God of War: Ghost of Sparta plugs the only possible gap in the series; between the first God of War and God of War II. Even though chronologically it is the third chapter in the beloved series, it was last to be released in stores. As if the inherent pressure from that wasn’t enough, being originally produced on a technically inferior piece of hardware just made the game’s battle seem a bit more uphill. Fortunately, despite a some problems new to the series, God of War: Ghost of Sparta HD shines through as a fun, gory experience and mostly better now in the highest of definitions.
After the first God of War ends, Kratos is left with a god’s blood on his hands and has emptied a throne within Olympus. Being new to the whole “godly power” thing, Kratos is still being haunted by visions of his mortal beginnings. Kratos is led by these premonitions to his dying mother, where she reveals that his long-lost brother, Deimos, is still alive and being tortured. Kratos hasn’t seen Deimos since he was a mere child, so he sees a brotherly reunion fit, sending him through various places to save Deimos.
As I said with God of War: Chains of Olympus, telling a backstory without sounding forced sounds hard to achieve. Thankfully, Ghost of Sparta, not only tells a good immediate story with a villain to destroy, but one that gives the player a further understanding of Kratos, along with some cool looks into why Kratos has certain physical attributes. You’ll discover more about the relationship he had with Deimos, why he disappeared, and how this has affected Kratos, all of which are engaging. Plot points this strong are rarely written after a series has had its ground, so it impressive how gripping all of this content is. Kratos is still angry as all hell, vowing revenge and cursing someone every chance he gets, but, especially after a run through this game, you’ll have a better understanding of why and this makes him a stronger character because of it. With some clever foreshadowing to God of War III and a great narrative package altogether, the story aspects of Ghost of Sparta are the title’s greatest strength.
Gameplay and cinematics both benefit from coming out after God of War III in some ways. God of War III was epic (still hate that word) in every single way, and its little brother has obviously taken some influence. Giant set pieces are much more prevalent here, spreading some memorable battles and moments across the campaign. Huge monsters bust through the walls, storms decimate the area around you, and other instances like this keep you on your toes, giving the game its unpredictability and much-needed peaks and valleys.
The series as a whole has always had satisfying elements of combat on every level. The joys of evisceration translate well enough to this package, retaining the key responsiveness and a similar array of moves. Slight changes are present with a new way of grappling opponents from a distance and a spectacular new weapon, but the feel remains the same. Feeling similar isn’t a pejorative, as this is still some of the slickest fighting around and even the couple new additions make it the fighting experience still a blast to play.
However, even though the core mechanics of combat are fun, problems, both new and old, have arisen. Chains of Olympus had a nasty habit of pitting Kratos against regular enemies mixed in with too many of the “annoying” enemy types like harpies and archers. Achieving high, complicated combos is where I find my bliss in these games, but it gets increasingly difficult and tedious with multiple waves of harpies and spiders pecking away at the health bar. Not only does it interrupt the flow of combat, tedium strikes when Kratos is having to target these insignificant wastes of pixels and deal with them first. Good fights are still to be had, but more often than not this specific problem shows its face. This was never present in the three numbered console installments, leaving me to appreciate the hard work SCEA Santa Monica did in enemy combinations and placement.
While lame enemy combinations is a problem I’ve encountered before, being grappled by an adversary is new. Taking one of the worst parts of the Ninja Gaiden series, a variety of foes can now grab Kratos, most times with no way to escape unscathed. Most have you mashing the L1 and R1 buttons to escape, with damage being unavoidable. Cyclops and Satyr grabs are reasonably easy to escape from, but one new enemy type straight from the “Bucket of Bad Ideas” highlights why this type of attack is borderline unacceptable. One enemy almost relies solely on grabs from underground, stunning you and leaving you helpless. These atrocities always come in pairs, meaning one usually stuns you, while the other coward pops out of the ground to grab you. On top of that, these hell spawns cannot be juggled or hit with strong attacks, as they bury underground to commence the cheap grabbing when your strong attacks connect. Off-screen grabs are also a threat, making this an even more infuriating problem. While I’ve beaten the game around three times and have learned to mostly deal with them, my first and second playthroughs were rage-quit inducing every single time these enemies would pop up.
Before I accidentally punched my PSP into submission (true story), I had legitimate issues controlling Ghost of Sparta on that device. Since using R, L, and using R and L all had different useful functions, using either R or L in quick succession would usually result in an unwanted roll. When a large Cyclops wants to club me to death, this is the opposite of what I want. In this HD version, unwanted rolls still proceed to occur because they have put two alternative control inputs for rolls. Yes, using the analog stick is still the superior method to avoid attacks, but having the old control scheme still in place on top of the new one puzzles me. With no way to turn this off, a new, superior controller almost gets cancelled out.
While the controller didn’t do as much help, the visual jump to a higher definition definitely did. Chains looked good, mostly with extremely smooth edges and the signature art style working in its favor, but Ghost of Sparta is almost on a whole different level. Being the best looking PSP carried over, but here on the PS3, its almost unrecognizable as a PSP title. Environments are bigger and have better lighting, and more effects have been given, like rain, blood splatters, and lightning, to ensure that your eyes are always given a treat. While those aspects like effects and lighting are more fancy to talk about, there is just simply more detail in every asset. Monsters “pop” a little better and Kratos’ character model is insanely detailed, showing more emotion and better animation. Similar to the the first God of War Collection, the first title looks great, but the second, more recent entry trumps it in every way.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is my least favorite installment in the series. It’s not to say it is a bad game, because this series always puts out a fantastic game, this just happens to fall in last (or at least near it) in a nigh-perfect saga of titles. The series staple of having a combat system that is both fun and accessible and given the good, intense campaign, it is still an easy choice despite the flurry of new complications. Being the “least good” God of War game might not turn most people to this game, but the fact that it is still a God of War game should.
+Combat system is still responsive, fast, and fun
+Narrative is strong and provides a neat backstory
-Fights still have too many annoying enemy types
-Most adversaries have a new cheap grab move
-Control problems still pop up
Final Score: 9/10