Angry characters in videogames, cartoons, and comics have historically expressed their emotional state by turning crimson and/or spouting steam from their ears. (See, for instance, the Wigglers in Super Mario World.) Which is what made God Of War’s Kratos so intriguing. Here was a far more complex display of anger. Here was evidence that videogames were capable of an emotional range greater than that of a Tex Avery short. Yet with each successive entry in the God Of War series—Ghost Of Sparta is the fifth game—Kratos’ trademark vitriol, which once seemed to be a harbinger of an era of emotional maturity to come for games, has lapsed into unfortunate parody.
Ghost Of Sparta’s plot is more of the series’ highbrow trash. Typical of all God Of War games, the mythological milieu gives this installment a faux erudite patina. Though you're merely banging away at two buttons, the series’ genius is that you forever feel like you’re doing something of grave importance, something that would make a ninth-grade English teacher proud.
New to the series is Deimos, Kratos’ estranged brother, whom you must locate in the name of reconciliation. It's a terrific narrative hook to hang the game on, yet the developers never fully capitalize on it. Hours of the game sail past with no mention of Deimos, leaving Kratos looking lost, and leaving gamers feeling lost.
Sparta also unfortunately arrives in the same year as the PlayStation 3’s God Of War III. No one expects as much bang-for-your-buck from a portable game as they would a console game, but for players who rode atop high-definition Titans only a few months ago, Sparta inevitably feels small and miserly. Which would be more tolerable if the game featured any remarkable gameplay innovations. It doesn’t. Aside from Thera’s Bane, which infuses the Blades of Athena with fire, there are no significant new wrinkles to the game’s familiar mechanics.
But all would be forgiven—well, mostly forgiven—if Kratos would simply stop being such a one-note prick about everything. Innocent people beg him for help. In response, he not only kills them, he does everything short of hocking loogies down their dismembered necks. In the game’s final moments, Kratos performs his first genuinely humane act, but the sentiment turns out to be as hollow as a Hallmark card.