IGN Review of Ghost Rider
Comic book games and movies can be extremely difficult to make, simply because it's hard to capture the same magic that makes the stories work so well on the printed page. But while telling the story of classic heroes like The X-Men or the Fantastic Four is tricky, it's damn near impossible to accurately portray anti-heroes and their complexities. As a tie in to the upcoming theatrical release of Ghost Rider, 2K Games and Climax Studios took on the challenge of bringing the Spirit of Vengeance to Sony's consoles. Unfortunately, lackluster level design, repetitive enemies and an unimpressive combat system combine to make an extremely weak game. So weak, that your wallet will probably scream for retribution against you if you go out and purchase this game.
Well known comic book writers Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti wrote the story behind Ghost Rider, and set the action after the events of the film. Johnny Blaze, who sold his soul to save his father's life, transforms into the Ghost Rider whenever the blood of the innocent is spilled. However, the demon who acquired Johnny's Soul, Mephisto, has other plans for the Rider. It appears that Mephisto's son, Blackheart, and a number of demons from Hell have escaped and are threatening to jumpstart the Apocalypse. This supposedly disrupts the delicate balance Mephisto has with heaven, so he offers Johnny a choice he can't refuse. Either the Ghost Rider fights for him and destroys the rogue demons, or Johnny's girlfriend, Roxanne Simpson, is dragged into hell and possessed by Mephisto.
Ghost Rider starts out with a number of attacks, such as light and heavy strikes with his chains wrapped in hellfire. These can be strung together for combos, which also power up two separate gauges that let the rider pull off specialized attacks like shotgun blasts and radial energy strikes. Filling the spirit gauge lets the Rider enter Retribution mode, which boosts his speed and his damage, and gives him the opportunity to perform his ultimate move, known as the Penance Stare. Regardless of how you choose to dispatch enemies, the result is the same: you'll receive souls for each demon you kill, which can be used to purchase new skills and abilities for the Rider to use in the game. What's more, if you manage to vary your attacks, you can increase your Vengeance Bar, which will increase the number of souls you receive from downed beasts as long as you don't take any damage from incoming strikes.
Unfortunately, if you've ever played an action title that requires any kind of manual dexterity or skill with combinations, you'll notice just how much Ghost Rider attempts to emulate these experiences and literally butchers them in the translation. The depicted chain attacks are obviously stolen from God of War, just as the battle rating system is snatched from Devil May Cry. For the most part, it doesn't really matter what kind of rating you receive during battle, because you'll still gain enough souls during a stage to unlock just about every move early on in the game. The times where the rating does matter is when certain demons are protected by energy shields, which require a specific level on the bar to break through the defense. Not only is this a skewed system because it forces you to constantly launch attacks against this "impregnable" shield until the game registers enough damage, but it is way too easy for some monster from off screen to hit you, eliminating the Vengeance Bar and forcing you to start over from scratch.
This is a lame way to extend gameplay for a title with the limited beasts that you'll face off against. For Christ's sake, with the entire pantheon of Marvel villains, you'll take out such fearsome beasts as minor demons, ninjas and clowns. Every now and then, you'll have to face off against an elemental for its soul. Are you kidding me? These are the only enemies that you continually slog through, in varying numbers and in different locations, and they're not even worth breaking a sweat over. Seriously, for a character who's killed Lucifer and battled Dr. Strange in the comic books, these lukewarm beasts are extremely disappointing. The same can be said about the inclusion of the actual Marvel "boss" fights, which come across more like a fight cameo.
While it wouldn't seem possible, the Hellcycle riding is much worse than the hand to hand combat. Players "drive" their cycle across nightmarish landscapes filled with gaping pits and low overhanging obstacles. Along the way, various enemies will either pop up in the road, or ride on modified propulsion to attack you. You can fend off these creatures with your chains, which you can swing to the left or right side of your bike, or with fired projectiles. These missions literally become poorly controlled shooting galleries, because the enemies that you face aren't particularly difficult to destroy. Driving the bike, on the other hand, can be an exercise in frustration because of its poor turning radius and lack of responsiveness to commands. Even worse, once you traverse the multiple racing tracks and defeat the idiotic elemental awaiting you at the end, you have to jump back on the cycle and traverse the same course in reverse. This repetitive driving is a horrible design choice for the game, which sucks because it takes up at least 35 percent of the title.
At least the designers put some attention behind the extras behind the game. Players will have the opportunity to unlock comic pages from the various runs of the Ghost Rider comic books, as well as concept art and designer movies. These are decent items to include, and for fans of the comics it's a nice amount of content. However, you'll easily unlock everything thanks to the leftover souls you collect during the game. What's more, you'll open up cheats, new difficulty levels and new characters to use for the main adventure. Unfortunately, the cheats really make the game extremely simplistic, and most of the characters play exactly the same way without any appreciable differences to their abilities. After blazing through the game (no pun intended), you'll never return to it again.
If only the visuals were good within the game, Ghost Rider might find some kind of
technical saving grace. That isn't to be found here. Environmental details are very muddy and poorly defined and character models are particularly bland and unimpressive. The camera within the game is utterly abysmal. You rarely have control over where it goes, and when you do, it's extremely limited. The camera will often get stuck on game environments or even inside monsters, making it nearly impossible to see what's going on every now and then, especially if a lot of foes are onscreen. Add to that a lot of slowdown that crops up when you're attacking a group of enemies, and you have a game that wasn't well created.
The sound is a bit better, but not by much. The screeches from hellbats, the clink of Ghost Rider's chains and the booming explosion from the shotgun are standouts, but those really are about it with a forgettable soundtrack and tame effects. The voice acting isn't particularly memorable either. In fact, you'll probably find yourself tuning all of this noise out as you go through the game, especially because it doesn't add anything to the overall experience.
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