God of War has earned itself something of a reputation; it seems that if you've got a PlayStation console of some sort and are an action fan, you're a bit bonkers if you don't own at least one of these games. Games don't tend to earn that sort of reputation through marketing alone, as that sort of hype will only get the disc to your drive. From there, the only thing that'll stop it going straight up on Trade Me is if it's actually any good. God of War, it turns out, is generally very good. So very good, in fact, that a new release in the series sets expectations so high it's hard to imagine how any game (even a God of War) could live up to it.
Ghost of Sparta is the second God of War game for PSP, collaboratively developed by Ready at Dawn (developers of the first God of War game, Chains of Olympus) and SCE Santa Monica Studios. Being constrained by the lower-powered PlayStation platform doesn't seem to bother Ready at Dawn's God of War engine much, however, as it manages to crank out high-octane action with gorgeous visuals from the first swing of Kratos' twin-blades through to the last god-skull crunch underfoot.
For those unfamiliar with the series (shame on you!) God of War is a third-person action adventure series par excellence. While the basic mechanics (run around, lay waste to a menagerie of mythical foes by spamming a combination of heavy and light attacks with your weapons) may seem like cookie-cutter game mechanics synonymous with any number of games, it's the way in which these building blocks are assembled that really sets the series apart.
Control of Kratos is achieved through fairly standard means, with the aforementioned heavy and light attacks handled by Square and Triangle respectively. If you're playing the harder difficulty levels or just want to look good while beating the game, there's also a combination of nifty things you can do with the game's block button (L) and the fiery attack modifier ®. Once you unlock it, you can even unleash magical destruction by pushing right on the D-pad and, of course, a host of combos can be achieved by mixing and matching the buttons at will. Button mashers will do fine on the easy level (which poses few challenges for those with a modicum of dexterity) while the pros that choose the harder difficulty levels will need to spend the time to learn the combinations of moves that best suit certain scenarios as you play.
As you progress, you'll earn a large number of red orbs. These orbs, which come either from the corpses of your fallen enemies or from chests stashed throughout the levels, can be spent on unlocking upgrades to the weapons you find as you progress. Upgrading weapons increases their damage, range and even their visual awesomeness but you won't get enough to upgrade everything on your first play through. In fact, some of the items you find won't even work until you've clocked the game at least once, which provides some solid replayability for those that want to dive in a second (or third, or fourth...) time.
Gameplay is typically hectic and flows almost continuously from one sequence to the next. There are, on occasion, simple puzzle or platforming sections that "challenge" the player to move something or jump somewhere in order to get to the next deity slaughter-fest. These sections are a little cumbersome and feel like an unnecessary respite from the real purpose of the proceedings. They're also clumsily executed, often frustratingly awkward or unclear as to their purpose. Fortunately they're not particularly numerous and are always solvable if not particularly enjoyable.
What is particularly enjoyable, as always, is the minigame/quick time event (QTE) sequences that are triggered as part of boss fights or when fighting some of the signature enemies in the game. These sequences are a combination of cutscene and reaction challenge, as you press the buttons that randomly appear on screen in order to complete the cutscene to your advantage. What this typically means is an incredibly dramatic and often gory sequence in which you vanquish your foes in dramatic style.
Level designs are generally pretty good however there are occasionally situations in which it's not clear how to proceed, where perhaps some combination of lighting or layout may have made things clearer than they are. In general, level layouts don't seem to match the fluidity of those seen in Chains of Olympus, although there are definitely standout sequences which are genuinely thrilling to behold.
Visually the game is a triumph, with gorgeous sequences, richly detailed environments, stunning animation and genuinely spectacular presentation. Occasionally the camera can be a bit clumsy and things are, on the whole, far too dark (forget playing this game anywhere but in the darkest room). But these complaints are minor in comparison to the seamlessly streaming engine that presents a continuous sequence of visual extravaganzas that nothing else on PSP can come even close to.
The sound is similarly outstanding, with a solid score backed up by visceral sounds of combat. The sound cues alone will tell you whether you need to switch to the fireblades to defeat your armored foe or underline that extravagant sequence in which you behead some minor god-like being. Voice acting is also perfectly suited to the outrageous action, with gritty characterizations of the citizens of this dark and magical world.
The mixture of over-the-top action, outrageously powerful weapons and cinematic presentation ensures that the non-stop thrill-ride action keeps the adrenaline flowing throughout. Floors fall out from under you, mega-beasts burst through walls just when you think you have everything under control and the constantly evolving options and interactions ensure that things never get dull or repetitive. It's not perfect but it's damn good and very, very highly recommended. If you like action gaming and have a PSP, this one is a no brainer - buy it asap.