Once more unto the breach, dear Spartans, once more. Kratos may have killed the entire pantheon of gods in his last outing, but that's not going to stop him from cleaning up any he may have forgotten. God of War: Ghost of Sparta for PSP arrives only half a year after God of War III on PS3, so hopefully you haven't already overdosed on killgasming to enjoy this collaboration between Ready at Dawn and Santa Monica Studio. Ready at Dawn's last attempt, God of War: Chains of Olympus, was a success, so how does their latest offering fare?
Ghost of Sparta takes place between God of War I and II, after Kratos has overthrown Ares and reluctantly become the new God of War. His godly status is a little dubious in this game, as he doesn't seem to have many omnipotent powers beyond his usual arsenal, although his minions in Sparta tend to bow in his presence, but never mind that - there's revenging to be had! Not being one to sit around and enjoy being a god, Kratos is beset by visions of his past, and journeys to Atlantis to learn more about them. Needless to say, some bad things go down, and Kratos learns that his long-lost brother Deimos is still alive and being held captive in Death's Domain, which requires much subsequent questing and avenging to take place across the Mediterranean to his homeland of Sparta.
There are some interesting tidbits throughout about Kratos' past, told through flashbacks (some of which are interactive), as well as a prophecy concerning his fate, but ultimately this tale of two brothers is a little inconsequential, and Deimos remains underutilised. It's all an excuse for Kratos to get angry and go on a bloodthirsty murderfest, of course, but this tale of revenge is well-worn by now and Thanatos is a mediocre villain.
If you're a fan of any of the God of War games, you'll instantly be familiar with the gameplay mechanics in place in Ghost of Sparta. The Blades of Athena, tethered to Kratos' forearms, allow him to attack enemies at close range or from a distance, with a variety of combos that combine both light attacks and heavy attacks. Kratos can also perform brutal grabbing attacks, which sometimes result in his enemies being torn in two. Quick-time events, a staple of the God of War series, are also necessary at various times to finish off enemies, or deal damage in boss fights. They aren't as tough as they have been in the past, nor as prevalent, which can only be a good thing considering how overused they have become in recent times.
If you're looking for new weapons and magic, you may be disappointed with what's on offer in Ghost of Sparta. New magic comes in the form of lightning you can shoot at enemies, a horn which freezes anything around you, and the ability to create floating black holes which literally suck in enemies and deal damage. The sole new weapon is a Spartan spear and shield, used for breaking destructible objects, targeting enemies at a long distance, and shielding yourself from fire or other hazards you come across. It's a nice addition, but you'll find yourself sticking with the Blades of Athena 90% of the time due to their familiarity, and the other major addition to the gameplay - fire.
Kratos gains the ability to imbue his blades with fire, an ability which gets its own little bar along with your health and magic and regenerates over time. With regards to the gameplay, this means that Kratos can set his blades alight to deal more damage to enemies for short bursts, but using fire is his only method of destroying armour on protected foes. This adds a bit of strategy to combat, as you'll have to make sure to use your fiery blades to take out armoured minions before dealing with the rest. This ability also replaces the 'Rage' power seen in other games, meaning that you can't become invulnerable for short periods of time, so you'll have to stay on your toes much more often.
Overall, the gameplay feels tighter and more combat focused than other entries. There is some light platforming, and the puzzles are hardly brain-teasers. It all plays very well on the handheld console and controls are responsive and intuitive. It'll last you around 8-10 hours, as the game takes you from Atlantis to Sparta, and to all the locations in between. The problem is that none of this is groundbreaking if you've played the other console entries. There's nothing here that exceeds what you've seen in the epic God of War III for instance, and perhaps to expect so is unfair. Once you realise that you are playing on the PSP, things do start to become more impressive.
Ghost of Sparta's visuals are probably the best we've seen on PSP. Environments are expansive and atmospheric, Kratos and other characters are well detailed, and effects are vibrant and fluid. The framerate holds up throughout the entire game pretty solidly, and for all intents and purposes, the game looks as good if not better than God of War II on PS2. While there aren't many events that can compete with the Second Titanomachy in God of War III, the fall of Atlantis does look quite spectacular, although you'll have to appreciate it in between slaying monsters and pulling the wings off of harpies.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is undoubtedly a fantastic portable iteration of the series, with strong visuals, great gameplay and an interesting, if somewhat needless, narrative that has all the pathos of Greek drama that we've come to expect. It doesn't do anything incredibly new, and those familiar with the games will either enjoy it immensely or wonder whether murdering gods, demigods and historical figures with blades on chains has maybe had its run, and it's time to try something new. Then again, when it results in a package as visually dynamic and fun as this, we can certainly survive a few more quests for revenge with Kratos.