God of War: Ghost of Sparta

While previous games have boiled down to fetch quests, revenge and bloodlust, Ghost of Sparta is a pure family affair.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Rated: Mature
Players: 1
Price: $39.99
Platforms: Playstation Portable
Developer: SCE, Santa Monica Studio, Ready At Dawn Studios
Release date: 2010-11-02

I find that reviewing PSP games is exceptionally more difficult than the rest of my responsibilities here at PopMatters. That is because for whatever one might say about anything in the console's game library -- and it has a surprisingly high number of excellent games anyone would want to own -- the experience is always marred by the PSP itself. If it isn't the bad control schematic, it's the inability to play in ambient lighting conditions. If it's not the light, it's the terrible battery life. The fact that reviews of, and developers' discussion of, PSP games always seems to bear some mention of how a game did or didn't work past the failings of the horrible console is a sorry state of affairs in this day and age of game design.

For that reason, it's difficult to recommend something like God of War: Ghost of Sparta to someone because that would mean recommending the PSP, something I am staidly opposed to. In light of that, however, if you already own the handheld and wish for something to justify its existence this holiday season, or if you're looking for that one game to validate your hypothetical future purchase, Ghost of Sparta might be it.

Handheld developers Ready At Dawn have a reputation for delivering high quality work on Sony's fatally ill little console, and Ghost of Sparta manages to make their previous success in the franchise, Chains of Olympus, pale in comparison. There is no question that what we're seeing is a complete PS2 experience in handheld form. The graphics are luscious, the levels are huge and sprawling, the controls are tight and work possibly the best of any PSP control scheme I've ever encountered.

But what really, truly impresses me is the story. Although one could throw a stick and strike some kind of family drama in Greek mythology, this is the first installment of the God of War series -- to my recollection -- that deals directly with the mortal side of Kratos's family. While previous games have boiled down to fetch quests, revenge and bloodlust, Ghost of Sparta is a pure family affair, in which Kratos is visited by his mother Callisto and sets off to rescue his younger brother Deimos from the hands of Thanatos.

It goes without saying that there is still plenty of murder involved, and ultimately, one can't go too far in this franchise without stumbling upon some theme of revenge, but the overall arc manages to seem much more coherent and compelling than we may be used to experiencing in a God of War game. This trope of reunification of the family, far from the series' usual model of grief and retribution, is a refreshing change of pace and definitely plucked this reviewer's heart strings, which is the last thing that I might have expected it to do.

As iterated elsewhere, the game's set pieces underwhelm after the crowning moments of awesome in God of War III, so those seasoned in the series might not find that it's a blood-filled rollercoaster of heretofore unseen thrills and evisceration. In other words, it doesn't really up the ante. That being said, it's a solid piece of entertainment and, as I remarked earlier, probably the best use of the PSP yet produced.

To its detriment (not that this is a criticism to be leveled at this installment alone), the stages are essentially linear, and the puzzles at times feel entirely too arbitrary and ridiculous. But let's face it: there is the simple way of doing things, and then there is the Kratos way of doing things. If it would be simple enough to climb up the scaffolding of a tower onto a ledge, of course the game will make you drop a huge rock weight onto a burning gate with a helpless, screaming civilian trapped between. And of course you will then use his body to depress a button to get through the next gate. It's not as though there are any ceramic vases and wooden crates around. And don't get me started on King Midas.

Bosses, though frequent, rarely involve any sort of complex strategy. Those who remember the good ol' days of harpooning Hydras to the deck of your ship in the first game will be disappointed that there is no real interplay between enemy and environment at all in this game. Most bosses are astonishingly straight-forward -- usually the difference between pressing or not pressing the right trigger, depending on whether your target has armor. It may have something to do with the battery life -- it's hard to trial-and-error for hours on a boss when your battery's sure to die before then -- but games should never be designed in apology to their platform's shortcomings. It would have been nice to see some more creativity in the boss fights, although Erinys is definitely a major high point.

Though it's an also ran in the wake of God of War III, Ghost of Sparta is still essentially all that you know and love about the franchise, with the addition of a uniquely compelling narrative that is, for once, about unity and rebuilding, instead of aimless revenge and destruction. You still get your familiar wrathful Kratos, your mountains of dead and your grim classical imagery with an MTV generation tweak, but now the protagonist is even more relatable -- more human -- than he's ever been.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.