Review by Red Lobstar
Reviewed: 06/29/09 | Updated: 06/19/13
A so-so sequel to the films, but an excellent and immersive game nonetheless.
Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is the long awaited sequel to the feature films. Set in 1991, you assume the starring role as Egon's newly hired guinea pig as the scientist tests more complex and efficient ghost catching gear. The game adheres heavily to the age old silent protagonist archetype, with the ghostbusters referring to you only as the rookie so as not to develop an emotional attachment should the experimental new equipment incinerate you. While many games have thrived using a nondescript mute hero, it at first seems an odd choice for the third story in the Ghostbusters franchise, a series which has built its success around the chemistry of its characters. Despite this, the choice excels in the medium of gaming as the player is better able to project himself into the role of the apprentice and fulfill a childhood ambition of becoming a ghostbuster. Even so, the game does not subscribe to role playing; do not expect to be allowed to make your own choices of what to explore or when. The recruit is solely along for the ride as the narrative advances as New York City once again succumbs to the escalating threat of an unforeseen paranormal authority.
In spite of the immense respect as I have for Mr. Aykroyd, I do have to question his writing prowess in so far as sequels are concerned. While some fans have argued that Ghostbusters II was a retread of the first film, the same criticism can definitely be said of Ghostbusters: The Video Game. From the very onset you will be revisiting many familiar locations. The introductory stage is a facsimile of the Sedgewick scene from the film, as you and the ghostbusters return to the hotel to recapture Slimer. Inevitably you split up with Ray and, while exploring the hallways, hear Peter's screams echo across the radio transmission. As you rush to his aide the music from the movie flares as tension builds until you finally come across Venkman, only to see him lying on the ground having been slimed once more. Shortly thereafter, the ghostbusters enter the Sedgewick's ballroom to find the gluttonous ghoul gorging himself at the buffet table. The room is promptly trashed by a laser light show and the ghost is reacquired.
Thankfully the level continues and focuses on the lone rookie tracking a fisherman's spirit through the flooded and barnacle-strewn hotel halls while defending himself against animate light fixtures. But even with these new enemies one cannot help but feel there is so much of this game that is lifted directly from the first movie. A later stage has the crew entering the New York Public Library to locate the ghost of the librarian. Even everyone's most loathed EPA agent, Walter Peck, returns as an antagonist, still hungry to disband the team seven years later. While I am all for referencing the films, such scene-by-scene recreations leave me wondering where Aykroyd's creativity has gone. Unlike most movie-based gaming titles which are designed to echo their parent film's plot, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is intended to be a sequel to its source material. As such it should contain fresh content. To be fair, it does to a degree. There are new, albeit uninspired, environments in which to catch ghosts (such as the cemetery at night), but this content amounts to just over half of the game. Ironically, the game actually borrows from itself in that stage five sees the player returning to the Sedgewick once more to travel the same haunted halls. For a game that spans only seven levels in its entirety so much repetition is unacceptable. The ability to play scenes taken from the movie would have been welcome bonus material, but it should not serve as the core of the story for a second time.
Still, many Ghostbusters fans will be overjoyed at being able to vandalize the Sedgewick themselves; I was too at first. However, a hindrance to the enjoyment of this game is its strict linearity. Designed to tell a specific story, the game unfolds as an interactive movie. This limits your exploration and keeps you on a tight leash as you venture only into the areas that advance the plot. In the hotel, for example, all of the non-essential rooms are locked and the miscellaneous stairways are cordoned off. What this boils down to is that every trip through the game will play identically to the last. The only respite is the acquisition of the five or so cursed artifacts that are hidden in each level that can be located using the PKE meter. These items are useless, but if each one scattered throughout the game is found you earn a trophy. The PKE is also used to scan ghosts, whose histories are added to the in-game database. This is a thoughtful addition since it enables fans to learn more about the spirits who had hitherto not received a backstory. For instance, scanning the librarian divulges details regarding her life and the circumstances surrounding her death. The ability is present to replay completed levels, but aside from finishing your collections there is little reason to.
All of the aforementioned grievances aside, the gameplay is first-rate. We are all familiar with the standard ghostbusting equipment and it performs much like one would imagine. However, Egon's newly refurbished proton packs are actually four types of guns condensed into one unit, with each having been given a secondary fire ability. The trainee begins with only the proton beam, which will be the primary choice for destruction throughout the game. In stage two the pack gets upgraded with the ability to shoot boson darts, which are essentially the ghostbusting equivalent to grenades. At various intervals Egon will add such features as a stasis beam, which slows and temporarily paralyzes ghosts, rapid fire homing bursts, and a modified version of the slime blower from Ghostbusters II.
With each ghost that is caught money is deposited directly into the company's coffer, which in turn is funneled into research and development and used to upgrade the proton pack. Each type of weapon typically has two improvements, usually taking the form of increased damage output and reduced heat cost. To balance the gameplay the equipment has been modified to require venting to dissipate excess heat. As a beam is fired the proton pack generates heat until it reaches a critical level, at which point a safety mechanism kicks in, momentarily shutting off the device to cool down. You can think of this as reloading as it behaves in the same manner. The pack can be vented manually at one's convenience as well.
Once a ghoul's ectoplasmic energy is sufficiently depleted the proton beam forms a lariat to ensnare the ghost, which can then be tugged around in the air. The more it resists, the more you must steer the beam in the opposite direction. This in turn builds up the slam gauge which is used to jerk the ghost violently into the surroundings to further tire it out. Once it is exhausted, just guide the hapless spirit over a trap which will open automatically to absorb your catch. In addition, the game gives the player other creative means for capturing specters. One extremely efficient method involves attaching one end of an elastic slime tether to the ghost and securing the other end to the trap. The cord contracts, instantly yanking the ghastly vermin into the box without a struggle. By and large, the physics of ghostbusting portrayed in this game are true to previous film depictions.
However, there is one minor point of contention: it is fully acceptable to blast your teammates with no ill consequence. While the proton beams are powerful enough to ravage metal air conditioning units, your fellow co-workers will not be the slightest bit harmed should you decide to bust them, so to speak. While this does not keep in line with the continuity of the films it is understandable from a gameplay perspective. Unlike the movies, the ghostbusters in this game are often swarmed with multiple waves of ghosts, making for a very chaotic light show. It would be unimaginably frustrating to continually kill, or be killed by, one's AI companions. For its strong focus on the undead, this game has a unique take on death in that when one's health bar depletes the game is not over... usually. More often than not the rookie will be teamed up with one or more of the other ghostbusters. When someone loses all of his stamina he sinks to the floor, his proton pack emitting sparks. He will then stay grounded until helped up by a teammate. As long as there is someone left active to revive the others the game will continue. To aide your survival your friends' intelligence is of a surprisingly good quality. They have excellent aim and value camaraderie above results, meaning the moment you fall someone will drop what they were doing to rush to your aide.
For all its great gameplay, perhaps the most noteworthy achievement of this title is its ability to reunite the original cast members, all of whom lend their voices to their respective characters. For the most part the audio work is fantastic. Dan Aykroyd immediately falls back into the role of Ray Stantz and steals the show. His love for this project truly shines through in the quality of his recordings. Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson play their parts equally well, both of whom deliver solid performances. When teamed up with any of these characters it is easy to feel as though you are thrust into the game and are genuinely working along side them. However, Bill Murray's work as Peter Venkman is rather disheartening. In the films Murray recited his lines with a deadpan apathetic cynicism that defined his character's humor. Perhaps because Peter has developed a reputation for being the funny man of the group, the writers of this game seem to have made a conscious effort to assign most of the jokes solely to Murray, who in turn gave an exaggerated and cartoonish imitation of Venkman. I believe this is more the fault of the script, as Peter's style of comedy works best coming in the form of nonchalant derision of unusual circumstances rather than blatantly delivering punchlines. It's a relatively minor quibble, but it was a small let down to hear the character lose the subtle wit which originally made him endearing. Though if rumors are to be believed, Murray has been a longstanding opponent to participating in any more Ghostbusters related projects. Admittedly his heart may have not been fully in this one, but I nonetheless commend him for returning to the role one more (and perhaps final) time to please the fans and make this game feel complete.
All things considered, Ghostbusters: The Video Game makes for a satisfactory sequel to the motion pictures in the story department, but an excellent experience from a gaming perspective. The game was designed with the fans in mind and those devoted to the franchise are sure to appreciate the detail put into this title. Easter eggs abound, and just being able to finally explore the firehouse is a thrill. Some of the levels are so engrossing I'm not ashamed to admit I got a little spooked while pursuing my paranormal prey. The core of the series has always focused on humor and fun, both of which are to be found in this game despite its lack of originality and depth. Truly Aykroyd and Ramis deserve credit, for they have breathed fresh life into their creation on a new medium that allows for a level of immersion incapable of being achieved through cinema.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Ghostbusters: The Video Game (US, 06/16/09)
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