Meet THE Spartan

God of War finally throws Kratos into the PSP, and hoooly crap does he rock.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 16, 2008
Well, they did it. Developer Ready at Dawn managed to take everything that is God of War on the PS2 and boiled it down into a tight little portable package. Let me be perfectly clear here, because this is a point I can't hammer home enough: this is God of War, as it appears on the PS2, running on the PSP, with nothing in the way of compromises. The game length has been trimmed a bit, yes (I beat the game in about four and a half hours, though I'd seen the first two or three hours a good half-dozen times), but the actual impact isn't lacking.

In a way, I'm almost tempted to just leave the review at that: it's God of War. Running on your PSP. You'll topple epic-sized bosses, you'll spill blood by the gallons and collect orbs to power-up attacks while learning new ones, you'll bed buxom ladies in a little mini-game, you'll collect a new weapon with its own move set. Everything that made the PS2 games what they were, from the bombastic, brassy music to the constant hammering of the Square Button to whittle enemies into little bite-sized chunks to the elaborate puzzles that often span multiple levels right down to a trip to Hades.

And. It. Rocks.

The controls are dead-on, allowing for quick rolls and evades and parries that leave enemies open (in fact, one of the new weapons allows a proper parry attack to send projectiles back at enemies), all while missing a second analog stick and a pair of shoulder buttons. The combat itself is meaty and satisfying, still offering the familiar mechanic of linking together hits without taking any yourself to get an orb bonus, but the game (at least on default difficulty) is a bit on the easy side.

By the time I'd hit about 80% into the game, I'd leveled up all my weapons and skills and collected everything there was to collect, health- and mana-wise. Luckily, Ready at Dawn also threw in God Mode (the ultra-difficult version, not the invulnerability one) that unlocks some outtakes, and there are still plenty of alternate costumes and artwork to unlock by playing the Challenge of Hades events.

Chains of Olympus, for those who haven't been following along (all two of you), takes place before the first PS2 game, which means Kratos hasn't yet decided to take on Ares to become the new god of war, and instead is essentially Olympus' bitch, following the commands of the gods (which usually just consist of "kill that guy") all while whining incessantly in between spates of ripping the heads of medusas and tearing the eyes out of cyclopes. Sure, it's familiar stuff, but there was an attempt to link this prequel to the other two games -- particularly when Kratos takes his inevitable trip down to Hades. If you've played the games (or just paid attention during school), you'll be all too familiar with the Titans and their relationship with the gods, but I'll hold off on actually spoiling anything.

The end result is a pacing and narrative that mirrors the console versions perfectly. Though the puzzles definitely take a back seat to the combat (probably the only major gripe I can come up with), everything is arranged in such a way that you never really have to worry about what to do next, and every major action in the game is a means toward some over-arching end. It's something the God of War series does quite well, and Ready at Dawn really does deserve a pat on the back for keeping things as they were on the PS2.

This extends to the visuals which are hands-down the best any portable has ever seen by a mile. Without ever resorting to the usual concessions that are made when talking about portables, the graphics here are on par with a lot of PlayStation 2 games, which is saying something considering the PSP hardware is actually quite a bit closer to the first PlayStation. Every time I expected a massive set piece or an enemy to betray the level of quality and detail, the game shined. It relishes presenting giant stone faces and epic bits of architecture in a brash sort of "yeah, we know PSP games aren't supposed to look this good" way. The framerate is almost universally solid, and effects like milky shafts of light or the rare bit of underwater swimming with it's warping effect are all absolutely flawless. Good gawd this game looks amazing. I know it sounds like such a hack comment to say, but you really won't believe it's all running on that PSP that you may have been neglecting as of late.

That extends right across the board to the audio, from Linda Hunt's narration to T.C. Carson's awesome rendition of Kratos (which, try as I might, I just couldn't come close to matching) to all the grunts, clangs, crumbling rock and sliding mechanisms that have come to define the aural portion of the experience. Yes, even the music, which happily munches up the familiar theme and spits it out across a handful of equally masculine orchestrated tracks, arrives in portable form unfazed by the translation.

I know I've basically just wasted a good nine hundred words regurgitating the same "hey, it's God of War on the PSP!" line, but it really can't be overstated how much of a technical accomplishment this really is. The PSP, at least judging by previous games, shouldn't be able to deliver a game that pares down some of the most impressive visuals on the PS2. It's just not something I expected to happen -- at least not this early into the PSP's life, and if this is a hint of what's to come from big name developers, the idea of a portable PlayStation just got redefined.
The Verdict