I wanted to be a Ghostbuster. Twenty years ago I fell in love with an unlicensed nuclear accelerator. Since then I have harboured a secret desire to don a set of beige overalls, strap on a proton pack, charge up my positron glider and bag me a class-5, full-torso vaporous apparition. Ghostbusters is one of those rare films that manage to successfully straddle several genres and subsequently appeal to damn-near everyone who claps their eyes on it. You’ve got your comedy, action, drama, sci-fi and horror, all wrapped neatly into one perfectly proportioned 107 minute package. As such it is a landmark piece of cinema that lives fondly in the collective memory of an entire generation.
So, when Terminal Reality announced that they were in the process of making the definitive Ghostbusters video game, my heart leapt. When they then announced that it was being scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the masterminds behind the original films, my heart jumped down from the back of my throat and began break-dancing on my oesophagus. When they announced that all four Ghostbusters would be reprising their roles and that the whole project was being treated as the third movie, my love-muscle palpitated so hard it burst from its fleshy prison, joined a marching band and was later seen playing second tuba in a ‘Bill Murray for President’ parade.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a third person shooter that casts you as the fifth Ghostbuster, an anonymous new recruit whose job it is to back up messrs. Stanz, Spengler, Venkman and Zeddemore in their quest to rid New York City of its latest supernatural pest and avert another catastrophic, trans-dimensional apocalypse. Along the way you will see familiar faces, both alive and dead, explore some of the more iconic locations depicted in the movies and get your hands on a whole bunch of new toys that Egon has knocked up to make paranormal investigation and elimination that bit more user friendly. If I’m being a little coy with regards to specific plot details then it’s because the script and story is so integral to the experience which Ghostbusters: TVG offers that to reveal too much would be to suck 50% of the pleasure out of your initial play-through.
Basic control mechanics have been borrowed wholesale from a certain popular locust-infested franchise, right down to the hold-button-to-sprint shuttle run and the ‘press X to kick the door in because handles are clearly too good for the likes of us’ approach to room entry. There are no squad commands; despite spending large chunks of the game surrounded by four other ghostbusters it is they who call the shots, so get used to taking orders like the dutiful little ecto-bitch you are. The fire buttons are where you would expect to find them, and you can select your stream of choice (capture, green slime, boson dart etc) via the D-pad. It’s tried and tested stuff, and despite a few confusing secondary weapon assignments it all functions as it should. There is the feeling that the developers were playing it fairly safe to ensure that, like the movies, the game could be immediately picked up and enjoyed by anyone with basic working use of both eyes and fingers.
You are guided from one end of the game to the other along a rigidly linear path with no deviations en route. All events are scripted, so don’t expect randomised sandbox mayhem or alternate endings out of this one. Aykroyd and Ramis are telling a story here and the game has been structured and paced according the demands of the plot. The whole feeling is predictably cinematic, and I was carried gleefully along throughout. Being in a room with the Ghostbusters and hearing the legendary cast not only sharing new dialogue but actually addressing you directly is worth the price tag alone. It’s a fairly solid script – there are a few weak jokes and some clunky animations do detract from the vocal performances, especially Murray’s, but rest assured that this is Ghostbusters through and through.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. The overall presentation is strong: everything is 100% movie authentic, from the pack on your back and the P.K.E. meter on your hip to the ghosts you bust and the environments you decimate. However, the textures are blurred and unrefined, a problem exacerbated by the fact the PS3 version seems to be putting out a significantly lower resolution than its Xbox 360 counterpart. As we European-types can’t get our hands on the Xbox 360 version yet thanks to Sony’s masterfully timed last-minute purchase of the local publishing rights (or the ‘Joink’ manoeuver as I have come to refer to it) I have only the PS3 version to refer to. From the available screen captures though, it does appear that the game looks significantly better on the Xbox 360. Jaggies are also present throughout, with the anti-aliasing perversely seeming to soften everything on screen except the edges it’s supposed to. You get the feeling that beneath the haziness the game actually looks quite good, but the low-res appearance of the Sony iteration tarnishes the final result.
The original musical score is reprised for the soundtrack and lovingly given the 5.1 treatment, and I’m delighted to say it still sounds great after all this time. All the musical motifs are here, including liberal use of the now immortal Ray Parker Jr. theme song. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the whine as your pack powers down after throwing a proton stream gives me a tingle every time I hear it.
The biggest success of Ghostbusters: TVG is the very thing that saves it from gameplay mediocrity: the capture mechanic. The majority of busting scenarios find you blasting a ghostly target with your proton stream to gradually drain the spook of its ectoplasmic energy. Once you have weakened it sufficiently the ghost is rendered susceptible to your capture stream, which latches it like a translucent fish on a pulsing, atomic hook. You must then smash the ghost against walls, ceilings or furniture until it is too stunned to effectively resist. At this point it is time to throw out your trap and use your stream to wrangle the groggy spectre into the little grey box. It really feels like you are struggling to contain a free-roaming vapour, constantly countering its movements with the analogue stick, keeping it positioned over the mouth of the trap as it is drawn slowly downward, before the ghost shrieks its last, the light flares and those yellow and black doors snap shut.
It can be difficult keeping track of all the spooks in your vicinity as they have a tendency to fly around your head with nothing but distain for your targeting abilities or propensity toward dizziness. There is no map and while the P.K.E meter can detect and identify nearby ghouls it cannot be used in conjunction with the proton pack. This lack of enemy awareness combined with fast, flying adversaries occasionally manifests itself in seemingly random knockdowns from ghosts you never even knew were there. Your fellow ‘busters can revive you if you are incapacitated and you are expected to do likewise, but this can get a little tiresome at times and only serves to break flow, particularly in a couple of the boss battles. Still, these niggles never kill the inherent fun of wrangling and trapping ghosts, which is, after all, the whole reason you wanted to be a Ghostbuster in the first place.