15th Feb 2007 | 16:53
As if the back-catalogue of shoddy comic book adaptations on PS2 wasn't shameful enough, here's another uninspired and under-developed calamity for the pile. You play Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stunt rider who sells his immortal soul to Mephisto (a sort of Marvel Universe version of the Devil) in order to save his terminally ill father from cancer. Bit of a short-sighted deal, really, especially when Mephisto turns round and offs his dad after he's cured him. As you'd expect, Johnny's a tad peeved by this, but by now he's been transformed into the soulless Ghost Rider, and he's trapped in Hell.
Naturally, he wants to leave, and the only way out is to fight. In Hell, as everyone knows, all fighting is done using samey combos that look like they've been nicked from God Of War. This is because one of Ghost Rider's main weapons is the Hellfire Chain, which in action looks very much Kratos' Blades Of Chaos, both being firey chains swung about at high speed. Cynics would bandy about words like 'identical' and possibly 'copyright infringement'. The Hellfire Chain's activated with a tap of r, while w throws a straight punch and several thumps of each will deliver basic linked attacks.
A blaze of glory?
It's about here you'll realise that - behind the flailing bluster - there isn't half the complexity to Ghost Rider's combat as there is in Sony's Greek epic, just a relatively small range of repetitive attack sequences. These can be mixed up with aerial variations - press q to jump - and grapple moves, which are activated by pressing e and become available when enemies are dazed. You can even upgrade your move list by cashing in collected souls, but they don't disguise the limitations of the system for long. Special moves fare a little better - collecting demon charge from despatched Hellspawn gives ammunition to your Hellfire Shotgun, which is triggered with i and delivers a satisfying blast. If you're feeling tactical you can also use u to block, though the game never really requires it of you - slightly more frantic combo-mashing is a perfectly viable alternative.
Ghost Rider does have a way of forcing you to mix up your play, though, in the form of level-determined shields on certain enemies. See, at the end of every stage you're given various ratings - for speed, damage dealt and so on - ranking from A to D (each given awful hell-related titles like 'Avenged,' 'Brutal,' and 'Condemned'). During the levels your fighting skill rating is constantly updated - the bar is filled if you vary your moves, improving your rating from 'Damned' upwards, and resets completely if you're hit. Certain enemies are protected by shields which can only be broken once you reach the skill level written on the shield itself. Not a bad idea, you might think - at least it's forcing you to mix up your tactics after all - but surely a better way would be to not make it so easy to get through the game by jumping in the air and hammering r, rather than arbitrarily saying 'this guy's invincible unless you can reel off your whole move list without getting hit'.
Happily there is some respite from the fighting during the bike-riding levels. Again, there's nothing ground-breaking going on here, but the mix of combat - shooting and hand-to-hand - and simple obstacles - jump over, slide under - is diverting enough. Of course it's nowhere near enough to stop Ghost Rider being another totally forgettable licensed-game experience.
With awareness high thanks to the film's release, to make a coin the game just has to be playable and presentable on a basic level. And that's all it gives us. Disappointing.