The original God of War took everyone by surprise.
No one expected such a high quality hack'n'slash game with excellent production values and numerous memorable moments for the PlayStation 2, especially with the release of the PlayStation 3 just around the corner. With fans still reeling from the original game, the second upped the ante. It didn’t offer too much in the way of improvements but had arguably one of the most epic opening set pieces, probably surpassed only by its successor, and plenty of jaw-dropping moments.
Then came the first outing on the PSP, Chains of Olympus, which apart from easing the wait for the third game, also showed off the handheld’s technical prowess. The trilogy has now concluded with God of War III, so Ghost of Sparta aims to bridge the first and second installments in a portable package.
Family is a strong underlying theme in all God of War games and Ghost of Sparta continues in a similar vein, with Kratos making it his mission to find and rescue his brother Deimos. Without spoiling anything, the apparent need for the developers to try and add to the reasons to justify Kratos’ volcano of hatred against the Gods feels forced and a little far fetched. While some people will actually appreciate this, the fact that Kratos has long been established as a rage-filled and emotionless man makes all these attempts at making him appear humane a little contrived.
Technically this game is top notch, as one has come to expect from the series. The technical prowess of the PSP is on full display here, and it's arguably the best looking game on any handheld device available. The downside is that Chains of Olympus already showed that this is possible on the PSP, and with the developers running out of mythological characters there are only a few noticeably new character models.
The locales you traverse, from Atlantis to Sparta, are refreshingly different and detailed, with the camera often zooming in and out to give you a sense of the scale in the game. The sound is also top notch, with excellent voice acting and a brilliant and always contextual orchestral score.
The major gripes are in the gameplay department. God of War veterans will find nothing new here apart from the mandatory new weapons, magic abilities, and moves. Almost all the weapons in the series so far have felt a little too similar to each other, and this game is no different.
As you would expect from God of War, the game starts off in an action-packed flurry. Where the console versions either managed to sustain the action or break it up with epic environmental puzzles and incredible boss fights, both of these are too few and far between as a result of concessions required to port it to the PSP. What you're left with is a straightforward hack'n'slash game, with a few simple puzzles and boss fights.
The boss fights, when they do come, are exceptional (even if they're on the easier side of the difficulty curve) with the final encounter amongst the best in the series. The enemies rarely attack in large groups due to the limitations of the PSP, and typically you will never face a mixture of enemies at once. Instead, you'll be hacking your way through small groups of similar enemies, removing any element of strategy and reducing the magic abilities to mere graphical showcases, with the exception of a couple of situations. This seems to indicate that the developers had newcomers to the series in mind, as supported by an abundance of save game points and the overall ease in the difficulty level.
That being said, there are more than a few enemies here who are capable of freezing you, and the fixed camera does not help the cause as you try to break free whilst being attacked. That, and the chronic invisible walls during the platforming segments (and of course the last boss) will be your primary concerns for sustaining your life in this game.
These are hardly negatives though. The longevity of the game is prolonged by the usual higher difficulty modes. There's also Challenge of the Gods, which requires you to achieve a variety of objectives, as well as a combat arena where you can pummel enemies all you want. Extra incentive to collect the orbs is given, as you can sacrifice these in the Temple of Zeus to unlock further extras like videos and monsters for the combat arena.
Keeping a series fresh is hard. It's even harder when you are already five entries in and your protagonist has been established as an angry man who bulldozes through swarms of enemies. There's not much scope for something new and the mechanics are starting to feel tiresome. God of War fans looking for a substantial challenge will be disappointed. But if you are content with more of the same hack'n'slash with a slightly easier difficulty and are willing to look past the aforementioned issues, you will have a fun six to nine hour adventure, depending on your skill level.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But don’t overdo it to the point that it starts to feel dull either.