It is with an appropriately cynical eye that the gaming community has been monitoring the progress of Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Sure, it’s easy to get excited about the revival of a popular franchise from two decades ago. We had been promised the original cast and writers would return, as well. Even so, does any of this mean the game will be better? Anyone with half a brain will tell you that it does not. All the money in the world doesn’t necessarily make the game good.
Even so, Ghostbusters has survived its twenty year hibernation in remarkably good shape. Bill Murray, who has achieved the status of a comedic legend, finds himself returning to the ever-popular role of Dr. Venkman. Dan Akroyd, writer and actor, reprises his role as Ray. Even Annie Potts has been returned to her position as the Ghosbusters’ secretary. Clearly, no expense was spared in bringing this classic back for a digital rebirth.
Unfortunately, good video games need more than simply skilled actors. The game’s implementation of the characters provides a good example of this problem. The camera angles during cut scenes are frequently dull and unimaginitive, sometimes locking Venkman into the center frame just so he can mutter some afterthought. This clashes rather painfully with the Murray’s haphazard delivery and naturalistic thespian style, but it’s not enough to ruin the experience entirely.
The general aesthetics of the game are fairly consistent. The frame rate is steady, and of course, can be ameliorated if you’re playing with the PC version’s graphical settings. Each character is instantly recognizable, though there appears to be some discrepancy with the engine’s lip sync. All the visual flair is colorful and spectacular, as it should be for a Ghostbusters game. The audio design is similarly over-the-top, although the music can get a little repetitive. When an incapacitated teammate calls out for help, they might end up saying the same two phrases every ten seconds while you’re tangling with spectral scumbags, and this can be rather annoying.
Gameplay is obviously at the core of any fine gaming experience, and Ghostbusters is blessed with a very thoughtful design. The player utilizes the same gear seen throughout the film for any number of scenarios. For example, you can whip out the PKE (Psycho-Kinetic-Energy) meter to help detect stealthier spirits. Seeing that thing light up and beep wildly as you close in on a ghost really heightens the tension. It’s easy to forget just how scary these films could be during certain moments – to younger viewers, I mean. I never got scared. Ever.
Anyway, the PKE is also a great way to explore the depth of the Ghostbusters’ world. Detecting audio traces or scanning ectoplasmic residue can not only add interesting tidbits of info to your databse, they also extend the depth of the game. You might see things on your second playthrough that weren’t evident the first time, which helps add a little spice to the replay value. Seeing a trail of glowing footprints across the floor with your goggles really does make the game more interesting, and helps contrast the rather frantic pace of combat.
As we all know, the Ghostbusters rely on proton streams fired from weapons attached to their nuclear-powered proton packs in order to neutralize paranormal pests. Right? Perhaps not. In any case, keeping a steady aim on fleeing apparitions is crucial to weakening them for capture. Enemies are varied and imaginatively designed, just as you’d like to see them in a Ghostbusters game. Once they’re stunned from heavy fire, you’ll need to capture them.
Sliding the trapper out onto the floor causes it to open, instantly sucking in any ghosts caught within its hungry beam. Of course, you’ll have to wrestle with the ghost in order to keep it steadily within that beam, which is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience. Keep it steady long enough, and the trap will snap shut, imprisoning the phantom within. This is essentially like living out the Ghostbusters fantasies you had as a kid, only without any of the clunky plastic toys.
This fairly simple task is never the same, particularly since different ghosts require different tactics to vanquish them. Some are wildly huge, while others are so weak they can be dissipated with a simple blast or two from the proton gun. It’s a great set of mechanics to employ time and again, even if things do feel a touch repetitive toward the end. Sadly, Ghostbusters is only a few hours long, and has no multiplayer to speak of. That’s a real shame, because leading an online cooperative squad of Ghostbusters into battle would have been pretty sweet.
Despite these gripes, Ghostbusters is an outstanding and thoughtfully assembled title. It is all the more impressive when one considers the fact that this is a multiplatform release, and essentially a new addition to the storyline of a franchise. It might not be the crown jewel of a summer gaming experience, but it’s certainly worth playing – especially if you’re a fan of the films.