Next month will begin a marketing blitz around Columbia Pictures' action flick Ghost Rider, which is based on the demonic antihero of the same name from Marvel Comics. One of the chief elements of this effort will be a new Ghost Rider game from 2K Games and developer Climax. Recently, we got to check out a nearly finished version of the game on the PlayStation 2 and PSP to see how they're coming together, just a few weeks before release of the game and the film.
Rather than re-creating the movie in video game form, the developers have set the Ghost Rider game's storyline after the movie and turned it into a fan service package of sorts; it will contain characters and elements from the comics not seen in the movie. But for the uninitiated, Ghost Rider is a stuntman named Johnny Blaze by day (played in the movie by Nicolas Cage) who sells his soul in exchange for the hellish powers that turn his head into a flaming skull and let him look all badass riding around on a motorcycle and wearing a lot of black leather.
In addition to Mephisto, who serves as the main bad guy in the movie, fans of Ghost Rider can expect to do battle with other villainous mainstays from the series, such as Scarecrow, Lilith, and Blackout. Comic writers Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti (the former of whom has worked on the Ghost Rider book in the past) collaborated with the developers on the game's story, which will hopefully lend the game the authenticity that diehard fans crave.
The gameplay itself centers on hardcore combat in the vein of Devil May Cry. Ghost Rider will start out with a selection of melee moves, and you'll collect souls from defeated enemies that you can cash in at any time to unlock quite a few more combat maneuvers. You've also got the hellfire shotgun, which can be used to take out enemies at range when you're in a pinch. But this shotgun is powered by the same retribution meter that you can use to send Ghost Rider into a rage mode, which gives him extra power. So based on the combat situations you're in, you'll have to balance the use of these two abilities judiciously.
Comic fans will know Ghost Rider's penance stare, which he uses to make enemies relive all the pain and suffering they've caused others in the span of one brief moment. You'll have this ability in the game as a finishing move too, and it will be visually depicted in a manner consistent with that of the movie (though we'll let you wait and see how it's done). Ghost Rider's motorcycle is as central to the popular image of the character as his flaming skull, so between the on-foot melee levels, you'll encounter racing levels that have you tearing through the streets on the iconic chopper. You can attack with a projectile shot that can be upgraded to fire three homing shots, as well as a chain melee attack for enemies that get too close.
The game will feature a host of unlockable content that comic fans should appreciate. Once you've finished the main story mode, you'll unlock the half-vampire character Blade (who we hear had his own series of popular movies a few years back). You'll play through the same missions and boss fights with Blade that you did with Ghost Rider, but at least Blade will have his own unique move set. And in addition to the expected production art that you'll access from the main menu, you'll be able to unlock a number of issues of the Ghost Rider series that you can flip through and read in their entirety.
Ghost Rider will also hit the PSP with the same basic content and unlockables as the main PS2 version, though the presentation will be tailored to the portable format. The levels will be broken up into shorter subsections, and each of these segments will present three "skull challenges" to complete. Two of these challenges will involve finishing the sublevel within a time limit and with a minimum number of souls, respectively; the third will be a wildcard that varies by the level. Unlike on the PS2, you'll unlock new combat moves with these skulls, so if you get to later levels and find yourself struggling, you'll want to go back to earlier levels and complete more of the skull challenges to gain enough currency to bolster your combat abilities.
Finally, the PSP version will see an exclusive multiplayer mode that will let four players choose from 10 Ghost Rider characters and hit five tracks in a Mario Kart-style combat-oriented race game. In addition to such expected power-ups as projectile weapons, we saw a few more interesting powers, such as a power that turns the screen upside down (and naturally inverts the controls) for all other players. Three modes will be on offer here: vengeance, which is the default race type; eliminator, which knocks out the last-place racer after each lap; and survivor, which causes your health to tick down over the course of the race. You'll also be able to play this race mode by yourself against three computer-controlled opponents, if you don't have any friends.
It's a little disappointing that Ghost Rider isn't hitting next-generation platforms, but the game does appear to be doing the right things for fans of the property. The fairly involved combat model, involvement of some of the comic's creative forces, and the bevy of nice unlockable content are just a few examples. Look for Ghost Rider to hit the PS2 and PSP just a few days before the movie in mid-February.