Film, TV, book tie-in games are often non-too-good. Let's face it; the ones with an original story and a bit of thought are few and far between. Ghost Rider for the PS2 is one of those games. It's not a movie tie-in but it has an original story that takes place after the movie.
It borrows from various other titles such as Devil May Cry and God of War. It even sneaks in a little bit of Road Rash as you progress further through the game. Now you might think that it really needed to be original, but lets face it, we're so many years into the gaming industry that mostly - it's been done before by someone else and if it's not broken, don't fix it.
We were not expecting, at least I wasn't. Some brand new fantastic bells and whistles version for a movie-tie in game.
The only game that blew me out of the water in that respect was the fantastic Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay that was a movie-tie in and stood well as a game in its own right.
So all this introduction aside, because really, what you want to know is simple. Is Ghost Rider for the PS2 worth getting or does it whimper out instead of blazing away?
The short answer is that it's a fun game that gets repetitive pretty quickly. It has a decent storyline that's told through a slightly animated comic-book format, the panels scrolling onto the screen and so on. I'd have personally liked to see a little in-game engine footage used for this but as is so often the case with games like Ghost Rider that's usually an afterthought.
It's a button mashing battle-fest that is action packed with similar enemies, some mini-boss types and a few nice touches in terms of the combat system. It employs the left stick for running around, the right stick is for dodging (can we say GoW - God not Gears, Ed.)
Ghost Rider has his trusty chain and he was swinging that well before Kratos, God Boy was on the scene. There are some special attacks and he even gets his Penance Stare ability. As Bonehead battles enemies they drop various kinds of orbs, souls or whatever you want to call them, Dante would be proud. These are collected and used to power up, or unlock things in the game.
Ghost Rider's new combat moves are learned from using the collected souls, and you can power up the various abilities in-game whilst playing, this makes levelling Ghost Rider fairly easy and a dedicated battler will have him at MAX in no time at all.
You can taunt enemies and the combat system is fast, furious and a lot of fun. That's the main point about the game, these borrowed game styles aren't anything new, but they actually work well for what the game is. It isn't a free-roaming title like the Spiderman 2 game was, or Hulk and if there's a sequel then I truly hope that Ghost Rider goes down this route.
The game is a mix of on-foot combat; there are certain puzzles and puzzle-bosses to defeat. Some of the enemies require your combat guage (DMC etc) to be at a certain level before you can even land a damaging hit on them, and you can power Ghost Rider up with certain elemental abilities later on in the game.
If you can land several combos and get your meter to Vengeance level then Ghost Rider's skull turns blue, he increases in power and as long as you don't get hit you can rip through enemies without too much trouble. Even major bosses can be taken down in a few well timed hits.
The action switches in some levels to the Hellcycle, faithfully reproduced from the movie and pretty powerful. Ghost Rider can attack enemies with his chains ala Road Rash and fire bolts of screaming death. There are jumps to make and the courses are fairly inventive, the action never lets up and you are assaulted with numerous foes as you work your way through the levels. The camera often switches to a slow motion long shot as Ghost Rider makes a perilous leap across a ravine or chasm.
I actually enjoyed these sections more than the on-foot battles.
So the combat system is robust, the bike sections are actually fun and the AI is fairly rudimentary - we're not expecting GoW (Gears not God, Ed.) AI standards here however so that's Ok, there's enough of a challenge at the harder difficulty levels to make it worthwhile too.
The graphics for a PS2 are actually really quite nice. I was expecting (after being spoilt on next-gen) something quite rudimentary but there's a fair amount of detail been given to the various characters, Ghost Rider and his bike especially - it shows that there's life in the PS2 yet and it doesn't slow down FPS wise when a lot of effects kick off.
The voice acting, well, as expected it ranged from fairly decent to downright cheesy. But it's the comic book nature of these games. I actually preferred Ghost Rider's voice in the game to the one I've heard in the movie - it was easier to understand the Rider in the game especially since the demonic flaming skull guy growls like he's swallowed seven hundred rusty nails.
The sound effects are fairly good, there's some decent music and it keeps up with the action-pace. They even got the Hellcycles' acceleration effect balanced nicely with that soul-screaming burnt rubber noise that made me chuckle the first time I heard it.
All in all I actually like Ghost Rider. It's a fun game, not quite up to the standards of other titles. It has some unlocks and a few surprises, like a secret Marvel Character that turns up for you to play with when you finish the game.
Ghost Rider fans will probably get a kick out of this game, but people looking for innovation will be turned away from it. I'd recommend getting it if you're waiting for God of War II to arrive on our not-so-sunny shores.
All in all, enough to make me want to go back and play it again: Let's Ride!