Being released outside of the usual summer blockbuster period, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Ghost Rider isn't going to be all that great. Add in the fact that Nicolas Cage has made some dodgy movie decisions recently, and you wonder if the February release date was a decision made to stop the movie sinking beneath the weight of giant summer blockbusters. Things may turn out well for the movie about a crime-fighting vigilante with a flaming skull, but I had little hope for the video game of the same name. Imagine my surprise then, when Ghost Rider turned out to be far from a hellish experience.
After a brief intro that details how Ghost Rider came to be, you're thrown into what is probably best described as Devil May Cry with a movie license. Before Capcom fans start piercing the blisters on their thumbs in protest, this isn't nearly as complex, but the locked camera and focus on close quarters combat is very familiar. Battling through the Hell level proved to be a rather simple exercise, but it was also serving as an introduction to the combat. New moves for Ghost Rider's chain and upgrades can be bought using what are essentially experience points, and the variety in combos is what should elevate this above the usual movie licensed fodder.
After a couple of hours I'd built up a number of combos and had started to pull off some pretty impressive moves. On top of the standard weak and strong attack, and the various combos that come with them, you can unleash numerous special attacks. Various gauges fill up as you collect red and green orbs dropped from fallen enemies, and these can be used to trigger an enhanced power mode, a linked attack and a single shot of your gun. As you'd expect, these attacks cause more damage to enemies, and they come in handy when facing larger enemies and boss characters.
Fast paced combat is only one side to the game though; Ghost Rider also features numerous bike sections, but sadly these levels have so far proven to be far less entertaining. The mechanics are simple enough, with Ghost Rider able to shoot his gun and use his flaming chain while steering his bike, but it's what you're asked to do with the bike that makes these sections a little aggravating. Rather bizarrely, the tracks are littered with signs indicating that the bike needs to leap over gaps or slide under barriers, and they seem more than a little contrived.
Even in this pre-final state, it's obvious that Ghost Rider is a step above similar titles, such as the dire Fantastic 4 game from a few years back. Visually it's not too shabby either, with plenty of fire effects and numerous enemies on screen at once. A slightly tweaked frame rate in the final game wouldn't go amiss though, and some of the voice work from Ghost Rider is unintentionally amusing, but on the whole it's a nicely presented game. Notably, Nicolas Cage is completely absent from the game, which will no doubt be a disappointment to fans wanting to see him in a video game.
Ghost Rider isn't going to set new standards when it's released late in February for the PlayStation 2, PSP and GBA, but it has given me new hope for the movie, which can only mean good things for the video game. Fans of the comic book and gamers looking for more Ghost Rider action following a trip to the cinema could well be in luck, but we'll give you our final verdict next month.