A familiar melody. A New York skyline. A flashlight in the dark. A scream.
Cue bombastic theme song.
For anyone who grew up in the eighties, the atmosphere and music of the Ghostbusters franchise is deeply engraved upon our souls, whether we like it or not. From the moment that music starts to play, the memories come flooding back – and if they’re good ones, a smile may appear on your face.
Naturally, when faced with the premise of a Ghostbusters video game, we become skeptical. Is it some desperate attempt to capitalize on a classic, or is it a true continuation of the story? If I end up buying it, will I feel embarrassed or regretful? And most importantly, is Bill Murray coming back?
Shame on you! No matter what the details of the game might be, there is only one question that matters: Is it fun? In my opinion, the answer is resounding yes. The Ghostbusters video game, for whatever complaints you may have heard, is absolutely a fun gameplay experience. It also delivers on the authentic Ghostbusters experience we were hoping for and promised by the developers. The full cast of the original film franchise has returned, along with the original writers. Ghostbusters oozes of high production values and meticulous gameplay design. And ectoplasm. Lots and lots of ectoplasm.
The comedic franchise has established itself very nicely with a distinctively colorful visual design and instantly recognizable audio cues. Sure, we all recognize Frank Welker’s unintelligible slobbering as the gluttonous glob known as Slimer, but what about the more subtle aspects? Elements that are sometimes taken for granted, like the familiar electronic whistle of a proton pack being powered on, breathe new life into this Ghostbusters experience. Oh, and did I mention that Bill Murray is back?
Probably my biggest gripe with the narrative is that it feels like something written for a movie, but roughly cobbled together like a video game. The presentation just feels inexcusably amateurish at times. When high-profile games such as Halo and Mass Effect are using professional filmmakers and cinematographers for their cut scenes, shouldn’t Ghostbusters do the same? After all, the budget for the cast was certainly there. Instead, you see uninspired camera work, which will basically center Murray in the frame so he can deliver some bad joke. It’s better than not having him around at all, but I often found myself wishing the narrative had been given as much care as the rest of the game.
Pushing past the cinematic aspect, the Ghostbusters do feel very much alive and in full force. They will assist you in battles, give you advice and context-based warnings, and even call for help if they’re injured and need aid. Even though the individual characters will need no reintroduction for diehard fans, the opening mission offers the player a chance to get familiar with each of the Ghostbusters and their distinct personalities. Traveling alongside each one individually before regrouping, you’ll get reacquainted with everyone from the bookish Egon to the haphazard Venkmen, and probably love every minute of it.
Revisiting so many familiar faces and locations does feel a bit cheesy, even for a Ghostbusters video game, but there’s plenty of novelty to be found. One of the first new ghosts you’ll encounter is the spirit of a foul-tempered fisherman, wielding a whip-like fishing pole and causing lots of spooky manifestations in the tight corners of a New York hotel. Fighting everything from fish ghosts to possessed candelabras, the hallways become a dark maze flooded with saltwater and sea cucumbers. The paranormal aspect of these events strikes me as being somewhat spookier than a similar scenario in Bioshock, because most of those events at least have a rational explanation. Ghostbusters does an outstanding job of weaving its way unpredictably from creepy haunting to cheeky humor, and it’s that range of contrast that makes each event more powerful.
Since you play as the newest addition to the Ghostubsters team, a sadly generic Caucasian fellow, you’ll be tasked with testing the latest, greatest, and most dangerous equipment available. One perk of this is that you can upgrade your gear, picking and purchasing with earned currency at your leisure. Actually using the equipment is where things get exciting, of course.
The PKE meter (or “spookometer”, as I like to call it) can detect paranormal activity through a variety of channels. This means I might find anything from a chilling sound clip to an interesting tidbit, which can update the information in my Ghostbusters “encyclopedia”. These things not only add depth to the game, but are also great rewards for the hardcore audience that wants to know everything possible about the Ghostbusters universe. I still prefer to call it the “spookometer”, since it beeps faster when you get closer to the nasties. Ah, the thrill of anticipation.
Combat itself is rather ingeniously cultivated through the traditional Ghostbusters mechanics. First, zapping the ghost will help to weaken it – not to mention provoke it, bringing out its more violent tendencies. They are fairly repugnant apparitions, so there’s not likely to be much empathy, despite all the terrible wailing you’ll hear. The heavy proton pack seems to make the Ghostbusters a bit less agile than your typical run-and-gunner, but that’s okay; you can still perform evasive maneuvers when you’re having chairs and the like thrown at you by levitating specters.
Once you’ve dampened the spirits with your gun, they have to be wrangled in like flying cattle. The gun functions quite nicely here as well, particularly since it’s controlled with the mouse – just grab on and start thrashing! Actually, they’ll do most of the thrashing, but it’s your job to make sure they stay put while the trapper does its job. Tapping one key will slide that sucker right out onto the floor, where it opens up and traps all undead into the depths of its mysterious glow. Hold them in its beam long enough, and they’ll be sucked right in. The room quiets. You pick up your silent, steaming trapper and survey the damage you and your comrades have caused. The place is a wreck, the civilians are whimpering, and you feel awesome.
Like any game, getting the basic gameplay mechanics right means you can have a fun and unique experience every time you play. Ghostbusters succeeds here, right where it counts most. A great variety of ghosts to tangle with, coupled with the great pacing of investigative tracking missions, makes Ghostbusters one hell of a romp. The fact that it is essentially a “movie” game built for a multiplatform release makes this feat even more impressive, in my book. Sure, the game has its faults, and a co-op mode would have been amazing, but this is still an outstanding little package. Ghostbusters old and new, rejoice. Your time has come.