God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Whether he’s scaling titans, traversing the underworld, or killing gods, Kratos is defined by his epic exploits. When Ready at Dawn released Chains of Olympus for PSP in 2008, the studio proved that these larger-than-life deeds can be packed onto a small screen while retaining God of War’s signature style. Even in light of that accomplishment, Chains of Olympus looks like a practice run compared to Ghost of Sparta. From the dynamic combat to the cool story, every aspect of this follow-up has been enhanced, creating an experience that is more than just “good for a PSP game.” Ghost of Sparta is a standout entry in an already amazing franchise.
After appearing in four games spanning three consoles, you’d think Kratos would have run out of ways to keep his repertoire interesting. Instead, Ghost of Sparta has some of my favorite combat innovations in the series to date, like the addition of a fire meter underneath the standard health and magic bars. This ability allows you to set Kratos’ blades ablaze, which deals more damage and plants delayed-blast explosives with certain strikes. Even better, the meter recharges rapidly, so the flames are an ever-present aspect of your strategy. God of War III had a similar idea, where a bar for items like the fire bow replenished, but the key difference here is that the flames aren’t a separate weapon; they are just an augmentation to your normal attacks, which makes it easy and fun to integrate the power into your combos.
The other core fighting mechanics are familiar, but the tweaks go a long way toward improving gameplay. A new run-and-tackle move makes Kratos feel more brutal and maneuverable than ever, and the spear/shield weapon is a great addition to the arsenal. My biggest complaint – and this is a holdover from Chains of Olympus – is that mapping the evade roll to the two shoulder buttons still feels clumsy and unreliable. Also, I found that large enemies, like a cyclops, can block your view of Kratos and smaller foes, making it difficult to see and react to the action in some encounters. However, these are small concerns when weighed against the layers Ready at Dawn has added to the formula.
For all of the blade-slinging, Ghost of Sparta’s story is what surprised me the most. Set between the first and second games, the seemingly forgotten plotline about Kratos’ brother (teased in the special features of the original God of War) takes center stage. I won’t ruin anything by going into details, but I was impressed how connected this storyline feels to the rest of the series. Events that are later referenced in God of War III, along with a handful of visual cues (like the design of Kratos’ god armor in the second game) make it feel like this adventure was built into the mythology from the beginning.
Ghost of Sparta doesn’t have any mind-blowing moments of sheer magnitude like the console entries, but it compensates with a handful of cool special sequences that fill in parts of Kratos’ history and character. Watching him train alongside his brother as a child and strut through Sparta as the newly ascended god of war show a side of Kratos that is more than shouting and stabbing. Though the spectacle is obviously diminished when compared to the PS3 entry, Ghost of Sparta still amazes with its visual quality and unique contextual sequences that break up the action. If you thought Chains of Olympus was pushing the limits of what the PSP could accomplish, you’ll be blown away by what Ready at Dawn has done here. This isn’t an optional side-story; Ghost of Sparta is a must-play for God of War fans.