God of War: Ghost of Sparta User Review
Helmed once again by the good folks at Ready at Dawn studios, Kratos returns to the PSP. Before, he was on a quest to save the world from the machinations of Persephone at the behest of the Gods of Olympus; this time, he is on a quest to find his long-lost brother, Deimos. Along the way he will encounter some of the gods he has met before, allies from previous games, and the soldiers of his Spartan homeland, but he is destined to ignore them all, in order to put his brother first. This has the effect of humanising Kratos more than we have ever seen before, and although he is still the same, raging, destructive beast, it is enough to make you wonder at his reasons again. Yes, Ghost of Sparta is far more involving than any of the previous titles, and it is for this reason more than any other that I enjoyed it. Also, while the quest may seem somewhat forced, it does feel like an integral part of the God of War series. This is because it ultimately explains some of the reasoning for Kratos’ animosity towards the Gods, and also ties up a plot point put forward in one of the bonus features of the original God of War.
However, the story does have a few faults. One is a seeming lack of cohesion. It feels that you are wandering about aimlessly for much of the game, and while it is good to see Kratos return to Sparta, it feels as though it was included for the sake of it. It doesn’t feel overly important, and this carries through the entire production. I noticed a couple of small plot inconsistencies that, when put in the context of the entire series, don’t make a whole lot of sense. And the final problem was that the series has always prided itself on scale, but that has been very much toned down here in every way. There seem to be none of those moments that will leave you picking your jaw up off the floor, and this is somewhat disappointing.
A large part of this obviously has to do with the limitations of the PSP hardware, which makes it forgivable, particularly since the graphical presentation is arguably the best that we have ever seen on the device. Many of the environments are closed, which means that the secrets must be well-hidden, and in most cases, they are. One the other hand, the backgrounds are well-detailed, and the texturing is top-notch. There is also a good variety to them with areas stretching from the city of Sparta, the sunken Atlantis, seaside ports, cliffs and mountains. It gives a feeling of diversity to the seemingly endless corridors.
Similarly, there is a good amount of range of enemy designs, which helps to keep the game fresh as you progress, in the face of near constant battles. Usually, the enemy types behave differently, which results in a large assortment of enemy animations. The same cannot be said for Kratos himself, as his attacks remain largely unchanged from Chains of Olympus, and even the boss kills aren’t all that impressive in most cases. However, his character model has been reworked so that it can now become covered in blood, as it could in God of War III. This is a nice addition, but rather superfluous, as most of the time, you won’t even notice it.
Playing the game, I found no issues with the camera, which is good considering its static nature. However, in the early stages, I noticed a small amount of screen tearing, which took me by surprise as I’d never seen it before on the PSP, and in times of more hectic battles, there was some frame rate slowdown. This is barely an issue in the main game, but it raises its head more often in the Combat Arena.
Another small letdown is the sound effects. The swishing of the Blades, which has lasted largely unchanged for the tenure of the franchise does the job, but it just isn’t inspiring. The same goes for almost all of the impacts, the random grunts and groans, and even the enemy sounds. It just isn’t enough. One thing that stands out is the desolate feeling that you get to hear Kratos’ footsteps echoing through massive halls. Also, voice acting is quite strong, with the voices of Athena, Poseidon and Kratos reprising their roles from God of War III, as well as the return of the gruff Ares, and the new god that is introduced at the end of the game is simply amazing. And, the return of Linda Hunt as the narrator after what amounted to little more than a cameo in the previous game. Finally, the score is a definite high note, populated with heart-thudding drum beats in moments of action and gentle strings when they are required. In particular, the music that plays before the final cutscene must be mentioned, as the power it possesses is rare, and fits beautifully with the tone at that point in the game. It has to be heard to be believed.
As always, the gameplay on show is solid. However, I feel that it follows the example of God of War III too closely again. It is heavily biased towards combat, and while some people will enjoy this, I did not. I missed the mind bending puzzles like that of Hera’s Garden, or even the comparatively simple alphabet blocks of the original game. That’s not to say that there aren’t any puzzles present, but most of them amount to little more than moving a block or a couple of levers, and it isn’t enough for a series that has been known for puzzles. On the other hand, the platforming segments offer a decent break from the constant swarms of enemies, and none of them feel difficult as a result of bad camera angles, or just plain cheapness on the part of the developers, and I applaud them for this.
Considering I’ve just aired my thoughts on the focus on combat, I should mention that it is sublime. If you’ve played any of the earlier games, you will know that it is fast-paced fighting against overwhelming odds and some huge enemies. The attacks that you gain as you progress through the game add a good variety to your skill set, and this is aided by the magic attacks that you get, two of which are, to my memory, completely new to the franchise, and the third which is a modification on a similar ability that has appeared in every other iteration. It leaves you with a feeling of freshness, and this is wonderful. Also, when you start to get low on health or magic, it is imperative that you search out crates to replenish them, and these are scattered liberally about the maps, so you never feel outclassed for too long.
The controls are well implemented, and well suited to the limitations of the PSP hardware, but with Ready at Dawn’s familiarity with the device, this is to be expected. Combat is dictated with the Square button for a light attack, and Triangle for a heavier one. The left shoulder tab blocks, or tapping it as an attack lands allows for a parry, while the right one activates Thera’s Bane (equivalent to Rage attacks from the previous games), once it has been acquired. Circle acts as a grapple button, for enemies, or the flashing cues in the environment, or to enact the minigames when it comes time to kill the bosses. The camera is static, so the analogue nub dictates movement, although using it in conjunction with both of the shoulder tabs allows Kratos’ evasive roll. Finally, use of the magical attacks is controlled by tapping either up, left or right on the D-Pad, depending on which one you want to use, while pressing down allows you to switch between the two weapons. Oh, and X jumps. Also, once you have upgraded your weapons using red orbs, you get more attacks by holding down the block button while pressing one of the attacks. That’s about all.
I did have a few issues with the controls. One is that I noticed a small amount of lag between prompting and on-screen action. It is a common complaint of mine, but one that I simply cannot get used to. Another is that I would occasionally come across points where my pressing of a button simply did not register. A third is the slight, and seemingly new, delay between the completion of an evasive roll and the ability to launch a new attack, and finally, I found myself rolling on regular occasions as I was continually forgetting to let go of one of the shoulder buttons before moving. The last is that the distinction of area on-screen was less pronounced than it perhaps should have been. The most common example of this was when I was trying to grab a block to move it, and I would have to try three or four times before Kratos would latch on to it.
Seeing as this is a PSP title, most people won’t have the inclination to sink a whole lot of time into it, and the developers are aware of this. So it is that, on Normal, the game probably won’t last more than six hours. The higher difficulties will add a couple of hours no doubt, but it is still very short. And, to encourage this short gameplay, you will find a save point at regular intervals, usually no more than fifteen minutes apart. This will garner some hatred from supporters of long games, but with a story based game on the PSP platform, I felt that it was a perfect length. Adding replay value are the hidden collectibles, which will give Kratos different abilities, as well as different costumes, which change his stats. In addition to this, you have videos and concept art, which are unlocked by sacrificing red orbs in the Temple of Zeus. You get more orbs by completing the challenge rooms, playing through the game, or the Combat Arena, and most of them are worth taking a look at.
But most of the replay value comes from the simple fact that this is a hack ‘n’ slash title, and lends itself well to numerous play throughs. It is enjoyable, and in terms of quality, on par with many of the best of the Playstation 3. It just goes to show what can be done when a developer goes out of their way to plumb the depths of the system. If you have a PSP, this is almost a necessary inclusion in your collection.
Which brings me to my closing comments. God of War: Ghost of Sparta is an amazing game. It is fun, while requiring some strategy. It is a showcase for the PSP hardware, but its biggest drawback is that it borrows inspiration heavily from God of War III, which in retrospect, I find to be the weakest of the main games. I’m satisfied, but not truly sated. Nevertheless, I think that it is time for Sony to let Kratos rest for a while. He has done his job, and been a flagship for the brand for many years, but it is time for a new series. Kratos, until we meet again, Rest in Peace.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.