Kratos is back in full swing, blood, gore, vengeance and all in Ready at Dawn's God of War: Ghost of Sparta for the PlayStation Portable. Don't let the little handheld platform sticker fool you though, this isn't the first portable outing for everybody's favourite God of War and it certainly isn't any less of a spectacle than the games before it. With God of War III ending the trilogy on the PlayStation 3 however, it makes one wonder what more can be done with the franchise. In this regard, Ghost of Sparta certainly brings plenty to the table.
Ghost of Sparta kicks it off right after the ending of the original God of War and before the events of God of War II. Kratos now sits upon his throne as the new God of War after having slain Ares, but he is still haunted by images of his past. However, this time his vision is of his brother, Deimos, whom he believed to have died long ago during an assault on Sparta.
Unlike previous God of War games, delving into Kratos' past reveals a side of him that actually feels relatively human. The flashbacks and events that eventually lead up to the climax of the game only makes it all the more clear that the Olympians somehow enjoy antagonizing the very individual who will inevitably be responsible for their destruction. There are several locales that players will get to visit in Ghost of Sparta, including the city of Atlantis, Death's Domain and even Sparta, which is quite a treat.
For fans of the series, Ghost of Sparta's core mechanics will instantly feel familiar. Really, they're pretty much the same as in any other God of War game. Both combat and platforming feels fluid, flexible and responsive. Kratos is armed with the Blades of Athena, but early on in the game he forcefully gains the power of the Titan Thera, imbuing his blades with the power of fire which can be utilized simply by holding the R button. A third gauge in addition to health and magic depicts how much fire can be used at any one time. Later on in the game, Kratos also gets Sparta's coat of arms which are the shield and spear and aptly named Arms of Sparta. Much like Thera's Bane, it's mostly useful against environmental and ranged elements.
Ready at Dawn certainly didn't hold back with the combat. While the game doesn't feature the prominent grappling attack in God of War III, they included their own take on the mechanic which is just as fun. Kratos can charge and tackle enemies both on the ground and in mid-air. Thera's Bane acts much like the Rage of the Gods/Titans/Sparta as Kratos deals even more damage and doesn't even flinch when hit by enemies. Unlike the Rage feature though, players won't have to collect god orbs to refill the gauge. In fact, it regenerates automatically when not in use.
The platforming takes a much more cinematic approach as the camera changes angles and time slows down for players to time jumps and grapples. One let down is the puzzle elements as they seem to take a backseat in Ghost of Sparta. Most puzzles only involve turning a crank or destroying some element before moving forward. That said, the game still feels incredibly cinematic and enjoyable.
The story is relatively short, but as usual, the Challenge of the Gods and Temple of Zeus make a return where players can complete various challenges, usually more difficult than the campaign itself, as well as unlock various items by sacrificing red orbs. The Combat Arena is a new mode where players can customize their very own settings to tackle.
The devs weren't kidding when they said they were pushing the hardware's capabilities. Ghost of Sparta looks spectacular. The details in character models, animation and especially the in-game backdrops look fantastic. It's hard to notice how huge the vistas are when actually playing the game, but once you take the time to look at the locales, it's surprisingly apparent and beautiful. High points include the maelstrom of Atlantis and the areas prior to the Temple of Athena. The new in-game facial animations look astounding too. It's not much of a stretch to say that it's far more impressive than many PlayStation 2 or even PlayStation 3 games for that matter.
The visuals are complimented by the sound design as well, especially the voice acting. TC Carson returns as the voice of Kratos and he does a splendid job in delivering the singular emotion felt throughout the game: vindication. Elijah Wood must be commended for his role as Kratos' brother, Deimos, as well. The tension between the two brothers as well as the sense of betrayal felt by Deimos is quite the experience, to say the least.
The bar was set quite high and Ready at Dawn certainly delivered. Ghost of Sparta, at times, feels a lot like God of War III on the PlayStation Portable both in terms of gameplay and presentation. The story reveals a lot more about Kratos, his past, and expounds on the very reasons as to why he seeks vengeance against the Olympians. It's an experience fans of the series will certainly not want to miss.