Ghostbusters: The Video Game [Available on Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, DS & PC]
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Developer: Terminal Reality
Release Date: June 16th, 2009
Xbox Live/PSN: Online Multiplayer
(Note: I played Ghostbusters on the Xbox 360, which is identical to the PC and PS3 editions and developed by Terminal Reality. Red Fly developed the PS2, PSP, and Nintendo Wii versions and Zen Studios developed the Nintendo DS version. Some differences are substantial, most especially with respect to visuals. This review encompasses the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions.)
“Who ya gonna call?”
Those simple words should have you remember the classic 1980s Ghostbusters films; amazing comedies that are firmly rooted in popular culture. Just about everybody knows the Ghostbusters theme, and even years beyond the movies’ releases, new generations of fans keep appearing, a testament to their legendary quality and appeal. Since then, spin-offs, toys, cartoon series and video games have spawned. Now as fans clamor for the long-awaited third movie, the gaming gods have delivered something satisfying — a GOOD Ghostbusters game. It completely caters to the inner fanboy desire for a new movie-like experience. It offers a fantastic story, an incredibly authentic experience (penned by famed actors Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd) and is voiced by the entire original cast, including Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson (Rick Moranis is the only exception).
The story ties in well with the first movie, focused on the fictional Sumerian God Gozer and evil cult started by the insane Ivo Shandor, and is set a couple years after Ghostbusters 2. Many villains return, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but their inclusion is legitimate beyond the simple need for fan-service. The plot is masterfully segmented as you revisit famous locations from the films’ lore, including the library. I won’t spoil much because the story is a key part of your enjoyment. In fact, the script is brilliantly written and could easily be turned into the third movie. Because the player assumes the role of a nameless rookie, the game doesn’t interfere with the personalities or natures of the main characters. Instead, you engage with them and their respective known voices. The only omission is Lewis Tully, played by Rick Moranis, which is a bit sad. But everyone else you could imagine, even the annoying environmentalist Walter Peck, makes an appearance.
The plot does a great job of shedding light on aspects regarding the other films that you may not have understood before. The attention focused on Ivo Shandor is especially cool. He was mentioned in the first movie as the primary Gozer worshipper, but not much else was known about him—this makes the game more relevant to the movies. The dialogue is funny, witty, and well-delivered. The original actors represent their roles so well that it feels like we’ve been transported back to the early 90s and the wait never happened. This game is worth it for any fans, as you can even talk to Vigo’s portrait and check out the dancing toaster.
The gameplay is designed as third-person action, but with a co-operative, party-based atmosphere, even for single player. You play as a rookie, but the missions placed the other Ghostbusters at your side. Rather than opt for a traditional health bar, Ghostbusters instead focuses on a team recovery system (a la Gears of War). If anyone is ever downed (yourself included), someone should be available to come to the rescue. You lose when everyone is defeated. Sometimes the game is too easy as a result, but there are tough spots to keep you on your toes. Harder difficulties are also available. Each stage takes you across different areas, some of which are film-familiar, while others are game-specific. Your overall goal is to battle ghosts, explore the area, and reach a possible end boss. Rather than having free reign to explore NYC in the Ecto 1, which would have been awesome, the game is more of a stage-based title; it has familiar conventions to classic SNES-era action games, but with obvious modern updates.
Throughout each mission, you explore and investigate with the PKE meter, which becomes necessary to find certain ghosts and cursed objects. There are dozens of cool cursed artifacts and tidbits of information to find, which expand on the series’ lore. The game carefully introduces new elements and power-ups as you progress, and it’s interesting how it relates to the story. Since your character is a weapon tester, the Ghostbusters give you their new toys to play with. For instance, a Stasis stream can freeze enemies. It’s a really neat experience and makes sense. You still have the authentic PKE meter, Ghost Traps, and Proton Pack, but a handful of new ideas are introduced to keep things fresh. The PKE device is especially cool because you shift into first-person perspective and enjoy a night-vision effect.
Some enemies can be evaporated by simply zapping them, while many have to be caught with the ghost trap. This is done by draining one’s stamina, “lassoing” it with your stream, and lowering it into a trap. You can either throw the trap, or let a teammate have the honors. This brings to mind an interesting strategy: do you pursue objectives solo and have faith in your fellow squad, or work together the whole time? The controls may take some practice, especially with respect to changing weapons (via the D-pad), but everything works well. One of the more interesting mechanics is the need to “cool down.” The Proto Pack heats up the more you let loose with it. If not paid attention to, it may burn out, resulting in an automatic cool down. This was instituted as a balancing mechanic.
Weapons and gadgets can also be upgraded. Weirdly enough, you’re paid for basically destroying everything in sight. Not sure of the bizarre logic is at work there, but it’s fun as hell to just manhandle the environment. If you remember the movies, the Ghostbusters obliterate lots of furniture and cause loads of damage. In the game it’s even more satisfying…and you’re paid for it! As the story moves along, new abilities are necessary, most specifically the Slime Tether. Basically, slime is used like a rope, which pulls things toward you or pulls two objects together. It inserts more depth to the action and adds another layer to the experience.
In the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, online multiplayer (a separate two-player campaign) is available. Players can strive to catch as many ghosts as possible, among other challenges. There’s no local play unfortunately; it’s online-only. However, the Wii release sports local split-screen co-op for the main campaign. Also, you can choose to play as a male or female character, whereas the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions force you into the male’s role. I have to ask, why? The addition of another character and split-screen co-op (local play as well) would’ve helped the game more, so it didn’t make much sense to leave it out.
Ghostbusters is a fantastic experience and fun third-person shooter for the fan and is a fun time overall. Had it not been for the story and influence, it may have just been a good ghost-hunting game. The game isn’t without flaws though. For one, the challenge spikes in certain areas, making them annoyingly difficult, while many are easy (you’ll unlock a lot of achievements/trophies without even trying). Also, sometimes your teammates are sluggish, or altogether unhelpful. There were times when I needed a revival, but the other Ghostbusters were ineffective. Another gripe is the lack of visibility. Even when using the PKE meter (i.e. night vision), some areas are too dark and it’s frustrating to see where you’re going. The gameplay also becomes repetitive, and I would prefer more boss fights. Others have criticized the overall length, which is approximately eight hours. It is short, and there isn’t much replay incentive because the story is just about all there is. Still, the game is so fun and you’d most likely be wrapped up in Ghostbusters fanboy glee that these issues won’t feel significant.
The graphics are decent, especially the beautiful CG cut-scenes. Some of them use the in-game graphics engine and don’t look quite as nice, mostly because of stiff animation and lip synching issues, but even the in-game visuals are pleasing. The Xbox 360, PC, and PS3 editions focus on the “real life” presentation, while the Nintendo Wii and PS2 versions offer a more cartoonish vibe. Obviously the developers took advantage of the systems’ horsepower to make the visuals appropriate, so the HD consoles bring a greater sense of realism here. Some claim that the PS3 version employs lower quality textures than the 360 build, but I didn’t notice much difference; for all intents and purposes, they look identical. The environments are perfectly represented. Some are taken from the movie and look authentic while others are new, but many have really cool twists. Not every level is dark and dank, some are bright and colorful, but many have an undeniably creepy atmosphere; hearing children crying in the library reading room really freaked me out. There is a great attention to detail with the visual touches, whether it’s the wonderfully-represented proton pack or the knick-knacks around the firehouse. It’s even cool to see how much destruction you can cause in a level and survey the results of your handiwork. The sound is even more authentic, incorporating the music from the movies. There is some original content, but it’s overshadowed by the classic scores that play in the background. Sometimes it repeats too much, but with a short list of songs to work with, the developers had to spread it out across the eight-hour adventure. The voices, of course, are perfectly spot-on. Even with some hammy delivery, it feels like the movies again.
Ghostbusters lives up to its hype. It’s incredibly fun for fans and well worth the story and fan-service alone. Issues do bring down the experience, but it’s still a great game and easily the best based on the license. So grab your PKE meter, strap on the Proton Pack, and suit up—it’s time to bust some ghosts.
Overall (Not an Average): 8/10