I think I'm attracted to Kratos. Not necessarily in a way that the Catholic Church would disapprove of - at least publicly - but I‘ve realised that the angrier he gets, the more I like him. I imagine it's the probably the fact I find it effortless to identify with his rage.
Granted, the things that vex each of us are relatively different. While I battle a seemingly unrelenting tide of unrealistic deadlines, the God of War has a more serious bone to pick with the Olympian deities. I haven't been tricked into massacring my own family, after all.
And so Video Gaming’s Angriest Character™ returns for another adventure heavy on growling and garrotting. God of War: Ghost of Sparta may technically appear to be a follow-up to the astounding Chains of Olympus - an inarguable highlight on PSP - but in the GoW narrative it actually sits between the first and second PSone releases.
It is, as we’ve come to expect from the series, an engaging, confidently told tale – which this time around concerns itself with revealing key aspects of Kratos’s past – and even if you can see the most obvious part of the ending coming from quite early on in your eight-hour journey, it doesn’t diminish the desire to keep slaying everything foolish enough to stand in your way.
The look of bloodlust
Part of the impetus to slice, spear, and dismember the most fearsome, grotesque creatures Greek mythology can conjure up will come from the game’s settings. Graphically more advanced than anything I’ve seen on Sony’s handheld, Ghost of Sparta makes superlative use of its host hardware to deliver some spectacular interpretations of fabled locales.
Combine this with exquisite character animation, remarkable attention to detail (the sound of thunder heard convincingly long after its lighting counterpart is seen striking far in the distance seems an apt example), and general production values you’d only normally associate with a leading console title and, by Zeus, the result is impressive.
But it’s also a question of pacing. Before you’ve even reached Ghost of Sparta’s first location – a then still non-aquatic Atlantis – you’ve already had to decimate a gaggle of Underworld minions before engaging in a bloody argument with the sea monster Scylla.
From then on there’s little let up, the gore and violence only interrupted up by the game’s (straightforward yet rewarding) puzzle elements, designed to provide the only form of respite.
The main drive, however, boils down to the exquisite combat system. Despite lacking the flexibility of the PS3’s DualShock3, the limited PSP control options have again been expertly utilised by developer Ready At Dawn, so that the experience doesn’t suffer as a result.
There is such a genuine and satisfying weight to Kratos’s actions that when his blades cut through damned flesh or his fists pound Spartan sense into wicked heads and rip limbs from evil torsos, you’d swear you can feel it.
None of this will shock those familiar with God of War. Indeed, there is in effect nothing in the mechanics underpinning Ghost of Sparta that you won’t have found in previous GoW titles.
Aside from a few gameplay tweaks a new weapon (the Arms of Sparta – a spear and shield) affords, a couple of additional moves with which to negotiate the gorgeously derelict environments Kratos finds himself in, and a selection of god-like ranged attacks, it’s brutal business as usual.
The bad guys show up, you pull off a series of combos to dispose of them in an outrageously gruesome manner, you collect the red orbs they release (which you use for powering up your weapons), move on with your quest, meet more baddies, beat them up, and so on until the end credits.
God of PSP
If that sounds repetitive, well, it is. Anyone who’s not enjoyed GoW in the past will not find enlightenment here, not even in Ghost of Sparta’s generous extras, which consist of Challenge of the Gods (split into Challenges of Ares and Challenges of Athena, both featuring increasingly difficult quick-fire rounds of orchestrated conflict), a Combat Arena option, The Temple of Zeus (where red orbs acquired are exchanged for bonus materials), the Videos section, or Galleries (concept and character art).
Conversely, Kratos devotees get to relish another magnificent and spectacularly visceral opportunity to unleash the Grumpy One’s wrath on all who block his path to the truth.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is beautifully and meticulously crafted, in a way that very few handheld games are lucky enough to experience, but is also intelligent enough to stick to what it knows to guarantee a hugely satisfying result.
If the PSP does nothing else of consequence between now and its inevitable replacement, it can at least go knowing it put up one hell of a final fight.
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