Review / God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP)

It’s funny that of all the people Sony could have sent to aid the PSP this Christmas they pick Kratos. The handheld and the God of War franchise are arguably in the same position right now; seemingly peaked, starting to die out, and ready for something new. I don’t mean that in a harsh way at all; the God of War series has delivered us four stunning titles but we’re admittedly ready for something new.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta doesn’t exactly deliver that bright new spark for the series; Kratos isn’t exactly new to the system and developer Ready at Dawn have played this game before. You won’t find much different from past games… at all. Still, that doesn’t keep it from delivering yet another AAA adventure that ends up being one of the best games going for Sony’s handheld.

Ghost of Sparta is a prequel set between the first and second God of War games. Just in case you need your memory refreshing, that means Kratos has just defeated Ares, the God of War and has taken his throne on Olympus. However he’s yet to be betrayed by the gods and go on a two-game long massacre. You might think it hard to expand on the Spartan’s story by now but the game actually strikes an immediate chord with long-time fans by telling the tale of Kratos’ long lost brother, Deimos. If you played the original game way back in 2005 you may well remember a bonus movie that hinted at Deimos showing up in a future God of War game.

It’s an entertaining plot that does the usual job of leading Kratos on a wild goosechase right up until the final confrontation. It doesn’t quite reach its full potential though; while we get a look at the Ghost of Sparta’s childhood, you never really get to explore the relationship he shares with his brother. It ends on bit of an anti-climax too, which is a shame seeing as the game does a masterful job of building up to the pivotal point. That said, it’s still something different for the series, giving Kratos something to do other than shout about how we’ll rip out someone’s guts and adding another layer to his continued angryness in later games.

It’s also good to see Ready at Dawn return to a more classic God of War formula than III‘s summer-blockbuster approach. What we have here is much more in line with the older games that set Kratos on an epic journey taking him far across the land. It does manage to balance the more cinematic moments in the adventure, they’re just fewer and farther between than in the PS3’s outing.

The plot will also place Kratos in some great locations. We finally get to see the series take on the legendary myth of Atlantis as well as visit a handful of places near and dear to the Spartan’s past. If you thought the God of War series was running low on steam then don’t hesitate to check out what Ghost of Sparta has to offer in terms of plot and setting.

He may not shout as much but Kratos sure will fight as much as he has in any other game in the series. The combat in Ghost of Sparta remains largely unchanged from previous entries, but is no less entertaining and that’s a very good thing. The blades of chaos are as satisfying to use as ever; you’ll be able to fall back on the ol’ light, light, heavy attack to get yourself out of tight spots but there’s some cool new moves too. One highlight is being able to pin enemies to the ground and then repeatedly punch them in the face until they’re nothing but a bloody pulp.

Controlling the game is an effortless task. Chains of Olympus already eradicated any worries that the PSP couldn’t handle the control scheme of a God of War game, but Ghost of Sparta serves as a strong reminder. It’s incredibly easy to dodge round a battlefield, switch up weapons, block/parry attacks and more without turning your hand into an awkward claw. Ready at Dawn probably have the series’ staple fixed camera to thank for that but that doesn’t change the fact it plays like a dream.

There’s a host of new powers and weapons too. First off you’ll be able to light the normal blades with fire to cause extra damage, break armored enemies and leave them with some burn damage. Then there’s the new magic including the Eye of Atlantis that emits chain lighting to damage a bunch of bad guys, the Scourge of Erinys that sucks the life out of enemies and gives it right back to you, and finally the Horn of Boreas that freezes enemies on the spot. There’s nothing in there that you can depend on quite as much as God of War III‘s Spartan Shield attack, but they’re still fun to use, with Eye of Atlantis coming out on top.

The new weapon comes in the form of the Arms of Sparta, a spear and shield from Kratos’ past that’ll make you feel like a member of the cast of 300. It’s fun to use but mainly comes handy as the game’s ranged weapon with an infinite amount of spears to chuck at those pesky archers.

There’s a bunch of new enemy types and bosses to try out all your moves on too. Some of the series’ most memorable mini-bosses are in this game, including a four-armed electric statue… thing that teleports around the environment throwing a huge metal boulder on top of you. Proper boss fights aren’t as plentiful as God of War III but do provide a good challenge. There’s nothing quite as jaw dropping as the Chronos battle or the intense brawl with Hades but you could probably put this down to the system’s limits rather than the game’s.

It’s not all action and violence though, not completely anyway. A few light puzzles will sometimes stand in your way as well as a splash of platforming. These sections definitely play second fiddle to the fighting but it does give you some time to relax and do something other than hammer buttons maddly.

Playing Ghost of Sparta really reminds what made the series great in the first place; it delivers in all the right places. The combat is top of its class, the plot is entertaining, it’s paced and varied enough to stop you from getting bored and the presentation… well we haven’t quite gotten to that yet.

Don’t ask me how they did it, but Ready at Dawn have made a game that rivals – if not topples – God of War II in terms of graphics. Your PSP isn’t done until it’s seen the rain beat down on Atlantis or lava flow down a volcano. The team has poured their heart and soul into every nook and cranny, with lighting subtly creeping into caves and textures that present more detail than thought possible on the system. Nowhere is this boasted more than in the game’s button matching mini-games. It’s something the series has become famous for and Ghost of Sparta doesn’t hold back as it flips you around the screen, stabbing wildly at gigantic foes.

Mix in Kratos’ angry/badass voice work with the usual score that holds some familiar and new pieces and you’re left with a tightly presented package. It’s even more impressive when you realise it’s consistent in a game that’s about double Chains of Olympus’ length. A hard mode playthrough clocked in at 8 hours for me, and then there’s a bunch of secrets to unlock for lengthier playthroughs.

I thought I was about done with the God of War series once I’d beaten the third entry; surely after killing all the gods that Olympus had to offer there was nothing more the series can give me? God of War: Ghost of Sparta proved me wrong though, time and time again. It may not be anything new but it’s still an immensly satisfying experience and one of the best out their for the system. God of War II was the PS2’s swan song and ended up being one of the best games on the system. Given recent rumors about the PSP, that could very much be the situation with Ghost of Sparta; and what a game to go out on. We’ll let Kratos get away with it one more time, but let’s have a real change next time.

+ The combat is as fun and as satisfying as ever
+ An interesting story that tries to present a new side to the series
+ Stunning graphics that show what this system can really do

– A little too familiar; nothing incredibly new in the gameplay department
– Story doesn’t reach its full potential