God of War: Ghost of Sparta Review for PlayStation Portable (PSP)

God of War: Ghost of Sparta Review for PlayStation Portable (PSP)

Kratos…please calm down.

Kratos has been on an amazing journey over the last five years. It’s amazing to think that it was just 2005 when he first made his debut on the gaming scene. Since then, every one of the God of War games has broken new ground in graphical quality and whipped millions of gamers into a hype frenzy. And for very good reason. Every last one of the games has been amazing.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta screenshot

The formula hasn’t changed much since David Jaffe directed the very first game: our favorite anti-hero Kratos develops some sort of vendetta against the gods of Mount Olympus and then sets out to slay them (to varying levels of success.) In that sense, Ghost of Sparta is a little bit different. Rather than being completely about revenge and killing, Ghost of Sparta reveals Kratos as something of a family man. The game explores his relationship with his mother and his brother Deimos.

Some of these scenes are a bit odd. Kratos has always been a little emotional, but some new scenes are over the top (“What have I done…”). Still, the added depth to the character is welcome even if it all simply amounts to more reasons for Kratos to grimace with the strength of a thousand suns.

The story is really the newest aspect of Ghost of Sparta. The gameplay has remained largely unchanged apart from a few additions to the combat system. For instance, Kratos can now perform something of a football tackle, which leads to a few brief moments of private ground-and-pound for the enemy. I used this constantly, not because it’s overpowering, but because it’s visceral and fun to plow over enemies.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta screenshot

The other minor change that Ready at Dawn has been touting is the ability to render additional enemies on screen at once. Whereas the console versions feature Kratos slaughtering nearly a dozen enemies at once, the PSP had previously only been able to render a few enemies. Ghost of Sparta ups that number to about six. It’s not a huge addition, but it does make battles a little more fun and intense.

Many things have remained almost untouched, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Millions of fans love the God of War formula, and those fans will feel right at home here. I get the feeling that Sony knows that they’re mostly serving God of War games to returning customers. There isn’t much of a tutorial to this game. For a big section of players that’s going to be a big relief. There’s nothing worse to a hardcore gamer than having to sit through a tutorial that tells them they need to press the joystick to move around. Most things are imparted in a brief thirty-second fight scene right at the beginning.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta screenshot

Another thing that is unchanged here is the massive scale of some of the battles, particularly the tradition (since GoW2) to begin the game with an immense battle against a truly larger than life enemy. In God of War 2, that fight was against the Colossus of Rhodes. In Ghost of Sparta, Kratos is assaulting the city of Atlantis as the game begins. Poseidon, in his rage, unleashes the enormous sea monster, Scylla. The horrifying creature chases Kratos as he approaches Atlantis, and several mini-boss battles must be fought in order to fend off the monster.

These scenes are nothing if not riveting, but as with so much else in this series, we’ve simply seen it all before. This is the fifth God of War game, and they’ve all been fairly similar. If you’re not a fan of this series for the combat, then you’re probably growing a bit tired of the formula by now. That’s speculation, though. Factually, I can tell you that nearly everything in this game is of the highest quality we’ve ever seen on a handheld.

What little extra power the PSP hadn’t yet revealed is finally juiced by this game. I sincerely doubt that any PSP game after this one will arrive and look markedly better. Kratos himself looks splendid, detailed, and well-animated. Both in cutscenes and in gameplay the environments and characters look fantastic.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta screenshot

The audio is another area where this game excels. The PSP isn’t always the best game for achieving clear audio, but Ghost of Sparta still manages to deliver good sound. Terrence “T.C.” Carson reprises the role of Kratos, and he’s solid as usual. The score is similarly powerful, but (at risk of sounding like a broken record) it won’t blow you away. It enhances the experience, but it’s almost invisible due to how standard it is for this series.

The leveling-up mechanic also works much the same as it always has. The red orbs that the series has employed since the first game are still collected and funneled into specific weapons and powers. It’s limited customization, but at least it allows you some choice in how you want to play the game. If I hate one of the weapons, for instance, I can choose not to devote experience points to that weapon and level up others.

Overall, Ghost of Sparta is an extremely polished experience that nails the core tenants of the God of War formula. But at this point I have to wonder if that formula might finally be getting stale. Sony has released a new God of War game every single year since 2005, and the experience hasn’t really evolved at all since the very first game. So far the series is still doing fine and will probably sell a couple million copies. However, I have a hunch that the next God of War game that fails to evolve the design of the game will probably be met with sighs from gamers. How long can Sony rest on its laurels and pump out new levels for David Jaffe’s original God of War design?

If they’re not careful, they’ll end up like Devil May Cry, which slowly turned off fans, before eventually needing a marquis developer to completely reboot the series. As much as I would love to see a God of War reboot, Sony needs to be more careful than that. Why not try stretching God of War into new genres? Introduce an open world, stretch into Roman mythology, or add motorcycle riding mini-games. OK, I’m kidding about that last one (although Kratos on a motorcycle would be totally badass). But I think this is the last time Sony can get away with ignoring innovation.

God of War has really pushed the limits of the PSP, but the system is starting to show its age. Beautiful, but we’ve seen it before. 4.0 Control
The God of War combat system has been honed since the first game, and they’re getting better. But some things are too difficult on the PSP. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Kratos’ voice actor is solid as usual and the soundtrack is standard GoW fare. Again, great but entirely unsurprising. 4.5 Play Value
The God of War formula hasn’t yet gone stale. It’s still riveting to participate in new and old Greek myths. Plus there are several modes to unlock after beating the game. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Enhanced melee combat system that allows a variety of finishing moves, air-to-air attacks, and devastating grappling combos.
  • Bigger and more diverse gameplay than Chains of Olympus. Larger bosses, double the enemies on-screen, and more complex puzzles.
  • Stunning visuals that have never been seen before on the PSP system.

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