Game Review: God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Ready At Dawn Studios
Available Platforms: PSP
ESRB Rating: M
Wow. I start this review with a word I will end up saying many more times. It is a word you will say many times when playing this game (and you will want to play this game). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ready At Dawn Studios has brought you another game featuring everyone’s favorite Scott-look-alike, Kratos, and this time, you’ll be getting to know this still-angry anti-hero a bit more. The story is placed between God of War and God of War 2, and will have you travelling to Atlantis, Sparta and other, more mystic locales. The story will be appreciated by fans of the series, as it will give more depth to Kratos than you’re likely used to (and will explain some more of those anger issues he is always dealing with). I won’t give away anything here, but you’re in for a good ride as far as the story is concerned.
The gameplay itself has not changed much from the tried-and-true formula, but just in case there are still folks out there that haven’t cracked into God of War, here’s the breakdown. You will wield chain blades that can be swung around at foes in a variety of devastating and satisfying attacks on your enemies. You will be able to power these blades up with fire attacks (which can penetrate armor and break walls), as well as swap them entirely for a spear and shield (which provides a nice variety, but you’ll find more satisfaction coming from the combos you get out of the blades). There are some light puzzle mechanics, generally involving moving items from one place to another, or pushing and pulling levers to manipulate the environment. Nothing is too difficult, though some puzzles are quite vague and will have you running between rooms for a bit until you figure out what to do. Battles are handled well, and the game does a great job of introducing new enemies whom at first seem impossible to beat, only to have you later taking on two at a time, giving you a sense of progression and power. Boss battles are epic, with detailed creatures filling your screen. Quick-time action events, which God of War re-popularized, is back, and is done well, with button directions appearing in the correct spots on the screen to make the brain realize that triangle is the top button, thanks to the placement at the top of the screen. Quick-time events can happen at almost any time, so don’t turn away from the screen when running down a hallway, as you’ll likely miss having to dodge some flying debris or collapsing hallway.
Otherwise, you follow a fairly linear path (with some minor backtracking as items are acquired). Camera controls are non-existent; the camera will always be in a fixed position appropriate for the area you’re in, zipping around when you squeeze into tight spots, or zooming back when a large-scale attack is taking place. This can make for some tricky controller transitions at times when the camera switches radically, but there wasn’t an instance of this being a particular game breaker. Your weapons and spells can be powered up by the orbs you collect from chests and fallen enemies, allowing you to become more powerful (or, once you beat the game, can be spent unlocking collector items like art and what not). Bottom line, you run around hacking the crap out of anything that moves (and some things that don’t move), and get to enjoy the visceral death animations of some of your more challenging enemies.
To say the game looks great would be like saying the Great Wall of China is massive. This game looks… wow. Easily the best looking game on the PSP, and I’d put it up against any PS2 game, and quite a few current gen games as well. Rain, fire, lighting.. all these effects are present, often at the same time, and they all look amazing. Kratos is wonderfully detailed and animated, and the cut-scenes are wonderfully rendered. You will want to show people around you the game just to show them (I showed my non-gamer wife, and even she let out a “wow”. I couldn’t get her to look twice at a sunset in Red Dead Redemption). I don’t know how Ready At Dawn managed to crank up the output, but you’ll be rockin’ to 11 the entire game, with nary a load screen or frame rate drop. Music is epic, the sounds are spot on, and the game plays great, introducing you to new moves and concepts gradually, and then building on them after you’ve used them a few times. Being able to powerup your abilities is nice (and having the option of which to powerup is a bonus). The level design is imaginative, and the boss battles are all just.. wow. You know what to expect if you’ve played God of War, but it’s still amazing to see it all in action. Stomping a blade into the eye of a cyclops can never, ever get old.
There isn’t much to complain about with the game, but how magic is implemented is one of them. While the fire blades are nicely attached to the Right button, your other magics are assigned to a directional pad button. This may not seem like such a bad idea until you try to break from the heat of battle to move your hand up to the Dpad to select a spell. Doing this means you stop moving. Granted, most of the magic is fire and forget, but you still need to be able to move away from enemies if things are tight. I generally found myself just using the flaming blades attack, ignoring the magic completely, which is a shame, because when I had the time to pull off a lightning attack, it was effective. A few of the puzzles can get a little frustrating when you don’t get any visual cues, and sometimes the controls can be downright silly (such as tight-rope walking on beams and trying to make a turn, which becomes a demonstration of how many times you can fall off a beam). Finally, while there is some replayability in the modes that open up after you complete the game (an arena to smash enemies, and an area to spend orbs on concept art and the like), there is little else to do once you beat the game.
vttym’s take: If I could get away with just putting one word here and closing the review I would. Wow. I have owned my PSP since day one, and before Phantasy Star Portable 2 last month, I hadn’t touched the system in years. This game makes the wait worth it. I never could have imagined the PSP capable of not only the graphical experience, but the lag and load free experience around such an incredible franchise as God of War. The game is epic in every sense of the word, and with the ability to put the system to sleep mid-swing, you can always have destruction on hand when you need it. This game is a must-have for any PSP owner, and is a game that at a different point in the PSP’s life-cycle would have been a system seller.