God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Developers: Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release dates: November 2nd 2010 (PsP), September 13th 2011 (Ps3)
Available on: PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3
The God of War series remains one of Sony’s most profitable and highly praised series to date. At this point in time they had two successful PlayStation 2 games, and one on both the PlayStation Portable and Playstation 3. Hot off the heals of God of War III, Ghost of Sparta manages to still successfully capture what makes the God of War games so fun, despite some technical hiccups and awkward controls.
Ghost of Sparta takes place between God of War 1 and 2, after Kratos kills Ares and becomes the God of War, but before he begins his hell-bent quest to kill Zeus. The game opens with Kratos getting visions of his mother in pain and rushes to Atlantis to see her. While there he discovers that his brother Deimos is actually still alive and being held prisoner by the god of death Thanatos. This kicks off Kratos’ search for his brother, of course putting him into another angry rampage at the gods. This may sound familiar to fans of God of War as this is pretty much the original premise for God of War 2 before it got changed. This is a pretty important thread in the series though and it helps add to some important points, like giving more reason for Kratos to hate the gods. Furthermore, the game successfully helps humanize Kratos and shows more to him than just the blind rage he’s known for. While the story itself isn’t really so unique in the end, the way it’s told is done really well and it should keep you hooked until the end.
In God of War it’s really the gameplay that reigns king though. The basics are similar to any other God of War game. Kratos has both light and heavy attacks, along with a variety of magics and grabs to fight with. While the core combat hasn’t changed too much, a couple little features have been added in which help with the variety. One of his new abilities allows him to rush and tackle enemies, where he can then pummel them on the ground for extra red orbs (which let you upgrade your weapons and magics) or throw them at other enemies for an impromptu ranged attack. One of the biggest editions to the combat is the fire attacks. The item bar from God of War 3 has been replaced with the fire bar in this game. By holding down either R1 or R2 all of your attacks will be modified with a fire effect. As long as this is on you can do extra damage to enemy armor and cause a damage over time effect. Further more if you hit someone with the end of a combo while the fire effects are active, you can plant a bomb on them that will stun them and damage nearby enemies. Another feature is that any enemy killed with the fire abilities drops magic orbs, while any enemy killed with magic drops health orbs. This means that if you’re lacking in either you can carefully plan your attacks to get back some much needed health or magic.
Another addition to the combat is a new weapon for Kratos, a spear and shield combo called the Arms of Sparta. They have a couple cool features, like a ranged attack that doesn’t cost magic and the ability to block while moving. By the end of the game though their inability to use the fire attacks and limited move set kind of hamper it’s use, and once the game takes them away you won’t find yourself missing them. Likewise, the magic skills in this game are kind of disappointing. While none of them are useless, in fact I’d even say that the health draining Scourge of Erinys is almost too useful and feels like a cheat for free health, none of them really stand out in any way. Furthermore the magic being tied to the D-pad feels awkward to use and I ended up mostly forgoing it in favor of the easier to access melee combat. While the addition to the Ps3 version of dodging with the right stick is welcome, it’s odd that they still have the ability to dodge by holding down both shoulder buttons and using the left stick and at times I would end up dodging when I was attempting to use a fire attack. I also couldn’t help but notice how much easier Ghost of Sparta felt when compared to the other God of War games and I never found myself dieing due to combat, but rather from platforming or glitches.
I don’t want to spend too long on the glitches since I’m sure most of these are anecdotal, but I feel like it should be mentioned. There are times where I would grab enemies for a finisher and the button prompt would fail to load, meaning I would have a 1/4 chance to randomly hit the right face button or get counter attacked. There were also times when Kratos would jump from a rope or ledge and fail to grab onto the one he was going for, resulting in him plummeting to his death. I also experienced one point where the game just outright crashed and I had to reset my Ps3, losing some progress in the process. I’ve seen worse in games but it was a little disappointing to see in a series that’s usually so well polished.
As usual, there’s more to the game than just combat. Ghost of Sparta is a little light on the puzzles when compared to the other games, but it makes use of new platforming mechanics like sliding down slopes and using Kratos’ Chains of Athena to grapple to things underwater. There are some other cool segments too. For example, one boss transforms into a giant raven and flies you into the air, starting a free fall segment to catch up with it. I really don’t want to spoil the late game stuff, but the last boss is probably one of the most creative in the series as well and introduces some very well done last minute story elements and game play mechanics. The game reuses a few of the enemies seen in the other PsP outing Chains of Olympus, but there are a few new enemies. Giant mechanical golems wield gears that double as keys for doors you encounter in the game. Another new enemy dives underneath the ground and you have to time your parries with their lunges to successfully counter attack them. One odd new enemy carries these huge lighting orbs on their back and shoots bolts of lighting at you. The game also has the usual enemies with a new twist or two. Cyclopes can come armored, forcing you to use fire attacks to break it before you can hurt them. The skeleton warriors from God of War 2 return, only now if you try to grab them they’ll break apart and lay motionless for a little bit so you have to work around this. Each fight requires a variety of tactics which is great fun.
Graphically, Ghost of Sparta looks amazing… for a PsP game. If you’re playing this on the Ps3 it won’t look much better than the HD updates the Ps2 games got, but it still looks nice and is more than serviceable for what it’s aiming for. The game still wows with sweeping landscape shots and the character models look great. The animations are all well done, and half the fun in the finishing attacks is seeing how much more crazy then can get from the last ones. The soundtrack is just as well done, making good use of the orchestra and choir commonly seen in God of War games. The voice acting is also pretty well done. Terrence C. Carson continues to do a great job with Kratos, and Linda Hunt still works great as the narrator. The multi-whisper effects done for Erinys’ voice is also really cool and makes her seem pretty creepy. The only voice actor who really seems to feel inconsistent is Gideon Emery, who plays a small roll as a character simply know as “The Last Spartan.” He just sounds like he’s really unsure of all of his lines, but he’s not around long enough to really mess it up too bad.
Overall, Ghost of Sparta is a really fun game. From its really well done combat, fun platforming, amazing presentation, and interesting story, it’s another great romp through Greece. If you have a Ps3 and can grab this with the other God of War games (It’s available with Chains of Olympus in one bundle, and 1, 2, 3, and Chains in another) then I highly recommend it. Even as a stand alone PsP game it’s still a lot of fun though, and I’d suggest picking this up if you’re either looking to pick up the PsP again, or further learn about Kratos’ history.