Typically handheld games of popular franchises don’t tend to live up to their console brethren; however in the case of God of War franchise this is far from the case. Developers Ready at Dawn excelled at bringing the colossal hack and slash action adventure to the tiny screen, and equally so have surpassed expectations with a stellar HD port over to the PS3. Fans of the series are in for a treat.
The PS3 can now be hailed as the definitive platform for God of War, with all five of the core titles present in the form of two collections (2x PS2 games and 2x PSP games) along with God of War III. Volume II bundles the two PSP titles Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta and brings them up to 720p, along with improved anti-aliased graphics running at 60 frames per second, trophies and even 3D support.
The first of the collection, Chains of Olympus, is set before the events of the first God of War which makes it a fitting introduction to new players to the series or a nice nostalgia trip for veterans. After a short introduction in which you battle the Persian King, the world around you plummets into darkness at the hands of Morpheus, the god of darkness. Athena tasks Kratos, the Spartan warrior protagonist, to locate Helios, the sun god, which will lead you into crossing paths with the colossal Titan Atlas and the Queen of the Underworld before long.
Whilst the events don’t fall back to those of the nightmares that haunt Kratos’s, which would seem like an ideal prequel, there are ties to the events which result in some emotional scenes between Kratos and his daughter, along with a strong conclusion to the game’s story.
Ghost of Sparta leaps ahead and focuses on events following on from God of War, which ideally should be played only after having finished it. Telling the tale of Deimos, your brother who you last saw carried away by Ares the god of war, you discover that he is still very much alive, tortured by Thantos the god of death and in need of your help. The story isn’t quite as strong in Ghost of Sparta, but the events and particularly the set pieces that take place far exceed anything in the series up to this point so more than make up for it.
As with all titles in the series, the gameplay revolves around hack and slash combat in environments and against enemies based on Greek mythology, so some inspiring foes to face in gorgeous idyllic or now twisted landscapes. Instead of throwing countless brainless drones at you, you’ll instead be facing a select few enemies that require careful combos, counter attacks and avoidance to survive. As you progress through the game you’ll find the difficulty curve continually ramp up, though never quite hitting the challenge of its console roots, and along with this you’ll unlock new abilities and items to counter this. The highlight of Ghost of Sparta is the ability to ignite your weapons for a short period of time, whilst in Chains of Olympus you’ll obtain the likes of a shield to deflect attacks and a glove with immense striking power. Eventually you’ll build up a strong move and ability set that complement each other nicely, which in turn can be upgraded by spending the collected enemies’ souls or improving various magic attacks.
To mix up the repetition that comes with hacking away at common enemies, you’re frequently thrown up against colossal enemies, even the gods themselves. These moments are for which the series is famed for, giving you boss battles that gamers dream of with quick time events proceeding absolutely brutal executions. Along with the large scale battles are environment puzzles that can range from needing to solve logic puzzles by pushing around rubble, to simply surviving the environment itself as entire cities collapse under your feet, spectacularly so especially in Ghost of Sparta.
Graphically the games are a little hit and miss, as whilst they are stunning considering they have come from a tiny handheld ... they still came from a tiny handheld. With 720p resolution and improvements to the often plagued console anti-aliasing the graphics look smooth and to as high a detail as the PS1 collection, however polygon count can be an issue resulting in chunky models and there is a prominent lack of detailed textures instead favouring a sparse flat colours that look odd stretched over entire cliff faces. There are significant improvements made in Ghost of Sparta, and whilst technically the graphics are limited I find the art style and crispness, particularly of the cutscenes, standing above that of the PS1 games volume.
The soundtrack has been beefed up to support a 5.1 setup, and fits brilliantly alongside the constant groans and cries of enemies being ripped literally to pieces from your swords, typically overshadowed by the constantly dim of souls being collected en mass. The voice acting is solid throughout, but overshadowed by Kratos’s brilliantly overly rough and manly sparse dialogue.
To fans of the series, particularly those that haven’t played the PSP games before, there’s really no reason not to pick up this well packaged collection. Chains of Olympus provides an engaging story for its six hours, whilst Ghost of Sparta has some spectacular set pieces over its lengthier ten hours, with both having the solid combat and strong item utility that has made God of War so popular. However if you’ve already experienced what’s on offer on the handheld, there’s little incentive to do so a second time around.