If you need a reason to dust off your PSP, or if you aren’t yet hip to Sony’s handheld console, there is yet another title on offer that defines the experience of gaming on the go. There are already plenty of games that show the PSP’s technical prowess, and even more that remind us that gaming is meant to be simple, fun, and accessible. Indeed, no PSP collection would be complete without Ready at Dawn Studios’ God of War: Chains of Olympus, and in their follow-up to this action-packed title, we see the developer has simply outdone itself.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta brings players back into the world of Kratos, the series’ unique take on Greek mythology, and explosive combat. While this latest entry in the series doesn’t quite compare with God of War III in scope, you will still find yoursef immersed once again in the god killer’s epic struggle, and, of course, his insanity and downright moodiness. Ghost of Sparta offers a host of new features, gorgeous and varied settings, and plenty of action to make it worth at least one play-through.
Ghost of Sparta is set between the two PlayStation 2 games, and introduces a new storyline and set of emotions for this otherwise angry brute. Kratos is haunted with ghostly visions of an old woman who appears to be near death. Our anti-hero soon deduces that this individual is none other than his mother, and gets the idea that he can somehow save her, even though these visions are just that -- visions. As a result, he leaves his throne and ventures off to Atlantis.
The story is quite good, but as mentioned before, it doesn’t quite hold up to God of War III. Still, the drama that unfolds throughout his journey is thick and full of twists and turns. We’ll do our best not to spoil anything for you, just be aware that the story alone is reason enough to play Ghost of Sparta, but beyond the classic fight-for-your-family plot, the graphics and combat will leave your jaw firmly at the floor in awe.
The game looks great, better than Chains of Olympus. It’s truly amazing to see what the PSP is capable of, and Ghost of Sparta seems to push the limits without creating any technical lag in game. The environments look beautiful, ranging from lava-filled dungeons, to snowy mountains. At times we forgot we were playing a game on a handheld device because there is an enormous amount of detail to tuck in to — look no further than subtleties such as raindrops or snowflakes peppering the screen, all truly amazing. In true God of War fashion, Kratos and his enemies are all highly detailed. Blood bathes Kratos during battles, and you can almost feel the arms getting ripped off of enemies during a QTE. We’ve seen some impressive visual work in other PSP games over the years, but Ghost of Sparta single-handily blows them away.
As in every God of War game, Kratos seems to have lost most of the powers he gained throughout his previous adventures. As such, you’ll start off with the Blades of Athena, essentially the same blades chained to the poor Spartan’s wrists. Not much has changed on the combat front, but the minor updates work very well. For instance, Kratos gets the Thera’s Bane ability, which adds more power to your Blades and lights opponents on fire, which proves most useful against armored foes, who are especially vulnerable to this particular weapon. Luckily, the meter for Thera’s Bane regenerates over time, and it does so fairly quickly.
The application of these abilities also reaches beyond that of combat, as you’ll also need to use them to open certain blocked areas. Ghost of Sparta offers the same basic puzzles we’ve grown accustomed to in the series. Kill this enemy, pick up his body, then drop it on a loose stone switch to open a gate—this is one of the many puzzles that make a return. Needless to say, we are a bit disappointed we didn’t see something a little more substantial put in appearance to test the old grey matter. Indeed, while everything is on a much smaller scale - which makes sense since the game is on the PSP - we feel Ready at Dawn missed a few key opportunities for introducing bigger puzzles.
Kratos has always been angry, from the very first moment we saw him in God of War to the closing moments of God of War III. However, Ghost of Sparta does a great job of opening up some new emotions for the bald and brutal protagonist. It’s almost like a therapy session with a maniac. We learn a lot more about his past, his family, and we even see some compassion for the soldiers who fought under him as he returns to Sparta. We loved seeing this side of Kratos, and we tip our hats to the writers for their hard work.
One thing we noticed is there are not a lot of huge boss battles. This may come as a surprise as the game opens with literally one of the biggest battles in the series. The monster is so big it actually fills your screen and still looks great. Still, besides this and the obligatory epic last battle, there aren’t any other big boss encounters to speak of.
The best part about Ghost of Sparta is the subtlety in the changes and additions. There’s new magic, a new weapon—quite possibly the best second weapon in Kratos’ arsenal—a new story, and better graphics than Chains of Olympus. But, it’s still a God of War game, and although it runs longer than the first PSP version, coming in around seven or eight hours, there isn’t a whole lot of reasons to play it again. There are some items you’ll get that can only be used after you beat the game, and there are some challenge modes, but overall you’ll get your biggest thrills during your first play.
Looking for anything negative to say about the game is tough. It’s not perfect by any means, but any flaws are easily overlooked by the bigger picture—the game looks beautiful, it’s extremely intuitive, and the story is one of the best in the series. We loved seeing this new side of Kratos, and we wish we could see more in the future. Bigger boss battles and more challenging puzzles would have been a welcome addition, but simply getting the chance to play through a new God of War game is fun and exciting enough as it is, and Ghost of Sparta reminds us that we absolutely can’t get enough of Kratos and his bloody adventures.
-The Final Word-
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the best game on the PSP, pushing the boundaries of a handheld device with breathtaking graphics, a striking story, and enough combat to keep your thumbs busy for many hours.