When I first started playing Ghost of Sparta, I wondered what it’s like to be Seal. Does the amazement of being married to Heidi Klum ever wear off? You know the first year of their marriage all he thought was “Wow I’m married to one of the hottest super models in the world, life can’t get better than this.” But what about the second year, the third? Does getting to come home to the most beautiful women in the world get old or not?
I wondered this because I was home sick last week and finally got the opportunity to finish God of War III. While it was finally nice to finish the game, playing Ghost of Sparta over the weekend felt overly familiar and a bit repetitive. That created a bit of cognitive dissonance because Ghost of Sparta has the same fantastic gameplay and presentation we’ve had in the God of War franchise for years. The game has same high quality cinematic camera, the same excellent combat system (with a few new wrinkles), the same over the top violence, and the same fantastic audio work. I’m guessing I experience a bit of God of War fatigue and it’s something that a lot of people won’t experience and it was something that did fade as I got drawn further and further into the game.
In Ghost of Sparta, you once again pick up the spinning blades of Kratos, God of War, slayer of gods, and merciless destroyer of clay pots and barrels. At the start of the game Kratos has vision that he must journey to Atlantis and thanks to his incredibly poor impulse control he immediately makes for Poseidon's city. There he has another vision (which I’m believe is the Greek version of memory regression therapy) where he learns/remembers that his brother Deimos was taken away by mysterious figures while he was a child. Pissed off because it’s the first solid mention of his brother in four games (although from a timeline perspective this happens before God of War III), Kratos begins a quest on on track him down.
Ghost of Sparta was developed by the folks at Ready at Dawn who did the excellent God of War Chains of Olympus
a few years back. The first big challenge for Ready At Dawn is stocking the game with recognizable Greek characters that Kratos hasn’t killed in the other four games. This is tough given that Kratos mowed through 90% of the recognizable Greek characters in the previous four games (the game takes place before God of War III so some of those characters are available). Playing through Ghost of Sparta we get to see members of the Greek mythology B-team as you encounter Erinys, Thanatos, and even King Midas himself.
As I harped on earlier the game is a further extension of the God of War formula we’ve seen in the past. This means cinematic camera angles, gratuitous violence, quicktime boss battles, requisite sex mini-game, and box moving puzzles. The game feels like a natural progression of the God of War series as it builds on some of the the new concepts introduced in in God of War III. The game is a bit more intimate and personal than God of War III and doesn’t feel nearly as epic in scope (don’t expect any battles on the back of Titans) but the game does deliver an excellent experience.
One of the more interesting moments in the game is when Kratos returns home to Sparta. This sequence has Kratos just wandering around his home town and listening to the voice of the streets. It’s a bit reminiscent of the section of Uncharted 2 where Drake wanders around a Himalayan village in that you can’t kill anyone or be attacked. It’s a little more of a contrast in a God of War game given how much innocent blood Kratos has bathed in over the last five years or so but it’s a nice addition. I did learn that the city of Sparta had a large brothel which is something I think the History channel either omitted from their documentary or Ready at Dawn added in to check off the sex mini-game requirement.
From a weapons perspective there are a few fun additions. The first is Bane of Thera which allows you to charge your blades with fire, something that you’ll need to do to take out certain enemies in the game and to get through certain puzzles. You only get a limited amount of this before it has to charge though so you quickly learn to use it well. The other big addition is the Arms of Sparta which provides Kratos with the traditional Spartan Spear and Shield. It doesn’t sound like much but it does change the gameplay a bit to have a shield in place. The spear also provides the only ranged weapon Kratos gets in the game other than the magic spells.
As with previous games you collect three types of orbs in the game. Green orbs to up your health, blue orbs to restore your magic, and red orbs which you can use to power-up your weapons and buy new combos. The system of collecting orbs from fallen enemies and difficult to open chests also returns as does the game designers trick of hiding chests just out of the cameras view.
It’s easy to control mini-Kratos as you use the navigation nub to move him around the screen and then use the face buttons for attacking, jumping, and using items. The shoulder buttons are used to modify the attacks of the face buttons and you use both of them together to dodge. The d-pad is relegated to switching weapons and using the magic items Kratos collects on his journey.
The only real complaint I have about the control setup is that you have to take your fingers off the nub to use the magic items which can be a bit perilous in battle and sometimes forces you to waste some of the ability while you re-orient Kratos. I did experience a bit of cramped hands playing the game but there’s really nothing the folks at Ready of Dawn had any control over and I’m hopeful that they have some input over the control scheme of the rumored PSP 2.
Graphically the game is a step up on the Chains of Olympus, the last God of War game from Ready at Dawn. There’s no way the game can stand up to the graphical standards set by God of War III but the game does look good and there are a couple of nice touches here and there. My favorite is the as the flame effects on the blades which look great in contrast to the mostly dark world.. The meter that tracks the amount of fire you have for you blades is a bit hard to read in some areas but other than that this is one of the best looking PSP games on the market.
The audio side of the house is likewise stellar and features the same high level of audio you would expect from the franchise.
It’s hard to find faults with Ghost of Sparta but in some ways it does feel like Ready at Dawn worked off a checklist of things that have to be in the game. This isn’t a bad thing but I do wish they had colored outside the lines a bit more from time to time and shake things up a bit. The game does add a lot to the God of War canon though and if you’re a fan of the series this is a must have piece of the puzzle. If you haven’t played any of the God of War games in the past you might get a little lost with some of the plot lines but the game is still a very enjoyable romp through Greek mythology.