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Review: God of War: Ghost of Sparta

1:33 PM on 10.25.2010 // Nick Chester

Tricky folks, developer Ready at Dawn and Sony Computer Entertainment. After completing God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PlayStation Portable in 2008, the former very publicly claimed it was done with development on Sony’s handheld. The latter released God of War III earlier in the year, calling it the final chapter in the God of War trilogy, leading many to believe it would be the last we’d see of series protagonist, Kratos. 

Tricky folks, developer Ready at Dawn and Sony Computer Entertainment. After completing God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PlayStation Portable in 2008, the former very publicly claimed it was done with development on Sony’s handheld. The latter released God of War III earlier in the year, calling it the final chapter in the God of War trilogy, leading many to believe it would be the last we’d see of series protagonist, Kratos. 

Yet here we are with God of War: Ghost of Sparta, and whether this deceit was intentional or simply a matter of confused messaging, it’s irrelevant. Ghost of Sparta is arguably one of the best third-person action titles of the year, and one of Kratos’ finest adventures yet. {{page_break}}
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PlayStation Portable)
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Releases date: November 5, 2010

Price: $39.99
While Ghost of Sparta takes place between the events of the original God of War and its sequel, it’s probably best for fans to look at it as somewhat of an origins story. While God of War III did a decent job of wrapping up the trilogy, many questions were left unanswered, with scores of events the series had alluded to largely unaddressed. Ghost of Sparta largely remedies that, focusing on the Spartan roots of Kratos, diving into his childhood relationship with his brother (torn from his family at a young age), as well as his mother. 
Longtime fans of the series are in for a treat, with many gaps filled and plenty of “ah hah!” moments and reveals spread throughout. Ghost of Sparta also feels like the most intimate tale in the series, humanizing Kratos in ways previously only hinted at in earlier games.
Story aside, most players will pop this UMD into their PSP for brutal, third-person combat and stunning, over-the-top action. Predictably, Ready at Dawn delivers on all fronts. Gameplay wise, Ghost of Sparta sticks to a familiar formula, and veterans of the series will have no problems picking up the PSP and getting Kratos right into the thick of action. Many of Kratos’ melee attacks and combos are on hand, with a few satisfying additions thrown in for good measure. The “Hyperion Charge,” a running tackle that has Kratos leveling and mounting smaller enemies for vicious MMA-style pummeling, is of particular note. 
New weapons, items, and magic make the cut, a few changing up gameplay in minor but gratifying ways. The Arms of Sparta is a shield and spear combination that Kratos can use in melee combat to keep enemies at a distance, as a ranged weapon, or even to guard against incoming hazards. Thera’s Bane adds flames to Kratos’ Blades of Athena, which you’ll be able to ignite by holding the right trigger, a new red meter (which recharges when not in used) added to the game’s HUD to limit use.
Interestingly, while the focus of the games has always been combat, Ghost of Sparta has players spending quite a bit of time traversing the game’s massive environments. More than any other God of War title, it seems I spent a lot of time climbing walls, jumping from ropes, or swinging on hook points using the Blades of Athena. Certainly, the combat to platforming ratio is skewed in favor of violent, gut-wrenching action, and with the addition of the prerequisite massive boss battles, it’s as entertaining as ever. Still, there was a surprising amount of down time between the hostilities during this particular journey.  
It should also be mentioned that while the God of War series was never one for taxing the cerebrum, puzzle elements have mostly been removed entirely from the game. Pushing a block into place for use in accessing a platform or breaking an object to move forward is about as “puzzle-y” as Ghost of Sparta gets. Those looking for anything more will be disappointed, but the action is simply so gratifyingly ferocious that most will find they won’t be missing the environmental riddles. 
After experiencing the optical orgasm of God of War III earlier in the year, you’d think seeing Kratos rendered as anything less would be underwhelming, but that’s not an issue here. Like Ready at Dawn’s previous PSP God of War title, Ghost of Sparta pushes the PSP to new limits technically. It’s by far the best looking game on the platform, nearly rivaling the PlayStation 2’s God of War II, considered one of the most visually impressive titles on its platform. It helps that Ready at Dawn’s artists have painted spectacular environments and crafted solid character designs. Kratos has also been given a subtle makeover, with a more angular, dogged look than in earlier games. The end result is that when looking at the game in action, it’s easy to forget you’re playing it on a handheld. 
Ghost of Sparta also packs more game onto the UMD than Chains of Olympus, with the average gamer probably squeezing about 10 hours of gamplay time on the game’s average difficulty. This doesn’t include the additional modes, like the ball-busting “Challenge of the Gods” and a customizable “Combat Arena” for those just looking to let off some steam. There is also plenty of bonus content to be unearthed in the Temple of Zeus, which houses a number of unlockables in the way of “orbs.” These orbs are pricey, too, costing thousands of red orbs that fortunately carry over from defeating enemies in other game modes. I hadn’t scratched the surface of these goodies before putting down the game, and can imagine more than a few extra hours going towards obtaining everything the game has to offer. 
In many ways Ghost of Sparta feels like a love letter to fans, a surprising treat for folks who’ve followed the series since its outset. It also feels like one of the tightest games in the series, with a satisfying, revealing narrative that a few of the games in the series has lacked. By releasing two God of War games in one year, Sony ran the risk of fatiguing even the most faithful supporters. But if the games continue to feel and look this good, two God of War games a year doesn’t sound like such a bad proposition. 
Score: 9

Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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