I’ll get this out of the way up front: when I was a kid, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster. There. I said it. Not a real paranormal investigator – although those are still cool – but an actual, honest-to-goodness, from-the-movie Ghostbuster.
I was eight years old when the first movie hit theaters and I latched onto it like a fiend. Some kids wanted a new bike for Christmas; I hoped against hope for a Proton Pack and my own PKE Meter. To this day I can quote the movies, line for line, from memory. Yes, even the second one that nobody seemed to like.
I tell you about my fanboy-ism in the spirit of full disclosure going into this review. However, I would say this qualifies me better to judge what they got right and what they did wrong. And I promise to refrain from slipping lines from the movie into the review like every other outlet under the sun has done in the name of weak humor and pop culture relevance…maybe.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game comes in a few different flavors, but it’s the HD versions we’ll be reviewing today – Xbox 360 specifically. One thing they share, however, is a common pedigree. Series creators Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd both helped with writing and tweaking the script and it shows: from the trademark technobabble to pinning down each character’s essence, it feels like only a couple of years have passed since the last film, rather than twenty. All of the major players reprise their roles from the movies and, with a few exceptions, the voice acting is top notch.
In fact, the entire audio/visual package nails the feel of the movies. The character models capture the actors as they appeared at the tail end of the 1990s, bordering slightly at times on Uncanny Valley territory during the cutscenes. The little touches are endearing, such as Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz scratching his leg idly with a PKE Meter during the downtime between fights or secretary Janine Melnitz chatting on the phone at her desk. The audio cues are in place as well, from the iconic lashing burst of the Proton Pack firing to the echoing wails of your spectral adversaries – all set to Elmer Bernstein’s memorable score from the films.
But let’s touch on what you’re probably reading this review for – how the game plays. Basic busting handles fairly well with an overheat mechanic elegantly circumventing the need for artificial “ammo” constraints. The typical ghost capture scenario works as you’d expect it to: you wear down a ghost with concentrated proton beams until it reaches a weakened state – indicated by a gauge built into the targeting reticle – at which point you switch to a capture stream. This allows you to slam the ghost into walls and objects to stun it, making the final process of cramming your necromantic n’er-do-well into a portable trap easier. The first few times you pull a Class 3 Animator struggling and screaming down that column of swirling light, you’ll find it hard not to have a big stupid grin on your face.
It’s not all about Proton Packs and Positron Colliders, however. In taking control of the nameless new hire (identified as “Rookie” on your jumpsuit’s patch and called just about every diminutive apellation under the sun by the rest of your team) you find yourself in the unenviable position of “experimental equipment technician” – i.e. Egon’s guinea pig. Your pack will be gradually upgraded with three additional modes, each with a secondary fire option, for a final total of eight different ghost busting weapons at your disposal. This includes a slimmed-down mood slime blower from the second movie; its secondary slime tether mode used to perform some light environmental puzzles. Some of the weapons won’t find much use outside of specific enemy vulnerabilities but the options are nice, even if only to have new ways to cause environmental damage.
And how do you find those vulnerabilities, you ask? Your trusty PKE Meter and Ectogoggles, of course. Any novice paranormal investigator and eliminator should know that! Through their green-filtered lenses, you’ll be able to track down hidden phenomena, scan and catalog supernatural entities for your copy of Tobin’s Spirit Guide and snatch up haunted collectibles to decorate the firehouse with…as well as scoring cash for vital equipment upgrades.
Of course, no game is without its flaws. The pacing feels a little uneven at times and while I wish it could have been longer, it’s probably best that it wrapped up when it did; I can see where a non-fan’s interest might wane a bit in the last third. You’ll also spend quite a bit of time either picking yourself up off the floor, or helping your teammates do the same. While I realize that the boys aren’t superhuman, it’s no fun to spend half of an epic fight on medic duty. A higher degree of interaction in the firehouse would have been nice and the game knows that you spend your entire time playing hoping for a turn behind the wheel of Ecto-1, even going so far as to tease you about it in the last act.
On the story front, Alyssa Milano’s character seems to be a totally superfluous excuse to give Dr. Venkman a token female to chase. And speaking of which, Bill Murray seems to be the only one of the original cast who’s performance was hit-or-miss; he just seems far more subdued at times than the sly, roguish Venkman we all loved. The comedic timing of the cutscenes works well thanks to facial expression and body language, even if the audio has a tendency to slide distractingly out of synch. The in-game banter, however, isn’t nearly as fluid, causing jokes to just barely fall flat because of dialogue load times. The ending is also a bit weak, feeling more like a sigh of relief that the game is over rather than a triumphant victory. Thankfully, the overall experience is good enough to make up for these small annoyances.
And that’s really a fair summation of Ghostbusters: The Video Game as a whole – the weak spots are small speedbumps on what is otherwise a fun, enjoyable ride. And that’s without even touching on the online co-op modes – console only; sorry PC – where you can team up to take on individual “jobs” such as Survival, Destruction and Slime Dunk or string a series of jobs together into a mini-campaign. The door was also left open at the end for potential sequels and while I’m sure a follow-up without the original cast would lack a lot of the charm present in this game, I have faith that developers Terminal Reality could pull it off. To paraphrase Winston Zeddemore, “They have the tools! They have the talent!”
…What? I said “maybe”, didn’t I? Jeez – there’s no pleasing some people.
Things We Liked: Well done fan service. Genuinely funny most of the time. Ghostbusting mechanics actually feel right. Multiplayer that doesn’t feel tacked-on.
Things We Disliked: Fragile teammates. Occasional audio glitches. Weak ending. Could have used some more fun extras in single player.
Target Audience: Fans of the movies, obviously. People looking for a licensed game that doesn’t suck. Any shubs and zuuls who want to know what it’s like to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar (yes, you do get to fight one).
(Ghostbusters: The Video Game – Available on Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Xbox 360 and Wii. Xbox 360 version reviewed – Buy it Now at Amazon.com. New to CFD’s reviews? Read our explanation here.)
[Editor's Note: The version reviewed above, developed by Terminal Reality and Threewave Software (multiplayer), is the PS3, PC and 360 version of the game. Versions of the game for other platforms were produced by different developers - Red Fly Studio and Zen Studios respectively - and do not conform exactly to the gameplay descriptions noted above.]