I can’t be completely certain, but I’m pretty sure I watched Ghostbusters (the movie) in its entirety for the first time about a week ago.
I was 3 months old when it hit theaters in June of 1984 – a little too young to be swept up in the widespread enthusiasm for the three goofy scientists and their token sidekick. I’ve since caught glimpses of the movie on cable TV over the last 15 years or so, and at some point I apparently had seen enough of these fragments to make the assumption that I had “seen” Ghostbusters. That’s either a testament to the movie’s prominence in pop culture or my own capacity for self-delusion.
Either way, it’s safe to say that Ghostbusters: The Video Game probably wasn’t made with people like me (e.g. film-illiterate cave dwellers) in mind. But that makes me no less qualified to review the title on its own merits. In fact, I may be uniquely able to cast my judgment here: As someone with approximately zero affection for the franchise, I can say that Ghostbusters is still a pretty decent game.
Ghostbusters takes place a couple years after the events of the second film. Instead of hopping into the shoes of one of the original Ghostbusters, you play as a new recruit that your squadmates must quickly bring up to speed after an unexplained psychic event rocks the city. Fans may groan over not being able to crack wise as Bill Murray, but this framing device works quite well; the tutorial is woven neatly into the storyline, and your mute personality doesn’t intrude on the familiar chemistry of the original team.
This offhand banter isn’t a minor point, either. It’s clear developer Terminal Reality placed a high premium on replicating the feel of the movies as closely as possible. Pretty much all the most prominent voice actors in the game also appeared in the films, and the script wouldn’t feel too out of place in a new Ghostbusters film. Of course, that means a lot more dialogue-heavy cut scenes to wade through, but when they’re this well produced, they don’t feel like as much of a waste of time.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably more concerned with the feel and mechanics of the game than how well Harold Ramis reprises his role as Egon Spengler. And while Ghostbusters doesn’t set a new standard in third-person gameplay, it’s surprisingly competent. Most levels consist of traipsing around with your PKE meter, in search of the nearest ghost to bag and tag. Some lesser creatures can be dispatched with just your proton beam, while others must be weakened and dragged into a containment trap to be eliminated.
Though simply training your targeting reticle on an enemy gets old pretty quickly, the same can’t be said of trapping ghosts, which perfectly captures the tension and release of its movie analog. After you’ve weakened a specter, you can latch onto it with your proton beam. From there, you can whip it around the room to further reduce its will to escape. Finally, after you’ve thoroughly demoralized your target, you need only drag them over to the nearest containment trap, then hold them above it for a few seconds while they try to wrangle free. It can be frustrating to undertake this process when you’re still under fire from other ghosts, but it’s always a thrill to watch your target disappear with a satisfying “whoosh.”
Unfortunately,Ghostbusters‘ fidelity to the movies actually hurts it in one key regard: There simply aren’t enough ghosts. That’s fine if you take the game as a cinematic experience and soak in the dialogue and characters, but as one of the uninitiated, the pacing of Ghostbusters felt incredibly slow and inconsistent. After clearing a room of ghosts, you may have to wait a full 10 minutes before your next contact. That’s not much in film terms, but with your finger constantly resting on the trigger of your proton beam, it begins to feel nigh interminable.
There are other niggling issues that mar what is otherwise a surprisingly solid effort. Your movements often feel stiff and unresponsive; it’s especially noticeable when you try to run and must hold down the B button for what feels like a whole second before the game reacts. And while you may not find yourself dying much at the standard difficulty level, the game’s HUD-less damage meter is a little too vague to be useful in the heat of battle. But overall, these flaws didn’t even come close to my dismal expectations for the title. If this is a cash-in, then it might be time for a few more forgotten franchises to grab their slice of the videogame pie.
Bottom Line: Ghostbusters is the rare example of a movie-based game that stays true to its source without sacrificing much in gameplay.
Recommendation: If you own a copy of either of the Ghostbusters films, you probably won’t regret buying the game. If you’re not a fan of the series, though, stick with a rental.
Jordan Deam ain’t afraid of no ghost – unless he’s playing StarCraft.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.