Kratos' bond to his family has been the underlying theme that connects every game in the God of War series together. In Ghost of Sparta, Kratos' ultimate goal is to discover the fate of his brother who was forcibly separated from him when they were both still children. The adventure takes place between the first two games in the series, and it does a fine job of fleshing out his painful backstory while furthering the notion that Kratos must exact revenge on the gods. There are a few clever sequences in which the story and gameplay are intertwined, and these prove to be the most powerful moments in the game. Kratos is more complex than his angry facade would lead you to believe, and being able to see how he relates to his blood relatives goes a long way toward making this god slayer feel like a normal man with a few larger-than-life problems.
The slowly developing story does a good job of pushing you through this thrilling adventure, but it's the outstanding visuals that provide the wow factor. This is a stunning-looking game. Clever camera work smoothly transitions between tight close-ups and sweeping panoramas, and exacting details ensure that every view comes with its own visual delights. The technical range is particularly impressive because the game floods the screen with enemies and special effects without skipping a beat, and the artistic flourishes give every creature a unique personality and each location a different feel. Unfortunately, because the screen is so small, it can be difficult to locate the pint-sized Kratos during certain sequences where you must battle a horde of enemies while the camera is pulled way back. It's a small price to pay for such an amazing-looking game, but it does lessen the impact when you can't see what you're doing.
The brutal combat continues the trend of shrinking the console experience down to the portable world. Belting out combos that stretch well into the dozens is a snap, thanks to razor-sharp controls that make it a savage joy to rip your enemies to shreds. The assortment of magical attacks and weapons that you unlock during the course of your journey may not veer far from previous games in the series, but they do provide enough variety to ensure you're engaged the entire time. Rolling out of the way of an impending attack is fast and responsive, but parrying deadly blows is slightly tougher. The combination of a zoomed-out camera and a small screen makes it tricky to time your block against certain enemies, and though the game is easy enough on the default difficulty to avoid frustration, it's still annoying. More aggravating is the reliance on rapidly tapping the shoulder buttons to escape certain attacks. This is clunky at best and downright painful at worst, and it could have been avoided if tapping the face buttons were the option instead. Despite a few stumbles, the controls are generally smooth and responsive, making it a visceral delight to battle the minions in your path.
In between your binges of unrepentant bloodshed are cerebral puzzles that let you rest your muscles for a second and get your cognitive skills firing. These thoughtful breaks are expertly interwoven with the brutal combat, giving you a chance to catch your breath for a few minutes before you're back to slicing off heads once more. The puzzles often rely on tasks from the previous games, so you once again have to make clever use of dead bodies as in God of War: Chains of Olympus and punt dogs into specific objects as Kratos did in God of War III, but that doesn't hinder the fun of figuring out what needs to be done to proceed. The puzzles find a good middle ground between painfully obvious and maddeningly obtuse, so you still feel empowered when you solve a tricky conundrum and don't have to worry about being stranded in the same spot because it's way too challenging. The one flaw pertains, once again, to the zoomed-out camera and small screen. You often have to interact with a specific object to move on, and it can be tough to see what needs to be done when it's just a few pixels high. But, for the most part, the puzzles are a great respite from the hectic action.
Original Review can be found here