When you have a license game based on a label with a strong following, it can be tough to make things work out. Balancing story and gameplay is tough enough as is, but balancing new content and fan service makes it so you almost definitely can’t please anyone. I don’t know what logic Atari and co. used, but it worked out spectacularly well, as Ghostbusters: The Video Game has turned out to be absolutely great.
I bought this game, largely, for the symbol on the front cover. Honestly, if they put out Ghostbusters cereal, I probably would’ve lined up at the local Food Mart to preorder it. Thinking about it, this isn’t a smart plan of action, as that Ghostbusters cereal might just be repackaged Cheerios (or the game might suck), but that’s how much I love the brand. So the simple fact that the game does the movies justice? Well, that’s just makes the cereal that much tastier, as it were. The game’s story is actually written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who get two paychecks for their additional voice work as their beloved characters from the movie, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler. In addition to Aykroyd and Ramis, the other two Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman and Winston Zeddemore have their actors (Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, respectively) lend their talents to the game. In addition to the namesakes, several other characters return, such as Annie Potts playing condescending secretary Janine Melnitz, and William Atherton coming back as Walter Peck, the stuffy EPA agent who attempts to shut the Ghostbusters down. Taking place a few years after the second movie, the Ghostbusters still helm a thriving business quelling the occasional flare-ups from angry spirits. With contracts from the government, the team hires a nameless new member to go on assignments and test Egon’s newly-developed hardware.
The story unfolds through a series of lengthy missions, taking the new recruit through both familiar and all-new environments, and introduces some new characters. Everything starts with Ray, Peter, Egon and the new recruit doing some first-day training with the proton packs. Amidst the one-liners and horsing around, an enormous blue wave of energy sweeps across the Big Apple, knocking out power and calling forth massive numbers of ghosts. Things go from bad to worse when the Sedgewick Hotel (the place the Ghostbusters made their first catch) calls for help with a new ghost. The mission spirals out of control, though, as ghastly issues pull the team across town, ending with a run-in with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the introduction a newer, younger love interest for Venkman, Ilyssa Selwyn. The boys in gray discover that Ilyssa is, in fact heading the addition of a new wing to the museum dedicated to Gozer, the Sumerian demi-god behind the outbreak in the first movie. Naturally, the Ghostbusters must, once again, quell the paranormal uprising and restore something resembling order to New York.
While the story is all new, the missions are deeply rooted in the movies. The first job, as stated, features an appearance by the Marshmallow Man…but also includes a remarkably well-done recreation of the Sedgewick Hotel, a lengthy pursuit of Slimer, the Ecto-1 and more fan service than you can shake a PKE Meter at. The second mission sends you to the New York Public Library, to chase the ghost of the librarian from the opening scene of the first movie. These old environments get nice new twists, though, with things like a fisherman ghost taking over the hotel and flooding it with some kind of ghost water, and the library literally breaks apart, exposing an enormous alternate reality. Though some of the story is fantastic, even for Ghostbusters, the superb writing by Aykroyd and Ramis helps to keep everything in line, and keep the funny moments coming.
So how do you actually go around busting ghosts? The game handles like a fairly typical third-person shooter, with left stick movin’, right stick lookin’ and right trigger shootin’. During a mission, you’ll encounter ghosts. Ghosts have an invisible health meter, which is depleted by shooting them with the proton pack. Once the ghost is out of stamina, the proton beam is able to tether them, allowing you to use the trap, which can be deployed using the X button. Simple, right? There are also a few special weapons mapped to the D-Pad which have varying uses (though the normal Proton Stream is the most-used tool in the game). While the visually-flashy trapping shown in the movie is what everyone thinks of when it comes to the Ghostbusters, the game makes this a relatively rare treat, with most of the game’s action stemming from encounters with smaller apparitions, like animated candlesticks and other relatively small beasties. While the game is on the whole enjoyable, it has a few minor issues that mount up. Clipping issues make it so that doorways can become enormous obstacles, forcing you to line your character up just so, lest you endlessly dash in place. Things can also get somewhat repetitive with a small number of enemies getting stretched across huge levels. There are also some detection issues, leading to instances where you have trouble interacting with certain objects. While these issues are fairly minor, they are more than occasionally annoying.
The true strength of the game, even more so than the incredible writing, is the excellent presentation. The characters are lifelike recreations of the series’ cast, as opposed to the early builds of the game that used a more cartoony style. While the characters look great, cookie cutter environments and some weird textures keep it less than perfect (though still quite good). The game’s sound, though, is perhaps the best I’ve ever witnessed. As stated, the crew from the movies reprised their roles in the game, and did some seriously excellent work. The music also made the leap, with the same tunes from the movies used to convey the same moods, which is achieved with great success. Honestly, if this game didn’t have this level of support from the cast and producers, it simply would not have been nearly as good. Instead, we have one of the most aesthetically-pleasing games ever.
Really, this game is something Ghostbusters fans can really get themselves behind. While the gameplay has some flaws, it is on the whole solid, and there is enough game there to enjoy for a good length of time. Strong presentation, though, makes what would normally be considered a good game, great. Every Ghostbusters fan needs to buy this game, and everyone else can buy this game with confidence.