God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Review: God of War: Ghost of Sparta on PSP features stunning audio and visual presentation but its puzzles can get a bit tedious
- Stunning audio and visual presentation, impressive boss battles, new weapons and powers, engaging story
- Largely sticks to the standard GoW formula, puzzling can get tedious
While no doubt familiar to anyone who's dug their blades into any of the previous God of War games, Ghost of Sparta still manages to inject some fresh ideas into the aging action franchise. It's a no-brainer for faithful fans, as well as PSP owners looking for their next must-buy action title.
Price$ 49.95 (AUD)
Easily one of my favourite titles this year, God of War III pushed the PS3 to its full potential, brought the Athenian ass-kicker's trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, and, so I thought, satiated my appetite for the epic third-person action franchise. Having collected countless coloured orbs, participated in several sex mini-games, and defeated more mythological beasties than I can shake a severed Medusa head at, I'd felt Kratos — as much as I love the grumpy 'ole god-slayer — had offered me all he could. I was done. In fact, had I not been assigned this review, I probably wouldn't have bothered dusting off the PSP for yet another Kratos-helmed kill spree.
Shame on me then for underestimating Ready at Dawn's ability to breathe new life — and plenty of death — into the five-year old franchise. Ghost of Sparta, the developer's follow-up to 2008's excellent Chains of Olympus, is not only one of the absolute best titles to land on Sony's portable, it also stands sandalled toe-to-sandalled toe with Kratos' quality-oozing console efforts. Its story sits between the PS2's GoW and GoW II, and it looks as good — often better — than both those titles. Sporting a surprising visual upgrade over the already impressive presentation of Chains of Olympus, Sparta's characters and environments pop off the PSP's wide display with stunning detail. From Kratos' bulging biceps to the blood-soaked combat, every last polygon's been lovingly crafted. Water and fire effects are especially good at sending jaws to the floor; driving rain and spitting lava are only supposed to look this good on consoles. Complementing a presentation I can only assume has the PSP firing on every last cylinder is the stellar score, sound effects, and voice work the series has become synonymous with.
Pretty graphics and immersive audio aside, this franchise has always been about pounding mythological meat bags into a fleshy puree. Ghost of Sparta delivers this in spades...and entrails and limbs and spines. Sure, it's still the thumb-numbing blood-letting we've come to expect, but a few tweaks to the familiar formula brings fresh ideas to the frequent beheadings. You'll still deliver plenty of pain with Kratos' chained blades, but a GoW III-like replenishing fire meter offers additional depth to the death-dealing. In addition to delivering some extra visual flair, the flame-imbued blades can strip tougher enemies of their armour and break through otherwise impassable obstacles.
Even cooler is the Arms of Sparta — an effective spear and shield combination that puts a new twist on Kratos' predominantly ranged repertoire. Great for ventilating the chests of up-close enemies, the spear works best in hand-to-hand combat, but can also be tossed into an eye socket in a pinch. The shield also serves double duty as a defensive blocker against enemies and environmental hazards, as well as a skull-crushing melee weapon. Of course, in the pissed-off protagonist's capable hands, epic style accompanies each spear-and-shield kill, making those similarly-equipped dudes from 300 look like grade school bullies in man-skirts.
I won't spoil all the fun for you, but on top of these new toys — as well as the expected world-shaking fire and lightning magic — Kratos has some other surprises tucked into his loin cloth. Thankfully, a new focus on screen-enveloping boss battles ensures your tools of destruction won't be wasted on low-level thugs and one-hit-kill menaces. While you won't find anything on the scale of GoW III's Titans, Ready at Dawn has certainly upped their game since Chains of Olympus. Several level-capping bosses, outfitted with horns, wings, tentacles, fangs, claws, or some combination thereof, are just dying to teach the tattooed badass some manners. Plan on investing several minutes and plenty of button-mashing into these challenging, but never frustrating, enemy encounters. You can also count on the franchise's love of quick-time events to pop up during these extended battles. However, taking a cue from GoW III's more intuitive approach, input prompts now sit on the edges of the screen and correspond to the PSP's button layout.
When you're not painting Ghost of Sparta's environments in blood and guts, you'll be tackling the requisite puzzles. This is one area, however, that can't quite escape the curse of familiarity, as you'll be tasked with turning cranks, pulling levers, and pushing more boxes than a warehouse worker. Many of these are actually quite fun, offering a decent challenge while letting you catch your breath from all the killing; just don't expect much evolution beyond the previous games' puzzling.
Rounding out Kratos' latest vengeance-fuelled massacre is a narrative that surprisingly sheds some new light on the perpetually peeved antihero. Don't worry, he's not exactly volunteering at the local soup kitchen or anything, but he does show a slightly back-story-explained softer side. The developers easily could have offered a barely-there excuse for Kratos to tear everyone a new one. But instead, they took the opportunity to add some depth to a character who's largely been pegged as a two dimensional D-bag. It's this extra effort that really supports the entire game. Rather than resting entirely on the series' successful formula, Ready at Dawn's pushed both the PSP and the franchise in some welcome directions. Make no mistake: Ghost of Sparta will be very familiar to anyone who's carved a blood-soaked swath through any of the previous entries. However, tweaking the tried-and-true with some new twists was enough to get this Kratos deserter back in the game, and looking forward to the next time I can wield his blades.
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