Ghost Rider
| Ghost Rider

Work on an assembly line can't be fun: the same dreary motions, minute after minute, hour after hour, with only lunch and daydreaming of a better life to break up the monotony.

Yet faced with the alternate task of playing Ghost Rider, your newfound sense of perspective would probably have you waking up early, eager to be the first to clock in to join the chicken packing line.

That's because Ghost Rider, a loose adaptation of the recent Hollywood interpretation of Marvel's hero, is an exceptionally dull affair – which is surprising given that you're tasked with whipping, punching and blasting demons back to their seedy underworld den. You'd normally expect that to be more fun than, say, inserting the circuit board into an LCD set.

Immediate impressions of the Story mode are favourable. Control of the main character is pleasingly fast and fluid, and this extends to the combat system, which consists of little more than light and heavy attacks, backed by jump, roll, block and grab functions (only used once enemies are stunned).

It sounds restrictive but a healthy number of combos are possible, as long as you've 'purchased' them using skulls earned from completing missions. The 'shop' screen appears at the end of each of the 40 missions, and in addition to extra moves also tempts you by offering the ability to boost other key attributes such as your health gauge, as well as less crucial (though nevertheless welcome) bonus unlockables such as concept artwork, developer interview footage and even a selection of Ghost Rider comics.

The depth of the character progression system evident from your first shop visit is as encouraging as the responsiveness and pace of the combat experienced during the first stage, which, as with most of the others, at some three minutes is well-suited to short burst play. But by the time you've reached the end of the third level the optimism is likely to have been replaced by growing concern.

You see, like some devilish curse, Ghost Rider is the definition of repetitiveness: you enter an area, trigger a cut-scene detailing the creatures you're about to face, despatch them, find the checkpoint, trigger more enemies and so on, until no one but yourself is left standing. New adversaries come along but it doesn't matter whether you're fighting ghouls in a village square or demon ninjas on an industrial cargo lift – the sensation is exactly the same.

And that in itself wouldn't be such an issue if your opponents provided something resembling an engaging and therefore rewarding challenge, but alas they are almost without exception brainless, characterless drones that are effortlessly dealt with.

True, there is some variety in the way you can tackle them. In addition to the standard moves, you have access to a shotgun and further actions resulting from Spirit and Link Charge gauges. When full, the former enables Retribution, which sees you inhabit a parallel plane in which you become stronger and faster than your enemies (as well as being able to perform the soul-sucking Penance Stare by grabbing one of the lumbering opponents), while the latter unleashes a devastating attack on anyone within its blast radius.

Still, they're hardly enough to save the game, which is presumably why you'll also find a dynamic 'borrowed' from other games that involves collecting the souls of fallen enemies. You can't actually swap these for goodies, although reaching a predetermined number will gain you one of the three bonus achievements associated with each stage – and achievements mean extra skulls, which mean better shopping.

Ultimately, these challenges (others tend to focus on a time limit or simple tasks such as not using block throughout a level) may seem like an additional layer, but as with the extra moves they do little to further engage the player. There is a plot, not that you'll care much for it given how lightly it figures, and how it seemingly has no bearing on what you're doing, while the action is simply too uninspiring and the game so lacking in character to keep any interest going.

A perfect indication of this can be seen in the way the Hell Cycle sections – which see the protagonist mount his trademark flaming ride – utterly fail to inject variety or spice up the disappointingly bland experience. Even when played on their own in Challenge mode – or against fellow PSP owners in Multiplayer – they decidedly do not to excite.

On paper, being able to slice through hellspawn while sliding under an obstacle, performing gravity-teasing jumps and shooting enemies to smithereens may sound like fun but here it's not; you just end up spending most of your time bouncing from one side of the scenery to the next while having to repeat increasingly tricky sections.

Further frustration comes courtesy of the on-foot sections, where opponents have no qualms about attacking you off-screen, giving you little fighting chance to block their advance. Or, as often happens, they simply disappear because of being positioned between you and the camera – a credible attempt at combat clarity that in practice just ends up being annoying.

Yet not as infuriating as encountering yet another film licence no doubt severely hampered by the time restraints of hitting the shop shelves alongside the cinematic release.

You can detect potential in some of Ghost Rider's elements – and even take an educated guess as to which areas the developer was forced to cut corners with – but the absurd level of repetition combined with its dreary execution are overwhelming. It's 'assembly line' gaming, and that proves to be as much fun as it sounds.

Ghost Rider

An inexcusably repetitive, soulless experience
Joao Diniz Sanches
Joao Diniz Sanches
With three boys under the age of 10, former Edge editor Joao has given up his dream of making it to F1 and instead spends his time being shot at with Nerf darts. When in work mode, he looks after editorial projects associated with the Pocket Gamer and Steel Media brands.