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by Marty Demarest & r & & r & God of War ll Rated Mature; PlayStation 2 & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & inged creatures cannot fly if they no longer have their wings. Whether gryphons or pegasi or plain old devils -- once I rip their wings off, leaving bloody bones to flap in the breeze, their bodies drop to the ground like stones.

Gryphon wings require a few hefty saws of my sword, which I have to administer while standing on the creatures' backs. Since gryphons, by nature, are creatures of flight, I need to saw at their wings while they fly. But when their wings come off, the gryphons fall, and so must I.

If I'm lucky, my black pegasus will catch me as I fall through the air. (I saved him when he was pinned under a greenish giant's fingertips, so he owes me one.) Then I can continue to another mid-air battle with another gryphon. All of this happens as a simple fly-by interlude on my way to change my fate. I am Kratos, the Spartan who became the god of war in the first game, and my death is the beginning of the sequel and the start of its fatalistic story.

God of War II has the perfect theme for a sequel: Once dead, can someone escape the inevitable chain of cause-and-effect that led to their death? The ancient Greeks -- who contribute the setting to God of War II -- believed that one's life was woven inextricably with the lives of others by a trio of primordial sisters known as the Fates. What nobody ever explained is that the Fates sequester themselves in a monster- and puzzle-laden lair that requires many hours of gaming to get through. Finally, mythology makes sense.

Along the way I must fight the occasional aerial battle, explore gossamer underwater mazes and solve a few color-coded switch-flipping puzzles. But there is also a wealth of vivid myth. Kronos is a mammoth golem as befits a stone-eating titan. When I stumble upon Prometheus tied to a rock, he has his flesh eaten in front of me. The old PS2 does a beautiful job of knitting his body back together again so that he can suffer his torment anew.

THE GOOD: God of War II is superlative for its blend of rapid action, lavish graphics and intense cut-scenes. The blending of all of these elements is active on every level. Never for a moment was I idle or un-entertained. Even the basic level-design emphasizes large arenas over twisty mazes, leading to a game that consists mainly of titanic, multi-staged boss-battles -- the sorts of fights fit for a god.

THE BAD: The only time God of War II lost its sweetness was when I broke a vase -- an old dusty vase sitting in a forgotten corner in a temple -- and red power-up orbs flooded into my body. I don't mind gaining power-ups and experience points in combat -- in a battle-driven game I expect it. But rewarding me for idle videogame interactivity lowers the standard that God of War II sets for itself as a full-force action game. I'm not here to break vases. I'm here to wage war.

THE BOTTOM LINE: As combative as videogames come, God of War II brings mythology to life with adrenaline and style, then beats it to a fantastic, bloody pulp.

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