It started with two possibilities. Ghost of Sparta, the latest bloodshed-laden game in the God of War series, was either a clever little self-aware parody of the excesses of the action-adventure genre or a cliché-ridden title that embodied the worst excesses of the said genre.
Throughout our 8-hour playthrough, we kept looking for signs of the former. As the game neatly ticked off every possible gaming stereotype—misty, slow-motion flashback sequences, a lava level, a large temple in ruins, puzzles involving crates and levers, a snow level—this hope faded irrecoverably. This led us to the one possible conclusion: Ghost of Sparta is supremely confident in how predictable it is.
Bloodletting: As usual, Kratos bludgeons his way through the world in Ghost of Sparta
The formula is now set in carbonite. Belligerent white bodybuilder-cum-god Kratos is angered by others in the Greek god pantheon, and he takes revenge by violently bludgeoning everything that moves. A sweeping cinematic score is layered over beautiful, epic vistas and a pleasingly precise control system lets you unleash choreographed mayhem. God of War has always been a thinly disguised male power fantasy, and Ghost of Sparta does little to suggest any new-found maturity or evolution. There are some rumblings of a story involving siblings or some such, but it’s little more than window dressing to allow Kratos to trod across pretty temples, cities and caves, putting his twin blades into everything that dares cross his path.
If you’ve played any of the God of War games, you’ve played them all. If you liked them all, you’ll still like Ghost of Sparta. It’s the second God of War title by developers Ready at Dawn Studios, and the second for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) after last year’s Chains of Olympus. The strengths remain the same—well-defined controls, beautiful graphics and some satisfying setpiece fights with large monsters. Ghost of Sparta features some fittingly memorable ones in the city of Sparta and the realm of Thanatos, the god of death. The game manages to squeeze some astonishing beauty out of the ageing PSP—rain billows down convincingly, blood arcs across the screen in sharp red, lava glows with high-definition realism. The graphics are on a par with anything you’ll play on the PlayStation 2, and the game runs silky smooth.
At the same time, the flaws stay troubling. There’s still no attempt, after five games, to imbue the series’ hyper violence with meaning. For all we know about him, Kratos is hardly a character with depth, and the game’s obsession with gorier ways of finishing enemies seems to overpower everything else. Ghost of Sparta is full of gratuitous massacres and needless death, a combination the game seems unwilling to clamber out of.
The first God of War game for the PlayStation 2 was a masterclass in precise action-adventure design. Everything from the fun setpieces to the smooth controls felt right. By game No. 5, however, the series has devolved into mere fan service. The puzzles are laughably ludicrous, the combat has stagnated and the plots have moved from camp to silly. What Kratos and the series need, ironically, is something we see plenty of in Ghost of Sparta—an infusion of fresh blood.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta is available for the PlayStation Portable for Rs1,699. It can also be bought online through the PlayStation Store on your PSP.