Check out the video review.
Ghostbusters fans have waited far too long for a good video game. After demo footage leaked of an independent project sporting the branding, rumors were immediately sparked about a new, next-gen Ghostbusters title. That footage was fake, but apparently helped prove the excitement level for the game, making it easy for Terminal Reality to grab the rights to develop the title under Activision’s publishing. Once Activision and Vivendi merged, the game was thrown into limbo, and the return of the Ghostbusters was anything but secure. After a frightening few months, it found its way into the questionably stable hands at Atari, but the initial damage was done. The fact that it took so long to find a publisher caused some doubts about the game’s quality, and many worried that the Ghostbusters return wasn’t going to live up to the hype. Luckily, these worries were mostly unfounded, and there’s no reason to be scared of these ghosts.
The story is set in 1991, just two years after the events of Ghostbusters II. Since then, a new, Ghostbuster-friendly mayor has been elected into office, making it much easier to be in the poltergeist hunting business. After a strange paranormal event resurrects Gozer, the city is once again filled with a variety of ghosts, and it’s up to Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Raymond Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddmore to save the day. Thanks to the writing of Aykroyd and Ramis, the story’s dialogue is stellar, and the narrative really feels like a third Ghostbusters movie. The characters are all incredibly familiar, despite the nearly twenty-year gap, shooting out one-liners that sound right out of the films. This is helped significantly by having the original cast back for the game, really selling the Ghostbusters experience. While the characters of Dana and Louis don’t make returns, the inclusion of Alyssa Milano, voicing Dr. Ilyssa Selwyn, shows exactly how far they were willing to go to make up for it.
Despite feeling like a Ghostbusters movie most of the time, there’s one aspect that stands out as feeling strangely off. Instead of simply having the player control of one of the ‘busters, a new character is introduced: the experimental weapons technician. This unnamed, unvoiced protagonist is tasked with providing field tests for Egon’s inventions before risking them on the backs on more important characters. It’s a smart way to include a new character, but it’s a bit strange that they didn’t just have players control one of the main characters. His silence is awkward, especially when he’s surrounded by a nonstop barrage of comedic one-liners, and it’s always weird when he has to pantomime an action instead of just speaking. There’s really no reason the player doesn’t just talk or, more appropriately, isn’t just controlling a Ghostbuster, even if it means switching point-of-view from time to time. That said, there are few times when famous faces don’t surround the rookie, and the game is filled with fantastic jokes that should leave gamers in stitches.
Playing as a new character is a bit of a downer, but it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay. At risk of being unbelievably cliché: bustin’ certainly feels good. In fact, it likely couldn’t have been done any better. Using the proton beam, players weaken ghosts by keeping a steady stream on their incorporeal bodies before attempting to slam them into the ground and catch them in a trap. This might sound like it could get repetitive, but actually capturing ghosts never does, partly because it isn’t the only thing to do in the game. Being the experimental weapons technician means, among other things, that the character has access to more than the proton pack. By the end of the game, the rookie has four weapons, all of which will be called upon at different points. These have many uses, including adding puzzles to the game beyond simply blowing things up with the proton stream.
In Metroid: Prime style, scanning ghosts brings up a description revealing their weaknesses, giving different ways to fight different opponents. Some spirits come in corporeal form and actually don’t need to be captured, breaking up what would be monotonous ghost hunting. This means that when the occasion to simply kick back and wrangle a ghost with the rest of the team using the proton beam is offered, it’s much, much more rewarding. Boss battles also fall into this category, and help keep everything fresh. Some of the encounters can be truly epic, and bring back nostalgic memories from the films. During these battles, teammate AI is at its worst. For most of the game the rest of the Ghostbusters are usually fairly effective, but will occasionally dip as they refuse to resurrect their fallen allies or get stuck on objects. It’s also hard to shake the feeling that the new guy is carrying the vets, since their aim is often off and their proton packs don’t pack the punch that the recruit’s does. During boss battles they seem to be incapable of dodging enemy attacks, and an equal amount of time is spent resurrecting allies as is spent shooting the enemy.
The eight or so hour long campaign brings players through a large variety of locations, both new and familiar. Fans of the movies will be elated to return to the Sedgewick Hotel and battle against familiar foes like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer, while newcomers shouldn’t be isolated by incessant self-referential comedy. There are inside jokes, that’s to be sure, but they’re never overpowering, and usually are just as funny whether or not you’ve committed the “Twinkie speech” to memory.
Ghostbusters isn’t the absolute best looking game, but it’s far from homely. There’s a large amount of polish in the game and engine, showing that more effort was put into making it feel genuinely "Ghostbusters" than was trying to make it look realistic. The characters all look like they did in the 1989 film, and the ghosts look eerie and even frightening at times. There are moments where the proton stream rips apart a room exactly like every twelve year-old hoped it would, and others where objects are mysteriously indestructible or immovable, cracking through the otherwise impressive Infernal Engine. It usually doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay, but it’s an occasional distraction that shouldn’t have made it into the final game.
Even so, Ghostbusters looks and sounds good, and Terminal Reality has done an admirable job at giving the game the feel of the movies. Even the somewhat lengthy loading times are completely hidden underneath cut scenes, enhancing the cinematic experience dramatically. It’s something that usually isn’t done, but should be industry standard by now. Hearing Bill Murray's new dialogue for Venkman is wonderful, and while it’s obvious they aren’t as young as they used to be there’s never a time where it feels strained. It does feel as though they didn’t record enough audio from time to time, there are sections where repetitive dialogue occurs, and it’s noticeable when cut scenes re-use exact audio. Again, it's not often glaring, but in an otherwise polished title every little blemish stands out.
Sadly, the game’s multiplayer ends up being its low point. For some reason, the only area of the game where players are able to actually play as the Ghostbusters is in the multiplayer, giving the opportunity to finally live the dream and bust ghosts as any of the four protagonists. It’s bittersweet, however, since they’re mostly silent, as the game doesn’t offer cooperative play of the actual campaign. The different modes are entertaining enough in their own right, but the lack of true co-op of the story is unforgivable, and it’s really surprising that the game wasn’t built from the ground up to support online cooperative play. It’s still a good bit of fun to wrestle ghosts into traps while defending artifacts or competing for kills, but it’s no substitute for the co-op everyone wanted.
Ghostbusters was almost the game we’ve spent twenty years waiting for, but it isn’t. The gameplay is just about there, the presentation is spot on, and the script has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but the lack of cooperative play seems downright wrong. The game is, however, the Ghostbusters movie we’ve wanted for a long time, and will likely be closer to the original films than the mysterious and oft-delayed Ghostbusters III. More fun than it is good, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is still absolutely worth playing for fans of the films, and is filled with enough content to win over any shooter fans simply looking for something different.