Some movie tie-in games might actually be pretty good this year

Thanks to the twin nerd-industry wonders of New York Comic-Con and Toy Fair, I managed to get an eyeful of several upcoming movie-branded games. Usually, branded video games are at best mediocre, and at worst horrible. They all too often reek of cash-ins that neither take advantage of the technology  nor the source material. Well, we might be seeing that trend change. There are some upcoming movie-based video games that actually look pretty darn good. Unfortunately, with one exception, they're based on movies that have long ago come and gone.

Ghostbusters II came out in 1989, and we haven't really seen anything from the franchise since (unless you count 1997's Extreme Ghostbusters cartoon. And why would you do that?) Sure, there have been some DVD releases (and an upcoming Blu-ray release), but nothing really new. Ghostbusters: The Video Game is looking to change that. Instead of a pure nostalgia cash-in that takes some aspects from the movies and tosses them together to appeal to children of the 80's, Developer Terminal Reality and publisher Atari are putting some impressive effort into it. The game is planned to be Ghostbusters 3 in virtually every way. Not only are Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd,, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson reprising their roles as the Ghostbusters (both in voice, and in computer-modeled likeness), Ackroyd and Ramis (who wrote the Ghostbusters films) provided the script to the game. The gameplay looks fun, and lets you use all of the Ghostbusters' gadgets, from ghost traps to PKE meter. It should be a hoot when it hits the Xbox 360 and PS3 in June.

Riddick In 2004, Vivendi released The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for the Xbox and PC. It was a tie-in with The Chronicles of Riddick and Pitch Black, and surprised everyone by being really good. Far better than the movie that came out at the same time. Starbreeze Studios and Atari are not only remaking Butcher Bay, but putting another game in the package. The upcoming title will both present Butcher Bay's storyline with updated graphics and offer a new storyline, the eponymous Assault on Dark Athena. Assault is planned to be as long as Butcher Bay, so the effort will effectively double the 2004 classic's size. If this new version keeps the original's visceral, stealthy combat and dark sci-fi atmosphere, it could be a hit. The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena comes out in April, for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Of course, these are both older movies, and aren't seeing any silver screen sequels in the near future. For upcoming blockbuster tie-ins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is shaping up to be a gloriously violent rump. While the upcoming movie will likely be rated PG-13 like the X-Men films before it, Activision and Raven Software are shooting for a hard M (for players 17 and up) rating for the game. They're turning the blood dial up to 11 and putting in some gory procedural effects to ensure that Wolverine can really demonstrate just how good he is at what he does.

With his claws and berzerker rage, Wolverine decapitates, disembowels, eviscerates, amputates, and performs several other polysyllabic acts of vengeance on his enemies. His regeneration power will be shown in its full, bloody glory as well, with every bullet, knife, and grenade producing a nasty wound on the mutant before slowly (and gruesomely) healing over. As for the gameplay, it looks like a solid, entertaining slash-fest along the same lines of God of War. Combos, lunges, grabs, and many other skills let Wolverine effectively mix up just how he mercilessly shreds his enemies. This May slasher for the Xbox 360 and PS3 might just be a satisfying way to step into Wolverine's boots and spread the violence. At the very least, it should be better than X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

They don't all look like they're going to be winners, though. June and August will respectively see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Activision is publishing the upcoming Transformers game, of which I've seen very little. I'll hold my judgement, but considering the mediocre video games that came out of the last Transformers movie, I'm not particularly optimistic.

I did get an eyeful of G.I. Joe, however, and . . . unfortunately, I'm still not optimistic. EA's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra video game is going to be a third-person arcade-style shooter that lets players command teams of two Joes out of a roster of 12 as they tear through Cobra's ranks. The 12 playable characters are spread across 3 combat classes, ranging from melee-specialized commandos like Snake Eyes to heavy gunners like Roadblock. They have a small variety of attacks, including special techniques like an area-of-effect sword slash for Snake Eyes and a flame throwing gun upgrade for Roadblock, and can charge up special "Yo Joe!" meters to let them wear special cybernetic suits that give them increased firepower and damage resistance for a short period of time. Honestly for a downlodable promo game, the sort you could grab from XBLA or PSN for $15, it seemed like fun. For a retail disc that will probably cost four times as much? It just seemed too shallow.

This might be a good year for movie tie-ins, even if some of the movies aren't exactly summer blockbusters. Hey, if it plays well and looks good, does it matter how long ago you saw the film?

Will Greenwald