Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studio
Review by: Bill Jones
God of War is a series that was never meant for the PlayStation Portable. The series’ characters, stories and environments were all epic in scope from the very start, meant for a big screen, preferably in high-definition, on which Kratos can scale the sides of monstrous beasts, tearing them to shreds to the tune of gallons of blood. That said, despite the handicap of a smaller screen, less disc space and inferior specs, Ready at Dawn has just proven twice in a row that they can use what the PlayStation Portable has got to make a pretty darn good adaptation of God of War on the go.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta marks the studio’s second effort at doing just that. Ghost of Sparta takes place between God of War and God of War II, focusing on the time Kratos acted as the God of War. He has just vanquished Ares, and back in Sparta his people are knocking down the late god’s statues, preparing for the reign of Kratos. Meanwhile, Kratos is trying to settle affairs with his family, exploring the relationship Kratos has with his mother and, more importantly, his brother Deimos.
The gameplay follows the general God of War formula. It is a third-person, hack-em-up action-adventure title, with a penchant for Greek mythology and a few puzzles. Adding to Kratos’ signature blades is a new Spartan coat of arms, which allows him to block with a new Spartan shield and chuck spears, among other new moves. He’s also got a few new magic attacks in store that make for some fun gameplay. It’s mostly familiar, but with the screen littered with enemies almost constantly, it doesn’t get old slashing through them. With a new spear dynamic and armored enemies, it even feels a little fresh.
As with Ready at Dawn’s first effort, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Ghost of Sparta’s biggest detriment is that it doesn’t feel big, like it should. The studio does its best to convey the magnitude of the world, but zooming out on a bridge walk just makes Kratos look like an insect instead of making the world look huge. The game is also short, finishable in roughly five and a half hours, while the credits are ungodly long at approximately 15 minutes. And gamers are going to want to sit through them to make sure they don’t miss the final cutscene.
That said, the brevity is made up for in replay value. First, there are hidden items that can be found and then used in subsequent playthroughs, in a similar manner to God of War 3. “Challenge of the Gods” will then also similarly test gamers with different win conditions. A “Combat Arena” allows players to confront enemies on their “own terms.” “The Temple of Zeus” is a gallery for unlocking extra items, which appear mostly in the “Videos” and “Galleries” sections of the “Treasures” menu.
But most important to the series are story and gameplay. The latter is as refined as ever, maybe even more so than in the already solid Chains of Olympus. And the story is fantastic. For roughly the first hour, it felt somewhat disconnected, but after that things game together and I was hooked. It’s a great stand-alone for anyone picking up this title on a whim, but the references and allusions to what fans know comes later in the series make it that much deeper for series fans. The story also ties together with the gameplay for some great boss fights, including a fantastic finale.
Ghost of Sparta may still feel like another stunted version of God of War on the PlayStation Portable, but the gameplay is solid and its story truly earns a spot in the God of War canon. It is one of the best games on PSP, and holds the series’ standard as one of the most refined action titles available. Maybe God of War never really belonged on a PSP, but if it’s going to be done, Ready at Dawn has set the example for how it should be done.
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Pads & Panels received a copy of the game courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.