Ghost of Sparta is the sixth game in the God of War series, and the second portable incarnation, once again developed by Ready at Dawn who, after realising that Chains of Olympus was too short and timid, decided to have another go at things, crafting a new adventure set between the events of God of War 1 and 2.
The story this time around is a much more personal one, with dear old Kratos searching for his lost brother, Deimos, whose existence everyone has suddenly started to acknowledge. The drastic tonal shift from rabid vengeance to caring rescue is an interesting one, and the plot as a whole does a reasonably good job of fleshing out Kratos’s backstory, which until this point has been severely neglected throughout the series. Some may argue that a character who headbutts minotaurs doesn’t need much characterisation, but it’s nice to see the series accepting what it’s good at and moving into fresher narrative territory too.
On the subject of what God of War excels at, the gameplay is, while largely unchanged, just as enthralling and rewarding as it always has been. Combat is just as butter-smooth and fluid as usual, and a couple of different navigational tricks have been thrown in which lend a surge of involvement to scenes which in reality require very little player input. Playing the game still feels as comfortable on the PSP as it does on a controller, although with the new Thera’s Bane ability attributed to the right trigger, you’ll probably find that using magic is slightly more troublesome than it should be.
The thing that always baffles me about this series is how, despite maintaining a very similar formula, it never loses momentum. That trademark pacing is absolutely intact with Ghost of Sparta, and every time I felt it was getting just a little bit tired, I was introduced to a new spell, weapon or interesting boss fight which renewed my enthusiasm every time. The Arms of Sparta, Kratos’s new spear and shield combination, is one of the more interesting weapons of the series, coming with a complimentary ranged attack and the ability to block and move at the same time; which aside from being useful in combat also has interesting applications in puzzles and environmental traps.
Ghost of Sparta is certainly the most visually impressive game on the system too, and while it lacks the phenomenal sense of scale that really defined God of War 3, it’s still extremely nice to look at, packed with gorgeous effects and arresting architecture. I recall that, despite some minor faults, Chains of Olympus was technically very impressive also, and this title manages to really build on those aesthetic foundations.
Unless you’re truly sick of this series, Ghost of Sparta can’t really fail to impress and entertain. It’s certainly a vast improvement over its portable predecessor, offering increased longevity, a return of the epic and monstrous boss battles that are synonymous with the brand, and a generally admirable level of refinement and polish. The slight tonal shift provides a marginally different narrative slant and it all leads up to a climactic finale which, without wishing to spoil anything, offers a unique twist and a well-suited end to the game.