spite of the hardware’s technical limitations. Owing to, frankly, fantastic production values and an uncompromised vision, the encounters are no less memorable than many of those from God of War III, which also makes them prime fodder for the living room. Sure, you’re not going to scale moving Titans, but there are some truly great (and brutal) boss encounters. The one thing you’ll have to get over early in the piece is that the visuals will never quite reach the lofty heights of God of War III, which was originally built to utilise the PS3’s monster hardware. The HD-remake effect can only do so much.

I was fortunate enough to play through God of War Collection: Volume II on a 3D-enabled television, and I have to say that the technology is slowly winning me over in the gaming space. I think it lends itself better to third-person action adventure experiences (such as God of War) than it does to first-person experiences, however. The 3D effect truly does heighten the immersion levels of God of War; it makes it easier to forget about the world (or living room) around you as you play, and it truly makes some of the enormous-boss encounters pop.

The gameplay? Well, it’s classic God of War: the ultimate in third-person hack-and-slash gameplay, in which you’ll negotiate a beautifully realised take on Ancient Greece while engaging in over-the-top theatrical battles with mythological creatures. As you progress, you’ll upgrade your equipment, which in turn leads to more powerful abilities and combos. There are the occasional quick-time events that allow you to dispatch your foes in gruesome fashion, and many of these encounters are awe inspiring. It’s hard to remain unimpressed when a hulking Minotaur barges into the room, or when you’re forced to do battle with multiple, gargantuan Cyclopses. Oh, it’s worth pointing out that you can now use the PS3 SixAxis controller’s second analogue stick in order to execute Kratos’ dodge manoeuvres, bringing it in line with God of War III. It’s a tactic you’ll eventually need to make use of fairly frequently, so it’s good to see that it’s made easier with the luxury of the second stick. Of course, the PSP method of holding both shoulder buttons still does the trick too, for those used to the portable versions.

The faithfulness of these two games to the core God of War gameplay is both a blessing and a curse. It’s reassuring that devs Ready At Dawn could replicate this on the PSP, but on the PS3 it simply highlights the fact that, outside of incremental upgrades to the visuals, theatrics and Kratos’ abilities, there’s been very little innovation whatsoever in the core mechanics of this franchise over five titles.

It’s also fair to say that, beyond the spruced-up visuals and that classic gameplay, there’s little else on offer here - there are no extras and, thus, very little incentive to return to the games once you’ve completed them (outside of an item or two that can only be used on a subsequent playthrough). It’s a shame, as this could have been a real opportunity to celebrate the franchise, even if it were only to treat fans to some concept art from the development of the original titles on PSP. As it stands, there is absolutely nothing to this package outside of the two core games.

Key takeaway: Despite being handheld ports, the titles of the God of War Collection: Volume II do not constitute watered-down experiences. As such, series completists or simply those fans that haven’t played the PSP versions should definitely consider this package. Just know that it is truly – and simply – more God of War; your take on this statement should dictate your level of enthusiasm for the God of War Collection: Volume II.

Graphics – 7
Sound – 8
Gameplay – 7
Lasting appeal – 7
Overall – 7.5

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