Once again we have a God of War game for the PSP that packs an incredible punch in nearly every category. Developer Ready At Dawn once again crafted a GOW experience that is one of the most visually impressive games to appear on the handheld along with providing action and a story that stays true to the God of War we all love. Aside from a few issues concerning the camera and some lackluster weapons, Ghost of Sparta is a key highlight for the PSP and from a narrative standpoint since it features the best story to appear in a God of War game since GOW1. To put it simply, if you love God of War you need to play Ghost of Sparta as it offers an unforgettable experience.
The visual fidelity the game offers is simply unreal at times. Even though the battles are epic and long, the pacing is almost perfect. While not heavily improved or modified, the combat and boss battles are still enjoyable and visceral. Music and voice acting is top notch as always.
During a few occasions the camera can obscure enemies or certain parts of the environment. The difficulty in the game seems to be a bit toned down. Puzzle wise the game doesn’t feature anything too amazing, even by God of War standards.
Looking back at the God of War franchise I feel somewhat old. While I may only be a 24 year-old chap, it seems like the first God of War game came out ages ago but it was only a mere five years ago. But for me the journey to the first God of War was a long one as I remember seeing early snippets of the game in Game Informer magazine when it was an untitled action game, with none of the immediate style we know the series for. But here we are, five years later and to mark the anniversary of sorts, Sony has released God of War: Ghost of Sparta, the fifth core entry in the series. Even if Kratos’ journey came to a close in God of War 3, we always have the wonderful storytelling element that are prequels to provide more badass stories for everyone’s favorite Spartan killing machine.
When God of War 2 was released some people worried that the action and rage filled antics of Kratos was becoming old hat since Kratos isn’t really the most profound character to hit the world of gaming. Putting aside my God of War fanboy Spartan shield & sword, I must admit that I can understand some of those sentiments. But with the fifth entry of the GOW franchise we’ve gotten a game that while not changing up the core formula of the franchise provides some much needed character time with Kratos as this is by far the most personal GOW story thus far.
Kratos encounters a familiar face in this cutscene.
Combining equal parts rage and revenge, this time we follow Kratos as he goes on a search for his long lost brother, who he presumed to be roaming the pits of the Underworld. Yes, the brother in question is the one that was teased five years ago in one of the bonus endings for God of War. What was thought to be a throw away ending is now the crux of the story in Ghost of Sparta and it provides a tale that is engaging and at times is quite emotional. The story in Ghost of Sparta isn’t a Shakespearean masterpiece, but it does provide moments when Kratos isn’t a shouting killing machine and in a way shows his vulnerable side through a series of flashbacks which leads up to his eventual encounter with his brother. There are a few times when the game seems to be going through the motions (how many times can we see Kratos shout at Athena or God X?) but as a whole Ghost of Sparta really digs deep into the man that is Kratos, who beneath his ash imbued skin and cold exterior lies a man that is incredibly broken and is full of sorrow.
With this being the fifth God of War iteration, the formula that gamers have become so familiar with has remained unchanged for the most part. Once again Kratos has his trusty Blades of Athena, several magical abilities some of which are acquired after defeating bosses and as always the game has the always memorable epic GOW boss battles that at times are beyond awesome, even if we’re once again fighting a massive creature. To be honest, Ghost of Sparta relatively keeps thing rather safe with most of its combat and boss battles but that doesn’t mean things are bland or that developer Ready at Dawn was going through the motions. Being the highlight of the series, Ghost of Sparta doesn’t disappoint with the boss battles which while sparse are as hard hitting as they were in GOW: Chains of Olympus. Battling foes like Scylla or a sexy daughter of Thanatos who just so happens to transform into a giant bird, provide some really cool QTE moments and as always deliver that epic scale and wow factor that God of War is known for.
Kratos takes on a new foe in this combat section.
But in a way the boss battles of Ghost of Sparta are a bit overshadowed by God of War 3 as far as the amount of times I said “holy crap” out loud upon seeing what was happening on screen. The bosses I fought in my journey to find Kratos’ brother were still entertaining as hell, but at times the set pieces and lead-up to the bosses themselves didn’t seem as epic in terms of overall size, which is in a way strange since the boss fights manage to achieve that epic God of War nature, whether it’s through the battle itself or the thematic nature of things. Though one thing that did bother me about the bosses I fought in Ghost of Sparta was that they were all relatively easy. Maybe it’s just because I’m a veteran of the series, but none of the foes in the game really brought an intense level of challenge to the point where I was worried that Kratos would falter and meet an untimely death. The God of War series has never been known for presenting a level of challenge comparable to games like Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, but things do seem a bit toned down a bit in Ghost of Sparta, especially compared to the amount of skill required in certain portions of GOW3.
If there was one thing that disappointed me a bit in Ghost of Sparta, it was the somewhat cool yet not amazing offerings of weapons the game provided. The God of War games have always had some cool weapons or special abilities, but in Ghost of Sparta what was offered is cool but to be honest it doesn’t reach the same levels of amazement as the previous entries did. I don’t know if this can be partly attributed to how difficult it can be to top four previous games, or if I’m just being a jaded/slightly hard to please God of War fan. Kratos does have some cool new abilities like one that allows him to ignite his blades with fire or another that allows Kratos to shoot an electrical storm at his foes. These mew magic abilities and weapons do augment the core combat experience a bit, which is fun as always, but I never found myself immediately enamored with an ability like I was in GOW3 with the Army of Sparta or the Claws of Hades.
As much fun as the combat is in Ghost of Sparta, I did have a few issues as I tried my best to live up to Kratos’ reputation as a badass Spartan warrior. Maybe it’s because I haven’t played a PSP action game in a while, but dodging in Ghost of Sparta can be a bit tricky, and in some occasions it can lead to your enemies getting a few cheap hits in. With the PSP lacking a second analog stick, which is normally used to dodge in the PS2/PS3 GOW games, I had to use left and right shoulder buttons and the analog nub in order to dodge. While the controls were mostly responsive, it can be a bit tricky to properly dodge since at times it’s hard to find Kratos on the screen as he’s surrounded by eight enemies or a hulking Cyclops is blocking the screen. There are also moments in the game where enemies can be entirely off the screen which leads to hitting them a bit of a tough thing. But issues like that aren’t a major occurrence and didn’t entirely hamper my experience as the Ghost of Sparta.
But if there’s one thing I can’t find any fault with at all and as a whole impressed me more than the story, it has to be the visuals. Developer Ready at Dawn did some amazing things with transferring the universe of Kratos to the PSP in GOW: Chains of Olympus, but in Ghost of Sparta things simply look unbelievable. Usually one would chalk up the amazing visuals to playing the game on the PSP’s sharp yet small screen, but when I played Ghost of Sparta on my 37” inch TV I was blown away by how damn good it looked. The character models have an incredible amount of detail and seeing small details like rain fall down their bodies or intestines hang loose from severed bodies all look amazing and in a way are miles ahead of what we saw from the PS2 God of War games.
Kratos journeys to the Mounts of Aroania.
Ready at Dawn really delivered on all fronts on a graphics standpoint as the classic God of War scale is there with the environments and battles and the art style itself is just amazing. At this point most of us have been around the block as far as the Greek mythology style of GOW is concerned, but in Ghost of Sparta things feel fresh as ever with locales like the fabled Atlantis, a soon to be erupted volcano, an icy mountain or the bustling streets of Sparta. The style offered in the game really stays in tune to the classic God of War ascetic while offering enough new features that really makes the experience fresh and entertaining.
As an action epic, God of War: Ghost of Sparta doesn’t disappoint. For what was thought of as a game that was milking the GOW franchise a bit, Ghost of Sparta does add a lot to the existing GOW mythos and provide an adventure that flows wonderfully, has some cool boss battles and offers a side of Kratos that is rarely seem. Despite knowing the ultimate fate of Kratos, playing Ghost of Sparta did give me a greater appreciation of the series from a narrative standpoint with the foreshadowing and certain callbacks to the series which aren’t entirely obvious or seem like they were thrown in for the sake of it. In the sparse field of original PSP action games, Ghost of Sparta is a must play as it’s an incredibly polished game that provides some of the best moments to appear on the handheld this year.