WORDS BY: Dan Amrich
Let’s talk about style — the idea that it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. Ghostbusters, as a franchise built around smart-mouthed comic actors and a slick fusion of the scary and the silly, has style to spare. And that’s why Ghostbusters: The Video Game makes its very well-worn setup feel so good.
Underneath the license, Ghostbusters is a pretty straightforward third-person shooter: Enemies appear, you take them out. Instead of donning the armor of a space marine, you pull on a jumpsuit and a proton pack. Instead of reloading a gun, you vent the heat from your experimental paranormal equipment. And instead of vaporizing the bad guys — they are, after all, already vapor — you trap them with a ghost-wrangling mechanic that feels a bit like Fishing of the Dead. That novel interaction adds a lot to the fun factor.
But the magic really happens when you add the celebrity talent. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis largely built the game’s story on the mythology they created for the original movie, with plenty of new equipment (meson colliders, stasis beams…or in non-geek terms, goop guns and spectral shottys). This is the “real” Ghostbusters, with the original writers feeding lines to the original actors, performing over Elmer Bernstein’s film score. Until a third flick actually gets made, consider this the de facto sequel.
And the personalities still ring true: Venkman’s sarcasm balances Spengler’s dry analysis; Stantz’s enthusiasm works well against Zeddemore’s reality checks. Janine is still a disgruntled secretary and Walter Peck is still a bureaucratic jerk. (Only Alyssa Milano, as Venkman’s love interest, sounds middling. We miss you, Sigourney.) You’ll love being in the middle of everything as the new (and mute) team rookie. You’ll see a lot of familiar people and places — the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, Slimer, the Sedgewick Hotel — as you unravel a new supernatural mystery and once again try to save Manhattan.
That’s assuming you don’t blow it to smithereens in the process. Terminal Reality’s Infernal Engine makes destruction beautiful; we loved watching priceless museum artifacts shatter from the force of proton streams, boson darts, and slime cannons. Switching between gear is easy with the D-pad (four bits of equipment, each with an alt-fire) and while there are a few puzzles along the way, most of the gameplay focuses on blasting anything and everything you see in the name of protecting NYC from the spectral world.
Naturally, specters live in the shadows, so we expected the game to be spooky and dark… but not this dark. It’s often tough to see the environment, and your PKE meter and night goggles are as close as you’ll get to a compass. Your fellow ’busters call out directions and advice throughout, but you’ll still get lost. A map or arrows would have been appreciated, as would checkpoint notifications, but Ghostbusters sometimes sacrifices its gameness in its quest to be a playable movie. That’s why characters provide you with both narrative and pathfinding, and why you can’t create your own Ghostbuster — the leading man was already cast. But after the much-publicized delay, not having co-op through the main campaign is still a disappointment. Who doesn’t like buddy movies?
You will find co-op in the multiplayer, in the form of three strung-together sequences, each offering variations on trapping, protecting, destroying, and even stealing ghosts from other players. Think Gears of War 2’s wave-based Horde mode, but with ghosts (and Bill Murray). Wrangling spectres for bragging rights is quite fun; it’s also the only mode in which you can play as the famous characters.
There are other forgivable nitpicks. The VO inevitably repeats, but at least it’s delivered with gusto. We spotted some slowdown during heavy action sequences, but they were brief (and pretty). During the climactic battle, our teammates actually got in the way of our shots and didn’t use their equipment wisely, but they acted pretty smart throughout the rest of the game. The campaign is only about 10 hours, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
But it all comes back to that word: style. Ghostbusters combines a tried-and-true structure with a familiar but fresh license, filling the game with personality and panache — and that’s what really raised our spirits.
+ A digital reunion for a fun franchise.
+ The trapping mechanic feels fresh and unique.
- No campaign co-op, no created players.
? Activision didnâ€™t think there was a sequel in this? Câ€™mon.