So it stands to reason that developer Terminal Reality’s top priority was to tap directly into fans’ nostalgia for that first film. This is a developer that seems to know no fear of fanboy wrath — they are also the team reportedly taking on the upcoming Star Wars Kinect game. Such iconic licences add an additional pressure to development: not only must it perform mechanically and tell an engaging story, but it must be seen to be a respectful addition to the core material.
To that end, Terminal Reality could be forgiven for thinking half the battle was won before a line of code was written. With Aykroyd and Ramis contributing to the script and most of the cast on hand for voice-acting duty, it must have been hard to imagine how they could fail to create an authentic experience.
The story takes place in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters 2. It’s the usual routine: paranormal activity is spiking, Egon (the traditional voice of doom) warns of the end of the world, and the Ghostbusters set off to prevent it. Many familiar places and characters are revisited, including the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, Slimer and Eleanor Twitty’s ghost in the library. In truth, the early part of the game amounts to a romp around the most memorable moments from the first movie.
To ensure that Venkman, Spengler, Stantz and Zeddemore hold centre stage, you take the role of an unnamed, silent trainee. This allows the star cast to interact with one another without interference — you’re a passive viewer during their scripted scenes. Because of this, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that, on some level, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a stand-in for a third Ghostbusters movie. As such, it will be rated by fans on its ability to deliver not only an enjoyable game, but also a credible Ghostbusters experience.
Through parts of this game you could close your eyes and believe you’re listening to the audio from a new Ghostbusters film. Most of the music is unchanged from Elmer Bernstein’s original score — it’s immediately familiar and utterly marvellous. This sense of being thrown back into the Ghostbusters universe is reinforced by the perfectly recreated proton pack and trap sound effects.
Sadly, the spell is often broken due to some lacklustre voice acting. Bill Murray is particularly guilty of this, which is surprising given his previous experience of voicework, but none of the cast can be completely exonerated. It’s bitterly disappointing and isn’t helped by the script, which is vaguely amusing at its best and hackneyed at its worst. Ghostbusters fans will surely enjoy the movie references and in-jokes, but in general it feels as if the souls have been ripped from the characters.
This ties into a persistent problem with Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Lip syncing is frequently off, and the in-action dialogue sequences expose some shoddy AI. I lost count of the number of times I cleared a room and headed towards the next area, only to hear one of the others calling, “This way!” I’d turn around to see where my colleague was pointing and he’d be chatting away to thin air, as if I were by his side. Confused, I’d dash back to where the game thought I should be standing, only for him to charge past me and end up precisely where I’d just come from.
The characters certainly look the part, although their movements aren’t as natural as they could be. It’s not quite uncanny valley territory, but neither is it entirely comfortable viewing. Their flaws are brought to the fore during the more substantial cut-scenes, during which the regular in-game art is ditched in favour of a more cinematic style that breathes life into the game’s visuals. It’s a pity those higher quality, pre-rendered graphics could not be incorporated into all cut-scenes.
Locations taken from the films are recreated faithfully, but too often their layouts are problematic. Much of the action takes place in narrow hallways, while any wider spaces are often littered with obstacles that serve only to frustrate when trying to capture malevolent spirits.
These gripes aren’t by any means deal-breakers. Occasional frame-rate issues aside, a consistent atmosphere is delivered throughout, and it's immediately recognisable as a Ghostbusters game. Testament to the underlying quality is the impression that even if you were to strip away the licence and all that goes with it, you’d still be left with a well-presented gaming experience.
There’s not a player out there who won’t be itching to bust their first ghost on loading up the game. And for the most part, the combat is satisfying. Terminal Reality are open about their intention for the game to play like 'Gears of War lite'. They succeed to the extent that anyone who has played Epic Games’ mega-hit will recognise the mechanics immediately, but the trainee in Ghostbusters feels lightweight compared with the lump of muscle that is Marcus Fenix, and this detracts from the gameplay.
The process behind the trapping of ghosts, however, is a lot of fun. They are weakened using the Proton Stream then slammed into the ground using a Containment Stream, activated automatically or at the tap of a button. Guiding ghosts into a trap can at times be fiddly, but overall the mechanic works very well. However, not all enemies (and no bosses) need to be trapped in this way, many can simply be blasted using the Proton Stream’s alternate fire mode. Prolonged sections of the game require no trapping at all, and during those times much of the charm of the franchise is lost, and the game is reduced to a standard third-person shooter.
The PKE Meter, a star of the movies in its own right, naturally features in the game. It serves a few purposes: classifying ghosts, finding collectables and identifying hidden doors and the like. A useful addition would have been a map, something which the game is desperately missing. The frequent shouts of “Hey Rookie, this way!” from an indeterminate source just don’t cut it; most of the time they’re about as useful as a Sat Nav with no GPS.
Along with the Proton Stream, three other weapons are made available to the player over the course of the game: a short-range “Shock Blast”, a long range “Meson Collider” and the altogether more interesting “Slime Blower”. The latter can be used to tether two objects together like an underpowered version of Just Cause 2’s grappling hook. There’s very little flexibility in its use, however, as it’s only effective during specific pre-scripted sequences of the game. Weapons can be upgraded using money you accumulate as you progress, but there’s no strategy involved in deciding what to upgrade because it quickly becomes apparent that by the end, you’ll have the lot.
A more serious issue with playability is that weapon fire from two or more Ghostbusters at once can be visually overwhelming, especially if they’re all using Proton Streams. The screen can become dominated by the long beams, which impede your ability to see what you are firing at. More annoyingly, there are times when you simply cannot see an attack coming, and it really doesn’t take much to send you flying.
When you go down, one of the other Ghostbusters can revive you. It’s a handy addition, the only problem being that you need to do the same for them. You’ll find yourself in many a boss fight lurching between trying to attack your enemy and helping out your colleagues. The AI in these situations can be appalling, and you may have to replay sections due to the incompetence of the non-player characters.
The single-player campaign is short, even by modern standards. You’ll get perhaps six hours out of it and it’s not the kind of experience that warrants a second playthrough, at least in the short term.
It would have been remiss, to say the least, if the developers had failed to include multiplayer in the package. A handful of stand-alone levels can be played and while the opportunity to team up with friends in a co-op mode is every fan’s dream, it’s difficult to imagine it’ll hold people’s interest for too long.
There’s no doubt that Ghostbusters: The Video Game goes to great lengths to remain faithful to the cherished movie which spawned the franchise. The characters are recreated lovingly, but they’re let down by an average and mostly unfunny script, which isn't redeemed by the too-often unenthusiastic voice acting. The story, while honouring the original movie, never really finds its feet and it’s difficult to imagine many will find the pay-off towards the end of the game very gratifying. The campaign is short but by the end most gamers will have seen enough, and the multiplayer modes don’t offer the variety required to sustain a player once the initial novelty has worn off.
That said, there will be many fans of the franchise who will thoroughly enjoy the simple pleasure of catching and trapping ghosts, seeing their childhood heroes in action once again and exploring the familiar locations. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in its better moments Ghostbusters: The Video Game is jolly good fun.
But ultimately, in the commendable pursuit of delivering both a cinematic experience and a fun game, the Terminal Reality team have failed to put enough into either aspect to create a truly stand-out experience.
- Authentic Ghostbusters atmosphere
- Trapping ghosts in the classic style is great fun
He slimed me!
- Short campaign; multiplayer unlikely to entice you back once the novelty wears off
- Messy visuals during busy action sequences
- Underwhelming voice acting, and a mostly uninspiring script
Ghostbusters: The Video Game Xbox 360 Review
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