Ghostbusters: The Video Game is effectively Ghostbusters III, as in 'the movie'. Everything here from the sound effects of your proton pack powering down to the font on those famous boiler suits is spot-on.
The faithfulness to the original source material doesn't stop at the aesthetics, either. The characters' speech was written by Harold Ramis and Dan Ackroyd – writers of the original films. And with the majority of the original film's cast returning (Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver are the only notable exceptions) to add their voices to the game, this is arguably better than getting a new Ghostbusters movie.
Not only does it mean the digitised cast still look as young as they did in the 1980s, but it means we get to try out a proton pack and be the star of the show.
Above: The Ghostbusters trilogy
To allow the four Ghostbusters' characters to really come to life, you don't play as them during the single-player campaign (that's saved for the four-player online mode). Instead, you're a nameless rookie who has been brought in to test the equipment.
It can be a bit daft, seeing your mute twenty-something interact with the crew in cutscenes without saying anything (Dopey from Snow White was the image that sprang immediately to mind), but in terms of the game, it does work.
Not only does it mean the scripted dialogue is more natural and film-like, but you also get a fantastic impression of character – something the vast majority of games never achieve. When you go on a mission with Ray, you really get the feeling he's a nice guy and that you're safer because you're with him. How many other games can you say that of?
Another thing that sets this apart from the crowd is that it's actually funny. Sure, some games make us laugh like Pain or Grand Theft Auto IV, but the Ghostbusters humour is much more sophisticated. Yes, even when Ray says "Listen – what's that smell?"
The fact the team chatters almost non-stop for the duration of the 10-hour long campaign makes this achievement all the more impressive – it must have taken ages to produce a script of this length, especially when it repeats as rarely as this.
The game is played from a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective, much like Resident Evil 5. It's pure fan-service too, so you'll find yourself returning to famous locations and baddies from the films. In the first hour alone, you'll get to walk around a perfectly-realised Ghostbusters HQ (complete with Janine Melnitz taking sarcastic phone calls on reception), catch your first glimpse of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, and even get to recapture Slimer.
The green blob escapes his containment unit and returns to his old haunting ground – the very ballroom from the first movie. Check out this comparison video to see how accurate it is.
You may have noticed by now that destruction plays a major part in proceedings. You're not wrong. If half the fun is gleaned from the dialogue and spooky goings-on, the other half has to be from the destructible environments.
We're talking libraries where every single book on the shelves is a separate physics object. Sure, some things can feel a bit too light at times, with massive bookcases bouncing off characters' shoulders, but the potential for fun here is huge.
Above: Wanna knock every book off its shelf in the library? Go ahead
For instance, there's a slime mode for your proton pack that allows you to tether any object in the game to another. This isn't just used for fun, either, with some light puzzles requiring you to use the physics and tether mechanic to open up new areas. It works really well, but is pleasantly underplayed. Most of the time you'll be busting ghosts, which is where the meat of the gameplay lies.
Fortunately, there is a good spread of ghosts to capture or vaporise, although a little more variety would have been appreciated. The over-arching plot allows for virtually every kind of ghost you could imagine, especially when things go all 'Night at the Museum'. In one room you'll be fighting characters from the American Civil War, the next you'll be talking on possessed statues of Anubis – the Egyptian jackal-headed god.
All of the ghosts can be scanned, Metroid-style using your PKE meter, with their stats and info added to a database. The PKE Meter also helps you to find the game's hidden collectables and can reveal the whereabouts of hidden ghosts.
Above: You found an 'unruly beard'. That'll be a hidden artifact then
You'll very rarely be facing the undead alone and it doesn't take long to realise your team-mates well-being is more important that yours. You can get knocked out an unlimited number of times, so long as someone's still able to revive you. So keeping your team in action safeguards your own life.
Sadly, however, a few videogame limitations do break the spell somewhat. Considering the game was given an extra 6 months or so of polishing time after being dropped by Activision and picked up by Atari, there's a distinct lack of polish in most areas of the presentation. Some cut-scenes look great, but others are a bit stilted – and all of them use low-quality movie clips, despite appearing to use the in-game engine.
Above: No! Don't step on me and send me back to the loading screaaargh!
The other big annoyance (well, apart from not being able to drive Ecto 1 between missions) is that the game has to reload each level when you die. This always takes a ridiculous amount of time if you don't install the game to your hard drive. If you do install, it takes considerably less, but you'll still have to sit through the same gameplay video montage and opening strains of Ray Parker Jnr's classic theme song every time you die. Scenes often start with unskippable dialogue too, so the previously non-repeating dialogue can start to grate.
Fortunately, it never tips over into embarrassment central. And after finishing the game's ten or so hours of story, we immediately wanted to play through it again. To collect the hidden items, scan every ghost, and upgrade all our weapons fully by smashing up loads of expensive objects. That grand piano looks like it'll fall apart nicely...
Above: You actually get rewarded with money for doing this
If the game wasn't Ghostbusters licensed, it wouldn't have the same impact. Take away the scripting and unforgettable enemies and you're left with a solid physics playground that occasionally threatens to over-use the zap 'em, cap 'em, trap 'em mechanic.
But the fact this is Ghostbusters and it's a videogame version of a third movie we may never actually see (at least not in the form we'd most like) means it's frankly unmissable. Much has been made of the 360 version's superior graphics, and no doubt they are higher-res, but the game's environments are never so detailed to make a big difference. The 360 version also still suffers from the screen-tearing and performance hiccups of the PS3 version, but neither of these are significant enough to hinder your enjoyment, especially if you install the game to your hard drive.
Above: Luckily for Slimer, there's no nasty shock coming
Luigi's Mansion? No
Despite Ghostbusters' license and technically superior graphics, Luigi's Mansion has far superior game design. The ghost-capturing mechanic is similar yet feels more varied in the Gamecube title and the ghosts themselves feel more ethereal - even menacing. While it doesn't have the brilliant scripting of Ghostbusters, it is the better-made game.
Resident Evil 5? Yes.
This is bound to stir up controversy, but having finished both games, we enjoyed Ghostbusters more. While Resi 5 can feel contrived, Ghostbusters' crazy plot and locations all fit with the story. Both games look good (though Resi is much slicker), but zapping ghosts is more compelling than shooting yet another villager in the head. Friendly AI is much less annoying... Oh, and you can run and gun at the same time in Ghostbusters. Nuff said.
Gears of War 2? No.
If we're comparing it to Resi for its similar point of view and reliance on action, then Gears of War 2 is a logical alternative. Problem is, Gears does everything so spectacularly, so convincingly, it makes Ghostbusters look a tad amateurish, at least in terms of game tech. The script may not be as good, but the gameplay is pretty damn perfect.
Simultaneously a new Ghostbusters movie and an enjoyable videogame. Rough around the edges, but the superb scripting and unique humour make this a breath of fresh air.
Jun 24, 2009
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