I remember an old quote from original God of War designer, David Jaffe, saying that when the game’s development team set out to create the first title, their primary goal was simply to “entertain” the player.
Now, obviously, that’s the goal of most entertainment media, including games — to entertain. But that was the first time I’d ever actually heard someone cut past buzzwords like “fun” or “immersive” or “cinematic” and boil it down to a single term that I could relate to. It’s stuck with me since.
Like its predecessors, God of War: Ghost of Sparta apsires to that exact same goal: to be entertaining. It’s also very sincere in that it doesn’t care how it does it. There’s no pretense of being meaningful in any sort of way or even being the “best” in any of the categories you could classify the game into. As a result, it’s a solid reminder that entertainment comes in many shapes and forms, and makes the concept of it look really easy, even though it really isn’t.
As with every other God of War game, you’ll run around stages killing everyone and everything you come across. And if you don’t want to…well, tough luck. Kratos’s usual form of mindless brutality returns here, and as always, you’re encouraged — no, forced — to partake in it. For instance, in one sequence, you have your fellow Spartan soldiers fighting by your side. If you try not to accidentally kill them while swinging your weapons around, chances are you’ll die very quickly yourself.
As to just how you’ll be doing all this killing…I found myself sticking to God of War’s signature Blades of Athena for the most part. Ghost of Sparta features a second weapon in the form of a spear and shield (called Arms of Sparta), but it isn’t much fun to use. The combos are mundane and while you can throw energy spears to take out ranged enemies, the Arms of Sparta still aren’t as flexible as the blades.
Considering that these are supposed to be the second major weapon in the game, they’re rather disappointing. Using the Blades of Athena is fun because they’re great for taking out enemies at close as well as mid-range, and using them feels like you’re juggling with demons. The Arms of Sparta, on the other hand, encourage defensive play, which…really doesn’t have a place in the kind of game God of War is.
Ultimately, there isn’t much reason to use the Arms of Sparta unless the game forces you to take out enemies that are positioned at a far-off distance, and you need to defend against them at the same time. In this regard, PSP predecessor, Chains of Olympus, had the better sub-weapon in the form of the Gauntlet of Zeus, which was essentially a giant metal glove that let you charge up and punch things really hard.
Thankfully, some of your other skills make up for this. The Eye of Atlantis, which lets you shoot lightning looks awesome, and it’s useful both for piling damage onto a single enemy or keeping a group of surrounding opponents at bay. The rush-and-tackle move (Hyperion Charge) from God of War 3 makes a return, too, and acts almost like your panic move, for when you find yourself being overwhelmed.
The stages are what you’d expect to see in any God of War game, although, the difference is that the art direction is much nicer than it was in Chains. The areas you travel to are more interesting — the inclusion of Sparta where Kratos finally stops raging for a bit was a nice touch — and the colour palette is much more vibrant, varied and pleasing overall.
The improvement in presentation isn’t limited just to the stages, though. The overall art here is far ahead of Chains of Olympus, too. Every single combat animation and special effect seems to have been redone or made to look cooler in some way than it did in CoO. Ghost of Sparta feels like developer, Ready at Dawn, looked to God of War III on the PlayStation 3 for inspiration, and scaled their ambitions to run on the PSP. It’s really quite stunning how gorgeous it is.
The improvements here aren’t superficial either. Slamming the Blades of Athena into the ground produces a nice impact, complete with the necessary explosions and sound effects and screen-shaking. Swinging the blades around produces the satisfying sound of heavy, metallic chains, which alone makes them “feel” like they have considerable heft and weight to them. I don’t recall either of these sensations being conveyed nearly as well in Chains of Olympus.
Even the context-sensitive button-presses are designed better. I’ll admit, that’s one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of God of War — sometimes, it feels like the games take control out of your hands and play themselves. Ghost of Sparta addresses that, too, by really making you struggle with some of the monsters to the point that you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when it finally does the old “press X, then R to finish him off!”
That’s another of the game’s accomplishments. Normal difficulty, I found, was perfectly balanced for me, personally. It was never too easy, nor was it ever too frustrating. Every enemy encounter feels like a legitimate challenge, and that’s always nice. For instance, the parry in Ghost of Sparta admittedly took a while for me to start using. I even forgot that the move existed until I was forced to go through my list of combos again once the game ramped up in difficulty.
If I were to point out the single most glaring issue with Ghost of Sparta, it’s that it sometimes suffers from a slight lack of variety. Your feet will remain planted firmly on the ground for the most part, so don’t expect to go riding on the back of a Pegasus or running along walls. The range of moves you’re given never quite get old, but it’s also hard to ignore what the game doesn’t have when you look to the console versions for reference.
To sum it up, Ghost of Sparta’s mantra is pretty much “more, more, more.” Everything you might like about the God of War games? They put in more of it. Even the number of women in the inevitable sex scene.
Food for thought:
1. The load times in Ghost of Sparta are virtually non-existent.
2. Camera angles during some of the context-sensitive sequences are far more dramatic than they were in Chains of Olympus.
3. The game largely does away with long puzzles, which is a very, very good thing.
4. Ghost of Sparta one of the few times you’ll see Kratos show genuine compassion or admiration for anyone that isn’t his daughter. And on multiple occasions at that! (there’s an “Other G” joke in here somewhere…)