PlayStation Studios Spotlight: Santa Monica Studio

Sony has so many first-party studios that keeping track of what they’re all working on can be difficult. The fourth in our Spotlight series illuminates the big dogs in the Santa Monica Studio. Once we have some of these together we will wrap them all up into a single article (which we will keep updated) where you can easily see what all the big teams are up to.

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Overview of the Santa Monica Studio

In 1999, Santa Monica Studio opened next to Naughty Dog, which was then closely affiliated. The team made Kinetica – a strange futuristic motorcycle racing game – for PS2 in 2001. This taught the team a few lessons, enough that Santa Monica would feel safe enough to move on to the 2005 PS2 release God of War, the first of seven in the series. We follow the protagonist Kratos after the Greek god Ares tricked the angry Spartan into killing his family, and we see Kratos climbing his way up the Olympic ladder. The games were hack-and-slash action through and through, requiring combos and weapon chaining across the camera angles set. Led by the brave and audacious David Jaffe, Santa Monica continued the success of the original in God of War II in 2007 with the confidence and boast of a Greek god. The game was memorable because it was excellent, but it was also released for a year into the PS3 lifecycle on the PS2 hardware. The current studio manager, Cory Barlog, began working on the franchise with Jaffe at this point. Before Santa Monica would develop the PS3 version of God of War III in 2010, there were the prequel PSP games Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, which were developed by the close allies Ready at Dawn. The God of War PS3 era ended in 2013 with Ascension, the series’ first multiplayer game and the first Santa Monica-developed prequel. When God of War restarted in 2018 and became a sequel hit – the game played in Norse mythology with an older Kratos – the series turned away from the old hack-and-slash style of teenage fear and became a hyper-focused action game with a touching touch History and absurdly good films. The game won GOTY at the Game Awards in 2018.

There is an incubation team within Santa Monica that helps publish smaller projects for Sony or support development: these are the invisible depths of the studio that many fans forget. The catalog is huge and worth checking out for yourself, but here’s a sneak peek. The Incubation Unit helped give birth to Lightbox Interactive’s Warhawk and its sequel Starhawk, as well as the Fat Princess series from Fun Bits and the underrated PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale from Superbot Entertainment. Thatgamecompany produced Flow, Flower and Journey in Santa Monica and the larger development team helped bring Eat Sleep Plays Twisted Metal (2012) and Ready at Dawns The Order: 1886 to life. Seriously, that crowd has been busy over the years!

Santa Monica Studio’s previous project: God of War (2018)

Game of the year 2018, what more could you want? The echo of ‘boy!’ will live on through the game’s story, but beneath the roaring aggression of Kratos’ voice hides something we had never heard of the protagonist before: humanity. The game has a 94 from critics and a 9.2 from users on Metacritic, which shows its universal praise. Throwing an ax has never felt so good, nor has exploring a chivalrous setting felt so good. Just lovely.

Current project from Santa Monica Studio: God of War: Ragnarok

As we sat down to write this, we found we literally only have one splash screen for the game since it was teased in 2020. Nothing really came out of the studio: no footage, no screen caps, no story beats. Sony has the game under lock and key. Hermen Hulst casually postponed the game to 2022.

Santa Monica Studio in 2021

Literally nothing has been leaked from Santa Monica, rumored, or even directly confirmed by Sony. The last big news was in 2020, and it suggested the creative director – Cory Barlog – could be working on a sci-fi project either alongside Ragnarok or instead of Ragnarok. This was then exposed by Barlog himself and then re-exposed after the overtly disgusting tweets that followed confirmation of the delay in which Barlog said he was “in charge” at Ragnarok.

Where does Santa Monica Studio stand?

The difficulty with rating Santa Monica is that God of War (2018) is its major work; a combination of many small things that make a perfect whole. The story of Kratos and Atreus makes for a 5/5 and A *, a favorite to burn into an obsession. However, this is not a review of God of War. Santa Monica is talented, can feel great at a game, and is very confident in the moment. The studio has also helped other development teams curate amazing experiences, some of which were essential to shaping the PlayStation catalog in the PS3 era. But until now the team has not replicated this stellar God of War level edition like a Naughty Dog or an Insomniac. That feels very hard to say and harder to just give the team gold. Make no mistake though, a gold trophy is hard to earn and certainly the mark of a great developer. Of all the other teams on this list, Santa Monica is closest to the next highest team. If the team creates another great game in Ragnarok, then expect the developer to be one of the elite PlayStation studios with a platinum trophy.



Great games already nicked for the studio and ready to do even more

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