Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Climax Software
Release Date: February 13, 2007
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With that in mind, you kind of have to wonder about the timing of Ghost Rider's release. True, it more or less coincided with the movie's release, but it was also a mere month off from the release of God of War II. In fact, had God of War II not been delayed that one time, the two games would have been released almost simultaneously.
The high-action runoff would have been good news for Ghost Rider, which so blatantly rips off the reigning two kings of action gaming — Devil May Cry and God of War — that it's ridiculous. You can't even laugh and call it quaint, because there are times when it outright steals gameplay mechanics, while making them less fun than the source material in the process.
The control scheme is set up just like God of War, except clunkier. You've got your weak and strong attacks, your jumping, rolling, and even a grab button. However, gone are the days when rolls were easy to do in the heat of battle, (this is partly due to the PSP's control setup), or when attacks flowed into and out of one another like a graceful dance. The grab button will let loose the same single, boring attack when an enemy is snared by it, and what's worse, you can only grab at certain times, (i.e., when you've worn down an enemy enough). This really slows down the action, but it gets worse from here.
The combo and rewards system is almost set up like Devil May Cry 3, to the point where it blatantly clones the ranking meter, complete with "Awesome!" "Brutal!" and "Condemned!" messages. The trouble is, the requirements for raising this meter are much stricter than in Devil May Cry. It disregards the combo meter and is fully dependent on varying attacks. However, since even a fully-powered-up Ghost Rider doesn't have nearly as many attacks as Kratos or Dante, good luck getting this meter up, ever.
This is bad because you'll see lots of enemies in the later parts of the game that are "ranking-shielded." To break their shields and be able to kill them, you must raise your ranking meter (usually to "Brutal!, meaning you have to get through both "Damned!" and "Condemned!" first) and then strike them to be able to hurt them at all. Did I mention that the meter disappears if you get hit even once, forcing you to start all over again? Get ready for lots of solo fights against ranking-shielded baddies, while you struggle to vary your attacks with a tiny attack tree. This really slows down the pace of the fighting.
Ghost Rider does have his fair share of ways to kick serious butt when he feels like it. Clearing challenges that are presented within each stage (such as beating a stage within a certain amount of time, never getting hit, etc.) will allow you to buy extra moves and power-ups with currency in the form of skulls. If you ignore these challenges, however, it will be slow going, as most moves and enhancements require multiple skulls to purchase, and you only earn one skull for beating a stage (as opposed to up to four by beating all challenges).
He also has a shotgun, which can sometimes get him out of a bad situation, but usually, the energy one would use for said shotgun is best used for his Penance Stare. Said Stare reduces enemies to being weak as kittens, and also allows for an insta-kill on any enemy you choose, including mini-bosses. This is useful indeed. Some of the melee moves that you purchase can be rather fun to try out, but it's not long before you're back to the same old grind.
The worst part about Ghost Rider is that, when it comes to the fighting, after a few stages, you've seen all that the game has to offer. Sure, you'll get the occasional large monster or boss fight, but otherwise, you'll be doing little else than to hack away at monsters with controls that encourage you to do combos, yet rarely result in combos. Clear out a room of demons, more respawn, clear those out, move to the next area. Use a Penance Stare if things get too crazy. Lather, rinse, repeat. Unlike the games that this is "inspired" by, the lack of free-form action (despite Climax's clear intentions) means that the fun factor plateaus early on, and doesn't go any further, save for the mild spike which occurs when a new attack is purchased.
The one new thing that Ghost Rider brings to the action table is the Hellbike sequences. Unfortunately, the name's as apt as anything else, because trying to control this bike certainly is, well, hell. When you're tearing along at high speeds in a straight line, fighting enemies left and right and enjoying the occasional slow-motion bike jump, it's not that bad. Unfortunately, after the first couple of these sequences, you'll be making twists and turns, which the controls just aren't up to. You'll also be fighting annoying bosses, which, again, the controls just aren't up to, especially given the bosses' frustratingly high endurance levels compared to your own.
One has to admit that Ghost Rider looks and sounds pretty awesome. Even on the PSP, the game runs handily, with detailed textures on the screen and fire-effects aplenty.
This results in smooth gameplay, to the point where you may actually end up having small amounts of fun doling out the same combination attacks over and over gain while both dodging and powering through enemies. Large and small demons occupy the same space with no slowdown whatsoever — it's just a shame that there isn't much variety in these enemies at all. The soundtrack is your generic death-rock sort of stuff, which fits the game, but some players may want to mute this anyway for fear of what may happen to their ears.
Ghost Rider is, unfortunately, exactly what happens when a studio tries to make a game to ride on the backs of successful games that have come before, without completely looking at what makes those successes so great. It's a failure on the scale of all those "urban" games that the world was deluged with after GTA: San Andreas, and the tragedy is, it'll probably make a decent amount of money anyway. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery ... but it's also the sincerest form of coveting one's profit margin. Feel free to stick with the good action games, and leave Ghost Rider to his burning fate.
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