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PS2 Review: Ghost Rider

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Riding in on top of the fiery success of the box office title (no puns intended), Ghost Rider leaps off the pages of Marvel’s comic book series and is raring to go on the Playstation 2. The superhero has a number of powers and weapons at his disposal, but is his first solo video game effort a blaze of glory or does it go down in flames?

Carrying on from the storyline presented in the recent motion picture, Ghost Rider travels to hell to learn he now has to appease Mephisto, the being who now owns Johnny Blaze’s soul in return for his powers, or else lose his girlfriend to the blazing depths of the netherworld. After Blackheart and denizens of hell escape and look to make the apocalypse arrive early, Rider is now forced to take on a hoard of demons with his chains, shotgun, retribution powers and motorcycle.

Just looking at the title, players will get exactly what they will expect from Ghost Rider – an attempted marriage at successful action titles such as God of War and Devil May Cry, and unfortunately for the title, it’s a comparison that just can’t be avoided. While mashing up two of the Playstation 2’s all-time greatest action titles sounds great on paper, with unoriginal execution and an extreme exercise in repetition, Rider may work only as a rental to appease hardcore fans of the anti-hero and the slash ‘em up genre.

The core premise of the title revolves around Ghost Rider and his encounters with huge groups of enemies of which to battle throughout a number of diverse stages. Climax did well implementing powers and abilities into the game as not only does Rider take a page from Kratos and rip up enemies using brutal attacks from his chains, but damage increases meters that allow him to also fire off the hell shotgun, use proximity blasts and enter retribution. While in retribution mode, Johnny pumps up and not only do his speed and attack greatly increase, but with a press of a button, the penance stare can be unleashed which either obliterates a minor enemy or greatly damages bigger foes.

Offing enemies allows the hero to collect orbs, which act as money to purchase new moves, upgrades and extra media content such as comics, interviews and more. Unlike similar titles, though, Ghost Rider throws too many orbs at players and unfortunately, the character will reach maximum potential after just a portion of the game. While the extras are nice, nobody without interest in the comic series or movie will probably care all that much to go out of their way to unlock them.

While recklessly swinging chains is a majority of the game, the title breaks up the battles with riding scenarios. Ghost Rider wouldn’t be much of a rider without a ride and certain levels put players in the driver’s seat of his trusty trademark motorcycle. Riding through the terrain, players will take care of business by melee attacking with the chains or through the bike’s gunfire. A number of grisly traps and pitfalls will also be thrown in the way, requiring well-timed dodges and jumps at high speed.

The most disappointing factor of Ghost Rider is that it has the formula to be an interesting and enjoyable game, but when so many elements are borrowed from other titles, it can’t be helped but be compared to titles of much higher quality, and while the game offers a short and mediocre play through at best, nothing is done exceptionally well.

The game’s visuals get the job done with semi-detailed environments and decent character models, but a real lack of variety is a huge damper on the title’s presentation. Even noticeable effects such as the emphasis of motion, the blurring of the penance stare and blazing of fire during game play lose their appeal after the thousandth time Ghost Rider swings his chain. After fighting the same two demon types over and over, it left me begging for the game to move on and present me with something new.

While the levels on foot at least show off a little architecture and subtleties, the driving environments tend to look generic and repetitive and revving the bike through levels doesn’t really exude the sense of speed it should. The title also makes use of static comic panels with voiceovers to push the story along. The art brings the style of the comic to players’ screens, but it does little to add punch to a game in sore need of an eye-catching visual.

Battles do, however, ring in some nice sound effects whether it’s the screeching of demons or Ghost Rider screaming at suffering enemies in the midst of a penance stare. The decent voice work for the title also stands out and adds some pizzazz to battles and the game’s otherwise average storytelling.

If Ghost Rider’s music stood out as much as the sound effects, however, it would have served as the game’s saving grace in presentation. Entering into battle brings in a looping guitar riff that grates the nerves after a while and most of the other tunes are easily forgettable.

Fighting with Ghost Rider’s chains should feel quite comfortable to fans of God of War as long as the sometimes awkward camera doesn’t interfere (the right stick makes Ghost Rider roll a la God of War instead of controlling the camera) – in fact, a lot of Ghost Rider’s moves seem to be directly copied from the aforementioned title. Mixing up a combination of weak and strong attacks allow Rider to execute standard combos, launch enemies for an air beating or grab dazed enemies for a PG-13 execution. While hardly original, the format works well in Ghost Rider and flows pretty well until the constant button mashing leads to mass repetition.

The problem with playing the title, though, is it reeks of borrowed material and its one defining difference, the driving segments, are poorly designed and do not control as well as the other sections of the game. Constant panning replays of jumps break up what should be fast, furious action and taking down enemies is more of a mindless shooting gallery than brutal high-speed combat. The only thing that dictates player involvement in these segments is the constant jumps and occasional turns.

The combo ranking system, similar to Devil May Cry’s, offers players a chance to boost rewards from defeated enemies but also play a role in breaking shields found around some enemies. These shields require a specific level on the ranking meter in order for Ghost Rider to be able to smash them and make the enemy vulnerable. Unfortunately, this usually leads to much frustration as groups of enemies can find their way through a player’s offense and land a blow that makes the ranking meter reset.

As said before, players will max characters out fast, meaning at best, an average gamers will blow through the title in a handful of hours. Most of the replayability comes from unlocking all the extras, which, because of the masses of orbs thrown at players, shouldn’t be a difficult task. Regrettably, this forces Ghost Rider a one-day play-and-forget affair.

Ghost Rider for the Playstation 2 has some good concepts behind it, but when you boil it down, they are all someone else’s concepts. While there’s nothing wrong with building upon something successful, the title does little to build upon those concepts and players are left with a completely average at best debut for Ghost Rider. The extreme repetition and uninteresting driving segments really bump the game down a notch but those looking for a burst of mindless action or something bearing Ghost Rider’s name, a rental of Ghost Rider will definitely suffice.

Ghost Rider is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB and contains Alcohol Reference, Blood and Gore, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game is also available on: PC, PSP.

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