Two years ago, Chains of Olympus crashed down on the PSP and raised the bar for what could be done on the hardware. It delivered the full God of War experience, but with some sacrifices made to the epic scale. Still, it was a remarkably accurate portable rendition for one of the PS2’s most taxing games. Now, Ready at Dawn has returned with the PSP’s finest-looking game yet. Ghost of Sparta takes the great portable foundation laid in CoO and improves upon it marvelously.
The storyline takes place between God of War 1 & 2, and focuses on Kratos’s family more than any other. Having become the God of War, his goal is now to rid himself of the nightmares involving his slain daughter and lost brother Deimos. It’s a storyline that definitely humanizes Kratos to some degree, and is so well-told that even if you tire of the gameplay, you’ll want to soldier on to find out what happens next in the storyline. It’s also aided greatly by strong voiceover work and the best-looking cinematics on the system.
I doubt many will tire of the gameplay though. While it doesn’t tinker with the established formula much - you will still slay tons of foes, solve some puzzles, battle huge bosses, and take part in some of the most thrilling QTEs imaginable - things have been added to increase the variety and the style of gameplay so it never stays one way for too long. When you spend time in Hades, you can go from attacking enemies on-foot, to then scaling walls and knocking them down, to then hanging onto a ceiling and fighting, then sliding down a massive area and having to quickly press a button to fully leap over the lava beneath you, and then resume a boss battle that requires more fast reflexes to progress. There’s never a dull moment here, and the inclusion of a tackle and punch/stab attack gives you a new long-range weapon that can really change how you play. It’s incredibly helpful against large groups since the other enemies won’t take you off of their ally, so you can just pick foes off one-by-one and slaughter them at your leisure. The sharper controls make this a little more fun to actually play than CoO.
The series is known for having some of the most epic boss battles, and most epic scale for its regular environments, in all of gaming. It’s something that was greatly sacrificed in CoO, and thankfully, is more faithfully recreated here - you won’t deal with anything the size of GoW 2’s colossus for example, but the bosses are definitely bigger here than in CoO, and considering this is a portable game, it’s probably best to not completely fill the screen with just one enemy. There’s a more epic feel to the game itself as well - you’ll encounter more breathtaking views in your travels here than before, and on a regular basis.
Visually, Ghost of Sparta is incredible for a PSP game. CoO suffered from bland character models for secondary characters and also some very bland environments. The framerate didn’t suffer, but it was clear that the graphics did to some degree in order to get the game onto the PSP. Thankfully, Ready at Dawn used the two years it took to make this game to figure out a way to balance everything out so players got the best of both worlds. Character models look better - about on par with the PS2 incarnations of the series, as do environments, which have far more detail than CoO’s and have a lot more going on in them as well. Kratos even gets one thing he never got on the PS2 - the ability to be covered in blood, ala GoW III. Despite the improvements, there’s never a drop in the framerate, resulting in a smooth experience throughout.
The audio is on par with the full-fledged console offerings, and delivers a booming soundtrack that adds to the drama. It really comes alive when you’re wearing headphones, as you can easily hear every little thing that makes the sound design throughout the game so rich.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta takes the PSP’s previous high-mark and raises it. This delivers all of the thrills that console owners have gotten used to, without the sacrifices that were initially made in Chains of Olympus. Long-time series vets should definitely pick this up, while newcomers to both the series and the system should pick up the new Ghost of Sparta bundle that packs both PSP entries in with the system. This is easily the best-looking game on the system, and definitely its best action-adventure game. It’s a must-play on the system, and worth buying the system for if you don’t already have it.