God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the Ready at Dawn Studio’s return to Ancient Greece and the story of Kratos. After earlier creating several of the PSP’s greatest titles, the bar has since been raised with recent games like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. And after God of War III coming out earlier this year, can Ghost of Sparta stand on its own merits? Or will it crumble under its own expectations?
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is at an interesting place in series. With a definitive beginning in Chains of Olympus and a fairly concrete ending in God of War III, Ghost of Sparta has the unique job of playing as an inter-quel, tasked with the role of having a unique story all to its own without contradicting any of the established canon. Starting up right after the end of the first God of War, Kratos does not like his new responsibilities as a god of Olympus. After first being refused solace from the nightmares of his wife and daughter, he begins to have visions of his own childhood and his family growing up. This sets in motion a journey for Kratos to discover the truths and lies of his own past and to confront the parts of his life for which he was, surprisingly, not responsible.
The graphics in Ghost of Sparta are some of the platform’s best, and that’s true in a year with a Valkyria Chronicles game. Not only are the backgrounds and levels expansive, but Kratos and even the enemies are incredibly detailed. Sure, the game doesn’t match the graphical prowess of God of War III, but you can’t expect anything life-changing from a portable system. At times, the characters feel more alive and real in the cinematic cutscenes done using the game’s engine rather than in full-motion video.
But as so many games have learned in just the past few years, graphics alone are not enough to make a game worth playing. Solid mechanics and slowly evolving gameplay across the length of a title are what makes games really shine. Fortunately, Ghost of Sparta has these qualities. Taking the best elements from across the entire God of War franchise, Ready at Dawn has managed to pack a full console experience inside Sony’s portable gaming device and still manages to keep things fresh. For example, Thera’s Bane now replaces the staple “Rage of the Gods/Titans/Sparta” ability. Kratos’ blades are engulfed in flames and allow him to destroy previously invincible objects and armored enemies. But instead of activating a one-time super mode to kill enemies in an act of desperation, Thera’s Bane is less powerful and takes the place of God of War III‘s Item Bar, and regenerates quickly over time.
It’s a good thing that it regenerates too, as there are plenty of enemies all the time. Ghost of Sparta manages to push the limits of the PSP’s capabilities. There never seems to be a dull moment or an empty environment in this game. There are always tons of enemies on-screen, frantic combat, wonderfully animated environments, or sometimes all of the above. All of this is happening without any noticeable drop in the frame rate or obnoxious loading times on a platform notorious for them. It really is unbelievable how much this system is doing while sitting in your hands.
The Arms of Sparta, the famed spear and shield of Ghost of Sparta unfortunately fall in the same realm of all the other weapons in God of War. While they are an interesting way to mix up gameplay and are sometimes required to advance in the game, they ultimately are not as effective as Kratos’ blades. While fighting a large group of enemies, the Arms don’t feel as quick and responsive as the Blades, and sometimes that reaction time can make all the difference.
Ghost of Sparta is fun to play even after beating the game. While there are no trophies on the PSP, the relics from God of War III make a return to grant the player special abilities in New Game Plus. The Challenge Rooms also make a return in this entry in the series, and unlockable videos and skins are available to players who can manage to tackle the higher difficulty levels. As soon as the first playthrough is over, you’ll want to start a new game right away to challenge yourself harder or check out the new skills with the godly relics.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta had a lot to live up to in one of Sony’s flagship franchises, and it takes to the challenge beautifully. If Chains of Olympus is equivalent to the first God of War game, then Ghost of Sparta is God of War II. Bigger, badder, and beefier in every way than its predecessor, this is a true God of War experience down to the very core, and you can take it anywhere you wish.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Just as capable as any console title.
+ Introduces enough new ideas to feel fresh.
– Won’t change the minds of people who aren’t fans of the series.