The PSP might well be in its twilight years, but when it can pull off games like God of War: Ghost of Sparta it’s hard to doubt Sony’s little portable’s ambition. Ghost of Sparta shows that a handheld focus needn’t mean a cut-down experience, with the scope and quality of the game going toe-to-toe with the PS3 title God of War III in almost every sense, barring, perhaps, the epic scale of the console favourite. Not that you’ll miss running up the back of Gaia, of course, because the closer, more personable adventure here offers much more emphasis on Kratos’ character, and is much more suited to the PSP’s screen.
Following directly on from the much loved PS2 original God of War and ending before the sequel starts, Ghost of Sparta finds Kratos investigating his past and he soon learns that his brother, Deimos, is alive when he stumbles across his mother in the Temple of Poseidon. Deimos needs rescuing, though, and thus marks a change in direction for the normally revenge-laden series as Kratos sets out to find his brother who’s being held by Thanatos, the God of Death himself. Along the way he’ll meet King Midas, Poseidon and Thera, a lava Titan who gives Kratos Thera’s Bane, the ability to combine fire with his Blades of Athena.
Thera’s Bane adds a clever mechanic, requiring charging before use but able to break through otherwise inpenetrable defenses, and makes the starter weapons something that you’ll want to keep and upgrade throughout the course of the game. Not that the Blades are weak without it, but you’ll come to rely on their boosted power more than you might think. The other main weapon, Arms of Sparta, offers a distinctly different method of combat, the long range spears throwable but also offering a protective shield that can be used whilst moving. A perfect combination that’ll grow and develop with the player, and switchable by tapping down on the D-pad.
The usual God of War standards apply here: you’ll upgrade in the same manner (by collecting and spending red orbs) and your health and (ultimately) magic are recharged via chests that pepper the world, and can be bolstered by sniffing out and picking up the elusive Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers respectively. Magic is mapped to the rest of the D-pad, which can be slightly tricky to get to grips with at first (especially in the heat of battle) but, given the PSP’s limited button range and the face that Thera’s Bane now has control of the right trigger, it’s a fair compromise.
There’s another slight issue with this, though, and that’s dodging. With blocking mapped to the left trigger, to quickly get out of the way you’ll need to tap both triggers as well as move the analog nub, which isn’t the most intuitive setup. Otherwise, though, the controls are wonderful, and once you’re into the groove you’ll hardly notice anyway. As expected, the adventure is punctuated with quicktime events (where you’ll need to tap a series of certain buttons quickly as prompted) and Kratos has picked up the sliding jump maneuver from God of War III, although it’s not used all that much.
Likewise, puzzling has been dialed down a few notches, Ghost of Sparta preferring to keep up the action (which lasts a good ten hours or so) and ensure the pacing is more consistent than previous games in the series. There’s a few minor challenges of the brain, but nothing taxing, it’s mostly Kratos battling hordes of enemies, massive bosses and – yes – there’s even a trademark sex minigame in there too. The bosses vary in scale and complexity, but as with previous games they’re more of a visual treat than anything else, and as with the rest of the game, Ghost of Sparta doesn’t disappoint graphically.
It’s safe to say that this game boasts the finest graphics ever seen on a handheld. The colour depth and range of locales is stunning, the animation slick and the special effects are fantastic, and there’s no loading times apart from when the game first boots, and although there’s the occasional switch to a pre-rendered cut-scene it’s telling that once back in the game the graphics are easily on par with the video sequences. Likewise, the voice acting, sound effects and music are all pitch perfect, showing that there’s been no expense spared in the game’s presentation.
Ghost of Sparta is a brilliant game. The story’s a refreshing change for the series without alienating die-hard fans, and the more focused, refined weaponry creates plenty of tactical options without being overbearing, and ensures that the upgrade path leaves them firmly at the forefront throughout the game. And then there’s the final act, a clever twist and something that seals off the game in fine style, pushing the PSP to what I would assume would be its absolute limit. Fittingly, then, as Ready at Dawn sign off from PSP development they leave behind something no other developer can beat.
- Incredible graphics
- Perfect controls, barring the slightly awkward dodge
- Bigger than the last PSP God Of War
- Enjoyable story
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the perfect swansong for Ready At Dawn, their mastery of the PSP unmatched, and it’s also a fitting climax to a portable sadly suffering in the shadows of endless rumours of a successor. Regardless, this is probably the neatest, most intimate and confident God Of War game since the very first, punching well above its handheld weight and flowing beautifully. Utterly riveting from start to (an amazing) finish, PSP exclusive Ghost Of Sparta is an absolute must-own for fans of the God of War games, and in that respect there’s really one word to describe the experience: flawless.