In this era of rampant reimagining, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is an anomaly. It's a game based on a movie franchise from the '80s that isn't launching alongside a high-budget blockbuster film. But when it comes to authenticity, Ghostbusters delivers on a level that even the most fortuitous movie licenses seldom approach. Is this careful adherence to the source material enough to make it a great game?
In regards to casting, all the important pieces have fallen into place for Ghostbusters: Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Harold Ramis all return to reprise their roles as the fabulous four, and they do a great job. You play as a nameless fifth Ghostbuster, whose anonymity is enforced by the group due to his risky job as prototype weapons tester. As Murray's Peter Venkman puts it, it's better they don't get to know you in case one of Egon's contraptions fatally malfunctions during the course of your job.
As a result, your character plays a silent role in the game's story. You contribute the odd facial expression during cutscenes, but for the most part, you're there to listen in as the real Ghostbusters quip, quibble, and engage in their brand of paranormal shop talk. If you're a fan of the films, then you probably wouldn't have it any other way.
The story feels authentic, if a little overextended across the eight or so hours it'll take you to play through it, and some ends are tied off pretty rough when it all wraps up. But for the most part, it does a serviceable job of propelling you through a series of exciting set pieces, and that's about the best you could hope ask of a Ghostbusters game adaptation.
The formula behind Ghostbusters' layout won't surprise you: you basically go from haunt to haunt, eradicating the hostile spirits inside, and watching the story unfold. What's impressive is how the game manages to switch from the everyday to the otherwordly at the drop of a hat.
Early in the game, you're chasing the ghost of a surly fisherman through a five-star hotel. Once you're hot on his trail, the hallway you're in transforms into a spectral coral reef, complete with rushing tides. Later on, you're transported from the special collections section of the New York Public Library to a particularly spooky pocket of the spirit world, decked out with trans-dimensional mirrors and free-floating staircase steps. The variety is enough to keep you from feeling worn out by the strict linear progression.
These kinds of set pieces are spread all throughout. The game gets the big one out of the way quickly: you make smores out of Mr. Stay Puft within an hour or so of starting. Other boss fights range from high-concept to total let down; the worst are either inordinately frustrating, or plain mindless. And though dull moments aren't that frequent-the game is usually propelling you from one scripted event to another-when you hit a wall, the momentum putters out pathetically. Kicking it back into gear is usually just a matter of figuring which stationary Ghostbuster you have to walk up to, or stumbling upon the right surface to point your PKE meter at. But when the game fails to effectively point you in the right direction like this, the expertly-paced experienced comes to resemble a sorry wax museum.
Ghostbusters' online component would feel totally throwaway were the game's mechanics not so well executed. There are a few different game types, but they all involve capturing ghosts, usually in cooperation with your fellow players. The one exception is the slime dunk mode, where you're all competing to nab the most Slimers by means of fancy wrangling. In this mode, you get a lot of mileage from zapping your friends when they're in the process of scoring a dunk.
Ghostbusters is over before you know it, and this isn't due solely to its relatively short length. When the game is flowing well, you feel like you're flying through it. When a rough seam puts the brakes on your experience, however, it's usually best to let the game sit for a while.
If there's one thing that Ghostbusters realizes flawlessly, it's the wild feedback you get from handling a proton pack. Whether you're whittling away at a burly apparition, or struggling to wrangle a slippery one into a trap, it just feels right. The game did take some liberties with the Ghostbusters' arsenal-even the proton pack got an alternate firing mode that behaves like a nuclear-powered RPG-but it was all in the service of making the experience better, and is thus OK.
Frankly, some of the stuff feels like it's straight out the cartoon series. Take the slime blower. As advertised, it fires streams of the green stuff, which is apparently positively charged or something and can harm unfriendly ghosts, not to mention dissolve harmful, caustic black slime. But its alternate mode, the slime tether, is truly far out. It basically acts like a gooey grappling hook, which you use to solve puzzles and yank some particularly annoying flying spirits down to earth.
As for the other weapons, feel free to think of them as stand-ins for conventional firearms, with a few twists. One behaves like a shotgun, another like a machinegun whose targets you can paint on. If you're a fan of the films, chances are they'll be a hard sell over the classic proton pack. But when you encounter enemies with specific weaknesses, you won't begrudge them a few shots.
You'll sometimes feel like you're spending half the game wearing the special goggles that help you track psychic disturbances readings with the Ghostbusters' second most iconic accessory, the PKE meter. Like the proton pack, it's evident that the designers spent a lot of time getting the PKE meter to behave just right. When you're homing in on a scan, the arms rise, and your controller vibrates. It all contributes to a great illusion, and again, it feels perfect.
It may not stack up to some of the most impressive games out there, but in terms of capturing the look and feel of the films, Ghostbusters hits it out of the park. The character models evoke the actors' faces without crossing into creepy territory, which would have been extra weird considering their place in the cast. All the other bells and whistles look marvelous, particularly the articulated proton packs. Given how much detail went into them, it's a marvel that the rest of the game doesn't look more raggedy than it does.
All in all, the game exudes authenticity. From the fully-modeled firehouse headquarters to the way that tombstones shatter and bushes ignite when you spray them with proton, Ghostbusters transcends its modest tech with a careful attention to detail. One warning, though: you'll never want to hear the Ghostbusters theme ever again after sitting through a few loading screens.
Ghostbusters does right by its source material, but more importantly, it ensures that the wacky, imaginative world conceived by Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis way back when feels at home in a video game. It may stop and start on occasion, but it's got a whole lot of heart. If you remember the movies fondly, then you'll want to experience Ghostbusters' over-the-proton-pack view of this funky world.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.