Ghost Rider Review
The movie did very well at the box office, as theater-goers everywhere flocked to check out the stuntman with a new flaming skull and a cool attitude. "Ghost Rider" was a hit as a film, but we had our reservations regarding the video game...after all, based on the last quarter-century (it basically started with "E.T.") of gaming, how can you blame us? Most movie-to-game incarnations range from horrendous to merely average; it's very, very rare that you get one that actually qualifies as good. Well, Ghost Rider has plenty going for it on the surface, as you know ahead of time you'll have straight-up fast-paced combat action combined with speedy motorcycle portions. But can the two very different gameplay styles combine to provide a cohesive and entertaining experience?
The graphics aren't impressive in the least, but they're not poor, either. Most of the visuals consist of your typical assortment of generic details and environmental designs, and after a while, you'll just start ignoring the background. That's not a good thing, but then again, the graphics aren't bad enough so they actually take away from your game involvement. There aren't really any major errors or flaws, and despite the lack of an inspired color palette or level creation, the visuals in Ghost Rider are barely passable. Enemy and character design is a major drawback, though; it's some of the most bland and run-of-the-mill productions imaginable, especially when you have a concept like "Ghost Rider." A few of the bosses were kinda interesting, but besides that, the graphics are largely forgettable. Not terrible, but definitely forgettable.
The sound is marginally better, if only because they chose some hard-rock tracks that fit the action on screen. Unfortunately, they fell in love with one or two tracks and decided to use those over and over and over again throughout the entire adventure. And again, it just turns into another feature you start to ignore, although the music plays a better role in your experience. The effects are okay, but nothing we could consider refined or memorable; it basically sounds like any other action game you've played. It was a little disappointing to start off so promising in the very first area, fully prepared to kick some ass thanks to the appropriate mood-setting rock track, and then listen as nothing new ever arose.
If this game had come out before Devil May Cry and God of War, Ghost Rider would've felt fresh, lively, and invigorating. We would've lauded it as the second coming of the action genre, giddy with the feeling of a unique new experience and impressed that a game based on a movie finally amounted to something. But unfortunately, this isn't 2001. And as it stands, this game shamelessly steals from Capcom's DMC series and Sony's GoW series, recycling ideas and passing them off as their own. They don't even bother to change the most obvious things; the doorway shields are Dante-red, the souls you absorb and the fixed camera are from both DMC and GoW, and even the sound effects for filling up your skills with acquired souls is identical to that of God of War.
Heck, some levels almost look as if they copied entirely from Capcom's original Devil May Cry (like the city streets with debris all over the place), and you're constantly saying to yourself, "how'd they get away with this?" Really, it's a wonder both Capcom and Sony don't sue the snot out of Climax Studios and 2K Games. ...but at the same time, we have to admit something: we still had fun. It was simple, repetitive, too easy, and every once in a while, just plain boring, but for whatever reason, it was still entertaining. After all, even if they are stealing from other games, they're stealing from some damn great games, right? Granted, the developers didn't do nearly as well recreating those features in Ghost Rider, but they still worked, for the most part.
You might actually be surprised to see how many different moves the main character has at his disposal; he can use his chains, punch, or execute a variety of combinations that can be both visually appealing and wildly effective. The balance is out of whack, though, as some of the most damaging maneuvers are learned too early. One particular move, which is executed by pressing the R1 and Square button, utterly destroys many enemies in only one shot, and even smashes bosses to bits in around three hits. Also, your foes aren't very bright, as they all use the same style of attack patterns, and none seem capable of hitting you out of the air. If you spent your life jumping around and attacking, you could make it through 95% of the game. And that's a big problem. However, you do learn your abilities at a pretty decent rate, even if you get them all too quickly and too easily.
The other part of the gameplay has you on Ghost Rider's Hell Cycle, and while the sensation of speed is excellent and your options are diverse, none of it is really challenging. The controls are way too loose as well. Still, you can smack enemy riders to the left and right, shoot fireballs in front of you, jump (and even double-jump, later), and slide beneath obstacles. All of this comes together for a relatively entertaining action-laden ride, despite all its intrinsic faults. In this way, it's much like the combat: the foundation is significantly flawed, but for some reason, it doesn't quite topple the gameplay. Honestly, we were convinced it would, and while other critics have lambasted the game for this, we have to admit it didn't faze us nearly as much.
There's some more bad news, though, and this comes from the technical side of things. First off, the camera is just plain mediocre. This style of camera can be challenging for developers, but it has gotten a lot better in recent years...like we said, if this was six years ago, Ghost Rider would've appeared great. But the camera often forces you to fight invisible enemies attacking you off the edge of the screen, and that can get very frustrating. Secondly, there are some significant slowdown issues (the game even stopped for a second at one point), and that can also affect your combat. Thirdly and finally, there was one instance of a major glitch: we somehow ended up underneath a bridge we were fighting on, which isn't possible. But after a few seconds, we were able to jump back "through" the bridge to resume fighting.
So the game certainly has its problems, that's for damn sure. And there really isn't a single aspect of the gameplay that is any more than mediocre or average, but again, we have to reiterate: we had some fun for a while, tearing through enemies and whipping around on our demonic cycle. Sadly, the entire game won't take you much longer than three hours - four or five if you're a novice - which makes it very difficult to recommend a purchase, and the story is hardly a benefit. Without any of the celebrity voices from the movie, the game focuses on a comic-based tale centering on Mephisto's employ of Ghost Rider to stop his son, Blackheart, from going nuts on earth. That kind of behavior might be accepted in hell, but not on the surface, it seems. It's a disjointed and mostly ho-hum plot, with yawn-inducing voiceovers and storybook-themed cut-scenes.
But in our opinion, Ghost Rider is one of those instances where the overall product is greater than the sum of its parts. Not much greater, mind you, but it might satisfy fans of both the movie and the comic book. It's fast-paced, it's accessible enough, there are plenty of moves for the casual gamer, and it's got plenty of unlockable fanservice extras. You can unlock concept art, the Making of Ghost Rider, full comic book editions, and you'll even be able to play as Blade once you complete the main quest with Ghost Rider. Blade has his own assortment of weapons and moves, too. Therefore, while it certainly isn't what we'd call a good action game, it does hold some simplistic and juvenile appeal. And sometimes, that's all we really want for an hour or two. It's too bad that they had to steal just about everything, and the problems continued to mount up with every passing level...ah well, the search for a top-notch movie-turned-game continues.
5/5/2007 Ben Dutka