The most recent game released in the "God of War" franchise, "Ghost of Sparta" unfolds somewhere between the first "God of War" and the mobile game "God of War: Betrayal" in Kratos' timeline, but it faces one of the biggest tests of all when it hits shelves this week: Can it live up to the high expectations set by its predecessor on the PSP?
"Ghost of Sparta" features much the same format, control layout, and overall tone as "Chains of Olympus" and the Playstation 3 "God of War" titles, with players taking on the role of Kratos and slicing, punching, tossing, and bludgeoning their way through a series of beautifully detailed environments and solving the occasional puzzles. The game's main storyline puts Kratos on a quest to find his long-lost brother, Deimos, who was abducted when they were boys.
Bigger On The Inside
"Ghost of Sparta" once again succeeds in making the portable world of the PSP seem bigger than the system's screen, and just as immersive as an adventure on the Playstation 3. While the overall narrative offers a slightly shorter play time than its PS3 counterparts, the PSP experience still manages to feel expansive and rich in both active and background details.
That's Not A Monster... This Is A Monster
One area in which "Ghost of Sparta" distances itself from its PSP predecessor is in Kratos' battles with the massive enemies that are a hallmark of the PS3 "God of War" titles. Right from the start, Kratos takes on a creature that literally fills the screen, and with each rematch the battle becomes bigger in every sense of the word. It's clear that the developers wanted to up the ante in these massive boss fights with "Ghost of Sparta," and the results speak (or rather, roar) for themselves.
Variety Is The Spice Of Slaughter
"Ghost of Sparta" also improves upon its predecessor by mixing up the cast of enemies a bit more this time around, and while there's still a hefty horde of slash-until-they-fall grunts, there's also a decent number of creatures requiring some special treatment from Kratos. The quicktime finishing moves for larger creatures are also plentiful in the latest "God of War" iteration, and manage to avoid becoming too repetitive through overuse.
The Staples, The Pageantry, The... Sex?
"God of War" diehards should be more than happy with the amount of franchise traditions, series throwbacks, and continuity-advancing elements packed into "Ghost of Sparta." Along with providing an illuminating look back at Kratos' younger years, the game also features some great winks and nudges to its hero's past and future, made possible by its early placement in the over-arching "God of War" narrative. Oh, and for anyone wondering about the now-necessary sex minigame, it's in there. (Side note: I encountered this minigame while on a crowded train one morning. If this happens to you, I advise you to pause the game, turn off your PSP, and wait until you get home to play it — otherwise, you could be in for a very awkward public experience. Trust me on this.)
No Bonus Beasts?
While the battles with the massive, screen-filling monsters are impressive and worth every moment of gameplay, there just aren't enough of them in "Ghost of Sparta." In fact, the game opens up with one of its biggest battles, and never seems to offer another battle of that scope until the very end of Kratos' adventure. I'm not sure if it was the limitations of the PSP or a development decision, but I would've liked to see a few more massive, screen-filling brawls sandwiched between the two big dust-ups that bookend the game.
And Now For Something To Keep You Playing...
The "God of War" games have never been known for their replay potential, and "Ghost of Sparta" is more of the same when it comes to that aspect. While there are a few fun bonus challenges that you can unlock once you finish the game, once you've opened up the videos and the few extras available via these challenges, there's not really much else to do with Kratos. He's a god without a war, basically.
After all the high praise "Chains of Olympus" received, "God of War: Ghost of Sparta" certainly had its work cut out for it — and it's clear that the developers rose to the challenge.
"Ghost of Sparta" manages to offer everything that worked for "Chains of Olympus," while also improving the look, feel, and overall play of the previous chapter in Kratos' PSP adventures. "Ghost of Sparta" isn't a revolutionary change in the "God of War" franchise, but rather an upgraded, updated adventure that serves as a great reminder of why the "God of War" franchise is so popular.
"Chains of Olympus" received some of the highest reviews possible for a PSP title when it was released, and I'd be surprised if "Ghost of Sparta" doesn't receive similar levels of praise from critics and casual gamers alike.