The God of War franchise carries a strong emphasis in just about every single category in gaming. It’s brute yet somewhat elegant combat system, it’s memorable and archaic soundtrack, a story that trumps Hollywood films and books alike, and visuals that have caused our eyes to orgasm beyond belief, has decorated our gaming lifestyle with purely rich entertainment for the past five years. It’s a franchise that has continued to, literally, evolve and break barriers with just about every single iteration that has graced Sony’s gaming platforms. With God of War III making its long-awaited debut this past March, it was dubbed the final chapter in the trilogy, leading many folks to believe that it would be the last time our ash-covered hero Kratos would embrace our consoles with his ruthlessness.
Here we are, however, with Ready at Dawn’s God of War: Ghost of Sparta – a game that graphically takes just about every single handheld game in existence and sodomizes it with the fuzzy hoof of a minotaur – which falls in the category of one of the finest, if not best, third-person action games that I’ve submerged myself in this year. Bold statement? Yes. Fact? Read on.
Ghost of Sparta is set apart from the console games in that Kratos isn’t trying to go out his way this time around to savagely kill anyone in particular. Instead, he’s attempting to rescue his brother (who was torn from his family at a very young age) – a man whose overall essence has been hinted at many times throughout the series. The game promotes a more intimate tale which refines Kratos’s overall humanity, gradually peeling away at his more recognized barbaric facade that we’ve all come to identify him with throughout the years. Although we see a more somewhat-sentimental Kratos in this chapter, that doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have the definitive trademarks that makes the series one of the most glorified games we’ve come to appreciate. Like the previous games, you will be abusing enemies, leveling-up weapons, solving puzzles, backtracking, and partaking in everyone’s favorite minigame of all time: the “sex” game (which has to be the more X-rated one of the franchise) where you press a combination of buttons displayed on-screen to destroy wombs.
The control scheme of Ghost of Sparta is fairly the same as Chains of Olympus. Button assignments are somewhat similar to that of what you’re familiar with on the console releases, just coagulated to fit the PSP with the exception of two shoulder buttons, which are nonexistent on the PSP, obviously. A noticeable difference is that you are now able to change to your alternate weapon by pressing “down” on the D-pad. The other three directional buttons are reserved for your three magic powers. Why the change? The new Thera’s Bane ability requires the use of the Right shoulder button. Unfortunately, this leaves magic in a spot that annoyingly requires you to stop moving momentarily, or uncomfortably use your other finger(s) (whichever you’re not using) to reach over and activate your magic. Because of this dolorous assigning, I was forced to barely use magic.
So what’s this Thera’s Bane? Well, it could be somewhat considered a fourth magic, per se. Albeit you’ll probably use it more than any other spell(s) in your inventory. It’s more like a more feeble version of Rage of the Titans/Gods that can be used much more intermittently. It imbues your Blades of Athena with a fiery enchant which allows you to do increased damage all while planting fire bombs on your enemies as you attack them; this power, of course, is also better used when going up against armored enemies. Like latter powers (Rage of the Titans/Gods), you’ll find yourself relentlessly attacking when you activate Thera’s Bane. Once the juice is up and gets in recharge mode, you’ll probably find yourself defensively fighting your enemies until you’re, once again, able to make use of Thera’s Bane.
If you’ve played other God of War titles, you’ll know that the one thing you have plenty off, aside from testosterone, is a fairly hefty slate of weapons. However, there’s only one alternative in Ghost of Sparta: the Arms of Sparta, which is a spear and shield. Thera’s Bane is only usable with the Blades; but you’re able to throw spears at distant enemies when using Arms of Sparta, granting your ranged attack that doesn’t require or consume magic at all. Of course, although you’d truly expect to use a spear for chucking purposes, Arms of Sparta can also be used as a melee weapon, with the shield even coming in handy when solving puzzles. Unlike some previous God of War titles, the one thing that makes Arms of Sparta amazing is the fact that it truly feels like a unique alternative weapon. In past games, a lot of what you had in your arsenal felt too familiar, or even similar, to the Blades. Arms of Sparta, however, played noticeably different from the Blades, which is something you really want experience from a surrogate weapon. I, though, still found myself using the Blades more than often, even after I fully leveled up Arms of Sparta. Although you’ll momentarily get the whole 300 feel as a Spartan badass, nothing comes close the amount of moves that you can execute with the Blades, sadly.
Aside from a new weapon and a new means to enrage your weapon with the power of barbecuing, a new mechanic which gives you the ability to slide down inclines and then leap off has been introduced. The move lets Kratos digress from the game’s slow-paced movement; although it’s a nifty feature early on in the game, you’ll find yourself forgetting about it as you progress through your adventures.
After playing God of War 3, just about everything seems naturally minuscule in scale. This, of course, is also true with Ghost of Sparta when compared to the PlayStation 3 game. However, that doesn’t at all mean that the game feels like less of a game. One thing that we need to quickly acknowledge is that, obviously, the PSP has technological limitations when compared to the PlayStation 3. To me, the game itself – even with its graphical limitations when compared to next-generation console titles – has managed to be a better experience than a lot of what’s currently out there. While many might consider this a ridiculous statement, one needs to fully understand that a game’s ability to exert greatness has little to do with the graphical pretense that games currently spew; it has more to do with the amount of satisfaction you are able to obtain by piercing through that outer layer of semblance, and enjoying the substance that it provides outside the exterior.
I do, like any other game, have my minor issues with Ghost of Sparta. For one, you will occasionally notice repetitive environments; Puzzles aren’t as challenging this time around (then again, they really never were). Despite the aforementioned “gripes,” the game itself has some amazing moments, anomalous boss battles (which is something the series is known for), and ends with a twist never before seen in the franchise. I won’t sit here and spoil it for you, but know that it is definitely a fitting end to the game.
Like every other God of War game, this one deserves the praises that it has received. Sure you might have some slight quarrels with the game, but it is, overall, an extremely well-paced game that deserves a play-through by anyone who owns a PSP. Ghost of Sparta will introduce you to “WTF!” moments that will idly sit in your subconscious for a while as you ogle at enemies and bosses for the first time. Previous games were somewhat known for their exceptional difficulty; this stays true with this installment as well, if you’re looking to slam your PSP in anger, or just for a rewarding progressive title.
Innovation isn’t really a strong perk with Ghost of Sparta, which you will find many players complaining about. Many might counter that because it is a true sequel to the first God of War (as it takes place between God of War and God of War 2), there is no need to change the formula. The one thing that people aren’t grasping is that if something works in a game and continues to provide a convivial experience, why change it? Innovation is great, of course. It’s how innovation is used that may veer off and crash into the bad which, in turn, is no longer considered innovation.
If you’re a fan of the series, you’re going to love Ghost of Sparta. If you’re not a fan of the series, you’re going to love Ghost of Sparta. It offers one of the greatest action experiences on handhelds… ever. Although it might not fair as the best or most original game in the series, it’s definitely a game that you’ll enjoy.