Ghostbusters: The Video Game

15 Jun 2009  by   Paul Younger
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Every now and again a game comes along which I want to like before I’ve even played it. It could be that’s it’s an update of a franchise I fell in love with in years passed (like Operation Flashpoint or Bionic Commando) or maybe because an industry fave is working on the project (like Brutal Legend). In the case of Ghostbusters: The Videogame, it’s because I loved the films. Yes, even the technically unfunny sequel. With a great cast, a genuine dynamic between them, blockbuster set pieces and wicked one-liners I still harbour a nostalgic love for Ghostbusters. I still find myself humming the theme tune.  I still find myself repeating the line “it’s true…this man has no dick” with annoying frequency. And so I wanted to like Ghostbusters: The Videogame. When I heard that the original writing team of Aykroyd and Ramis were scripting it, my interest levels rocketed. When the game suffered a number of publishing catastrophes, it became the plucky underdog I liked even more. And now I’ve actually played it I can confirm two things: One, it feels like an authentic Ghostbusters product. Two, given a little more time, it could have been so much better.

Let’s address that first point for a moment. What’s immediately obvious from even the first ten minutes of the game is that Ghostbusters possesses a rare commodity in gaming, and that’s charm. From the Columbia pictures screen at the start to the first time we hear Peter, Ray and Egon arguing, everything about Ghostbusters’ presentation feels perfectly familiar. For example, the incidental music as you potter around the Fire Station is Elmer Bernstein’s score from the original. Janine is on reception. Slimer’s downstairs in containment. It all feels well-observed, in keeping with the game’s origins and this goes for the story and voice acting too.Because the plot and dialogue are written by Aykroyd and Ramis, the game gets the characters right, which rarely happens in movie tie-ins. Venkman spits wisecracks and surreal humour at every opportunity, Ray has a boundless, nerdy enthusiasm for all things spectral, which is anchored by Egon’s deadpan sarcasm and Winston is the endearing everyman who has just found his feet in the team. The aforementioned dynamic between them works very well and it’s refreshing to play a squad-action game where you like everyone on your team.Authenticity was clearly a big concern for developer Terminal Reality and so, rather than have the writing team create a new character and back story for the player, you take on the role of a nameless rookie. See, the guys are wary of becoming too attached to the noob as they go through rookies like Spinal Tap through drummers.  This was a wise move by the developer as you can’t really risk polluting the chemistry between the main characters with a new guy, but at the same time it does throw up a big problem. As I played through the game, trying to analyse why I was enjoying it, I came to an odd conclusion.  In Ghostbusters: The Videogame, it’s not so much about you as it is about watching the others. The gameplay itself, sadly, is not particularly engaging and yet the atmosphere is.The game plays out like a third person shooter of sorts, with the main gameplay feature being the capture of ghosts. This is done via the iconic Proton Pack and as you encounter ghosts in the game you’ll need to follow a four step procedure: blast, stun, wrangle, and trap. R2 fires a stream from the proton pack which you’ll need to reduce the ghost’s energy meter. Once it’s sufficiently depleted, the ghost will be stunned, allowing you to hit L1 and engage your capture stream. At this point your stream will wrap around the ghost and you’ll need to wrestle it towards a trap, which is easier with some ghosts than others. It’s not a badly-implemented system and there’s something pretty cool about the whole squad working together to trap a ghoul. The problem is that, beyond this, there’s not much else to the game and even though the main campaign isn’t very long (around 6 hours), it doesn’t take long for the gameplay to become repetitive.{PAGE TITLE=Ghostbusters Review Page 2}That’s not to say Terminal Reality doesn’t try to keep things interesting, it’s just that the results aren’t particularly successful. For example, as you progress through the game, you’re given access to four new attachments for your proton pack which act as new weapons. Those fearing corruption of ‘Busters’ lore can relax their sphincters, however, as these new toys fit nicely into the narrative. Egon’s been beavering away creating these new, and criminally untested, devices and you’re nominated as the guinea pig. But unfortunately they don’t really add much to the game. One attachment allows you to fire a kind of “freeze” burst which slows enemies down, while another tags ghosts and fires guided bursts at them. The attachment that comes closest to being fun is the Slime Blower. Its primary function is to clear black slime from areas you need to advance through, but it also allows you to fire a slime tether. Attach one end to an object or ghost and the other end to something else – a trap, for instance – and it will pull the two together. Nevertheless, while this does add a little variety to proceedings it’s not enough to overcome the repetition. And, when you look closely at the gameplay, a number of other issues come to the surface.The biggest problem is the game’s linearity and reliance on scripted events. You’re never given any options in the game at all, as you’re constantly guided through areas by locked doors and environmental obstacles.   The areas themselves are often fairly large, but only offer one route through meaning, as there’s no compass or map on the HUD, you’ll end up searching around the levels until you trigger an event or find that one out of the fifteen doors you tried can actually be opened. Terminal Reality does provide you with guidance of sorts via the PKE meter – bring it up and the game switches to a first person mode in which your meter can detect the presence and/or last known location of a ghost.This basically turns the game into hide and seek in which the only fun is when you find one of the game’s collectables (artefacts) which will be stored in your inventory and can be examined later. While this offers a brief distraction from the sporadic action and wandering through corridors, all too often you’ll find yourself waiting for the rest of the guys to catch up so one of them can open door or trigger a cutscene. A prime example of this is when you chase the ghost of the librarian (remember her?) through the library. You’ll be able to see her but your proton stream will have no effect until Ray catches up and frightens her. It all feels very archaic as do the numerous technical issues which make Ghostbusters feel a little unfinished.While the pre-rendered cut-scenes look nice enough, the in-engine ones really don’t and for a pretty modest-looking game, the PS3 version at least, has some big framerate issues. Despite the addition of a Roadie-Run style sprint function, movement is slow and feels laboured and when the game does get busy on screen, you can expect the occasional slideshow moment.  This isn’t helped by a distinct lack of movement variety – for example, in a game which throws fast-moving enemies at you, you would think that a dodge button might have come in handy. And, in a game in which physics-based objects litter the corridors and rooms, you would think that a jump button might be of use.  The physics engine also seems a little basic compared to what’s available elsewhere. While at times it’s used brilliantly in the game to create atmosphere as chairs and tables float mysteriously in front of you, most of the time it seems unreal. Bump lightly into what should be a big, sturdy table and you’ll find yourself kicking it down the corridor ahead of you.But in this protracted battle in which poor design and technical hitches conspire to undermine the atmosphere, somehow the atmosphere wins. You do actually feel like a Ghostbuster as you progress through the game and the recognisable ghosts and environments, great sound design (complete with some well-timed shock moments) and excellent voice acting all combine to make for an enjoyable experience. In much the same way that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed managed to overcome repetitive, underwhelming gameplay with its excellent story, Ghostbusters’ atmosphere entertains, even if its gameplay does not.  

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