We’re already beginning to see glimpses of the advertising onslaught surrounding Columbia Pictures’ upcoming feature film, "Ghost Rider," so it’s no surprise we have the game in our sights as well. The antihero with a ghastly flaming head, played in the movie by Nicholas Cage, is another Marvel Comics creation, and Climax will handle the development while publishing responsibility falls to 2K Games. They’re releasing Ghost Rider for both the PS2 and PSP on February 13, and we’ve got an in-depth look at what could be one hell of a kick-ass title. Will we finally get a great movie-to-game conversion, or is this yet another ill-advised cross-over?
The first bit of good news – as we see it, anyway – is that Climax isn’t creating the game around the movie’s storyline; they’ve actually written a whole new plot that takes place after the movie. Furthermore, we’ll get to see a whole bunch of stuff that won’t be in the film, like a variety of characters and style elements you might recognize from the classic comic series. However, the basic concept remains the same: you play as Johnny Blaze, a stuntman by day and the hellish demon Ghost Rider at night. He took the bait and signed his soul away for his hot (pun intended) new powers, and now, he’s cursed to riding around on a freaky chopper with a ton of leather. It’s not hell, per se, but a flaming skull certainly looks painful.
For those of you already familiar with the story, you’ll certainly recognize the name of the bad dude, Mephisto. You’ll face him numerous times throughout the adventure, but he’s hardly the only nasty enemy you’ll encounter. In fact, several horrific villains are lying in wait for the game version of Ghost Rider, and the list includes Lilith, Scarecrow, and Blackout. And if you’re looking for a solid sense of authenticity, comic writers Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti were on hand during the development process, so they probably knew the ins and outs of the story. If you don’t want your entertainment adaptation to suck, bring in the guys who are most familiar with the concept, right?
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Climax is going all out with this one, tossing out a hardcore, in-your-face combat engine along the lines of God of War or Devil May Cry. The dark rider will begin with the typical assortment of melee moves, and by defeating enemies, you’ll gather their souls...kinda like Scorpion fused with Shang Tsung, Mortal Kombat fans. Those souls can be exchanged to unlock all kinds of goodies, like more battle maneuvers and special weapons. You actually begin with the hellfire shotgun, but the gun doesn’t use bullets; it uses the same "Retribution" power you utilize to send Ghost Rider into Rage Mode. Therefore, we’re seeing a certain amount of strategy here, as the player will have to balance and allocate that Retribution Power effectively.
One seriously cool feature we’ll be interested in seeing is the "penance stare," which is the ability Ghost Rider uses to force his foes to experience all the pain and suffering they’ve caused (remember that scene at the end of "The Crow?"). In the game, this stare will be used as a finishing move of sorts – Fatality, baby! – and we’ve heard the ability will be shown cut-scene style, in a style consistent with the movie. And of course, you’ll both walk and ride in the game, even coming across races in your devilish travels. You can also attack from the seat of your killer ride by using a homing projectile and a wicked chain attack, specifically designed for those unfortunate souls who get too close.
We briefly touched on the unlockable content and secrets scattered throughout the game, but now it’s time to elaborate- once you’ve completed the main story, you will unlock Blade, the widely recognized half-vampire warrior, recently depicted in a trilogy of popular movies. But that’s not even the cool part. What’s awesome about unlocking Blade is that you can actually go back through the entire game with him, and Climax has gone out of their way to include a whole new set of moves and abilities for the cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow vampire slayer. Furthermore, we’ll receive the customary production art unlockables as well as several "Ghost Rider" comic issues that you can read in their entirety. Now that’s what we call productive fanservice.
All of this is for the PS2 version, but in regards to the PSP version, it will feature the same extra content and unlockables, although we’ll certainly see a visual revamping to fit the portable. In addition, they’re breaking up the missions into shorter segments, and each segment will boast three "skull challenges" you can attempt to complete. This will involve finishing the level within a set time limit, finishing with a minimum number of souls, and for the gambler, a "wild card" requirement that will vary from segment to segment. While the PS2 version relies on souls to obtain new abilities, you’ll be using the skulls received in those challenges to gain your new powers in the PSP version. The good news is you’ll be able to return to previously played levels and complete unfinished challenges for those skulls.
While this sounds like a somewhat watered down and more structured version of the PS2 game, the PSP version will have the benefit of an exclusive multiplayer mode. Four players at once can select from 10 Ghost Rider characters and head out to the track, ala Mario Kart, only with Twisted Metal-esque weapons. And within that race mode, you can choose from Vengeance (regular race), Eliminator (last-place racer after each lap goes home), and Survivor (health slowly deteriorates over the course of the race). Doesn’t this sound like an absolute blast?
It’s too bad they didn’t have enough time to bring this game to next-gen consoles, but then again, Ghost Rider appears to have plenty of promise. It’s all going to revolve around that combat mechanic, and how the motorcycle and special abilities will be implemented. Let’s hope, Marvel fans!
1/25/2007 Ben Dutka