While we're huge fans of Kratos here in the Push Square office, not every PlayStation fan shares our affection. The spartan warrior's constant anger grates with many followers, so much so that they are unable to look past the character in order to enjoy the game. Despite slotting awkwardly between the first and second God of War games, God of War: Ghost of Sparta attempts to explain the reasoning behind Kratos' fury. Ready At Dawn use the second PSP spin-off as a method to shine a different light on the warring character. Don't get us wrong, Kratos is still flippin' furious in Ghost of Sparta — but some new elements of his character are exposed here, making it essential from a narrative stance. Some of the areas Ready At Dawn touch on can be ham-fisted, but Ghost of Sparta will change your perception of Kratos, even if you still come away disliking the anti-hero.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta brings with it the traditional mix of platforming, combat and insane boss-fights. The formula fits perfectly on the PSP, largely due to God of War's fixed camera perspective. Many other games depend on the second analogue stick, but God of War is not one of them and thus the transition to Sony's handheld is perfect. Ready At Dawn strike the balance and pacing just about right in Ghost of Sparta, with a little less emphasis on combat than in their previous PSP release, God of War: Chains of Olympus.
If there was any criticism lofted at Ready At Dawn's previous PSP title, Chains of Olympus, it was targeted towards the relatively brief campaign. Ghost of Sparta is notably longer, with a campaign spanning roughly six-to-ten hours depending on difficulty or play style. The game achieves its length with original content — there's very little repetition here, so it's not artificially extended. It feels like a good length for the game's narrative, and because the campaign is so well-paced it lends itself to multiple playthroughs.
Technically there are prettier games than God of War: Ghost of Sparta, but this is a PSP game, built for a handheld designed to fit in the average sized pocket — not that you'd know it half of the time. Take our word when we state that God of War: Ghost of Sparta is without doubt the prettiest game on the PlayStation Portable. It's incredible what Ready Of Dawn have achieved; in terms of technical prowess on comparative hardware Ghost of Sparta might potentially outstrip God of War III. While the game's set piece moments are the most breathtaking, its overall fidelity is astounding throughout. Textures are detailed, while visual effects such as rain, snow and fire embers trumpet the PlayStation Portable as though it's a new piece of hardware. It's hard to believe that we're potentially experiencing the last holiday season with the current PSP as Sony's flagship handheld — especially with the system outputting visuals of this quality.
Aside from some neat interactive narrative twists, God of War: Ghost of Sparta plays exactly as you'd expect. That's no bad thing; God of War is one of the few franchises that perfected its gameplay style first hand, and any tweaks at this point would be for change's sake rather than for the benefit of the experience. Ghost of Sparta does implement most of God of War III's improvements — QTEs now appear on-screen relative to the PlayStation's face-button layout, and Kratos can also now wrestle characters to the ground. That said, combat still largely boils down to Square-Square-Triangle, though new weapons and power-ups do offer something fresh. Thera's Bane is perhaps the biggest new addition to Ghost of Sparta's combat, allowing Kratos to charge attacks with an added dose of fire. This helps you to break enemy armour, open doors and add extra power to standard attacks. It's neat.
There's no loading. UMD is frequently touted as a format with poor load speeds, but God of War: Ghost of Sparta rarely ever pauses to stream in the next section. Throughout our time with the game's eight hour campaign we saw little more than three loading screens; an impressive feat for a game so technically demanding.
God of War in its current format feels done. The formula is still as brilliant as it was when David Jaffe invented it in the mid-2000's, but four titles later it's beginning to overstay its welcome. As a love letter to fans, Ghost of Sparta is everything it could possibly be (and perhaps some more), but there's a sense that Kratos' narrative is done. We don't believe God of War as a franchise is over, but we presume when Sony Santa Monica return to it, they'll have a new cast and new gameplay ideas to experiment with. The formula needs a refresh and we'll be interested to see the direction it heads next.
In terms of comparative hardware, God of War: Ghost of Sparta is potentially more impressive than God of War III. Some of the visual effects are astounding, with a great art direction and solid level design lending itself perfectly to Ready At Dawn's technical ambition. The gameplay is familiar, and perhaps on the verge of needing an overhaul, but as a love letter to fans, Ghost of Sparta is unrivalled.