There's one similarity between Ghost Rider and most videogame movie tie-ins: Get too close to either, and your ass will probably get burnt.
Though it stars goofy Nic Cage and Sam Elliott sound-alikes, Ghost Rider claims only to be an offshoot of this year's soul-sucking blockbuster -- not a direct videogame adaptation. The game even boasts an original script by comic-book scribes Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti. For those who love Marvel's motorcycle-riding demon but hated the skull-draining movie, this is all hella good news. Unfortunately, after 10 minutes of playing Ghost Rider, you too will want to light your head on fire.
It's too easy to compare Ghost Rider to the God of War series: In both, you'll beat up hordes of creatures with an Ace Hardware log chain. But where God of War had brilliant puzzles, brutal action, and an epic story line, Ghost Rider succeeds only as a clichéd, brain-numbing beat-'em-up. Call it God of Bore.
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: PS2, PSP
ESRB Rating: T (for Teen)
Score: 2.5 (out of 10)
While sucker-punching your way through purgatory as hothead, you can buy power upgrades from pseudo-Sam Elliott (who makes a better mentor to the Big Lebowski than a walking, talking Halloween decoration). These upgrades allow you to learn flashy new spin-kick combos, but it doesn't matter -- stabbing the same button over and over wins the day.
This unbalanced fighting system is most apparent once you've learned a move so powerful, enemies pose no challenge at all. With a push of two buttons, "the Devil's Headbutt" -- not to be confused with Beck's deadly "Devil's Haircut" -- destroys most obstacles with one swift blow. At that point, Ghost Rider becomes the gaming equivalent of lazily crushing thousands of beer cans for recycling day: Stomp, toss aside, sigh heavily, repeat.
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A book about Ghost Rider's enemies could be called The Five People You Meet in Hell -- you'll fight the same five generic baddies over and over. There's a ninja demon, a biker demon, and, for some reason, a circus clown demon in each dull level. One satanic minion tries to be frightening, but sounds like a baby elephant when he howls. Adorable!
What would Ghost Rider be without some motorcycle madness? A little Orange County Choppers-meets-Dante's Inferno racing seems like a great idea. But in fact, each uninspired, carbon-copy stage makes it a highway to hell. And because of game glitches, your cycle sometimes becomes stuck, forcing you to reset the entire level. Yes, Ghost Rider can jump chasms and shoot heat-seeking firebombs, but his bike can't go in reverse when pinned against a wall. By the time you're zooming through a sewer system doing bunny-hops over demon fish, Ghost Rider has already jumped the shark.
The most exciting things about this fiasco, other than fake-Sam Elliott's mustache, are the unlockable extras. Beating the entire game (which takes only about two and a half hours) allows you to replay missions as other macabre Marvel Comics heroes, such as the half-vampire Blade. The upside? You can get your Wesley Snipes on and stab Satan, a.k.a. "fake-Peter Fonda," in his easy-riding ass. The downside? You're still hacking your way through the same mindless crap all over again.
Another bonus is the chance to unlock a handful of actual Ghost Rider comic books, letting you read how it all started. But if the best thing about a game starring a shotgun-toting servant of the devil is reading about it, it's time to ride like hell in the other direction.