Review: Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Terminal Reality
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 06/16/09


Okay, so let’s be honest with each other: you can pretty much count the “good” Ghostbusters games on one hand, and how many fingers you use depends on personal taste. For me, I can say that the arcade game, the Sega Master System game and the Sega Genesis game were all good, but many people might not even agree with that for various reasons. This is a shame, really, as Ghostbusters is one of those franchises that lots of people love, but it hasn’t translated particularly well into video game form. Because of the absence of any new media coming from the franchise in several years, it seemed like the possibility of any more games was dwindling away. It’s hard to keep a good concept down however, and a couple of years ago Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis teamed up with Terminal Reality and Vivendi Studios to work on a new Ghostbusters game that would, it was hoped, be the awesome game we had all been hoping for. The game itself has seen its fair share of adversity along the way to being released, however. Its parent franchise has been dormant for years, and while it might have been expected to sell some copies based on nostalgia alone, a lot of folks were expecting it to be a flop, what with the Ghostbusters franchise having been out of the spotlight for a long while. This opinion apparently was one that was held by Activision-Blizzard, as when Vivendi merged with them, Ghostbusters was one of several titles dropped from the developer’s portfolio, leaving its fate in question. Thankfully for the game, Atari picked it up and gave it another chance to please the fans, and with the promised voice talents of most of the franchise mainstays, it seemed the game was on track to be a big winner. However, some questions remained about the final product. After years away from the franchise, did Ramis and Akroyd have a winning script on their hands. Did the cast have it in them to deliver a performance to match? Was the game going to be a fan-pleasing product or a cheap cash-in? Most importantly, could Terminal Reality, a developer whose best-known accomplishment was the less-than-stellar Bloodrayne franchise, turn out a good product in the first place?

Let’s take a look.

Ghostbusters takes place two years after the events of the second movie. The Ghostbusters are doing quite well for themselves, as the city has more or less taken them on as subcontractors, and they have decided to hire up a new recruit, i.e., you. During your initial training, a powerful shockwave rips through the city, releasing Slimer from his containment. After chasing him down, things only get worse, as the shockwave itself is a herald of bigger and badder things to come that only the Ghostbusters will be able to take on. As a whole, the story in Ghostbusters is solid enough that a casual fan or someone who knows nothing about the Ghostbusters themselves should be able to follow along well enough. The writing is very solid and Ray and Egon play Captain Exposition when needed to fill in the gaps for those who are new to the franchise. The writing is also pretty strong, and while it’s not quite on the same level as the writing from the first film, Ramis and Akroyd definitely still have a lot of talent to work with. The end result is a story that’s fun and entertaining and features characters that are interesting and often hilarious. Ghostbusters fans, on the other hand, will be immensely pleased by the story of the game, as it not only tells a strong story in general, but it also drops all sorts of little comments and jokes into the dialogue that will please fans. The game keeps the continuity of the movies straight and manages to turn its own story into not just a good companion piece, but something that actually feels like an out-and-out true sequel.

Visually, Ghostbusters looks pretty fabulous. The characters themselves look almost spot-on like their real-life counterparts did when they were younger, and the animations of the characters are nicely done and look realistic. The ghosts and ghouls you’ll be facing down throughout your adventure are varied and interesting looking, and they look as the ghosts did in the films in another nice nod to consistency. The special effects are quite impressive as well, so the Proton Pack looks accurate when it fires and its different modes are all quite impressive to see. The damage the packs do when they hit anything that isn’t a ghost is also really cool, between the destruction and the burning trails and the setting things ablaze and whatnot. The various stages are also very impressive, with the locations from the films looking spot-on in their digital representations and the new game-only locales looking fantastic on their own merit. The cutscenes that pop up here and there are well rendered and impressive looking.

The audio is also absolutely fantastic, due in large part to the fact that the voice talent consists almost entirely of the original actors and actresses from the films, which, aside from making the product feel entirely legitimate, is just really cool. I mean, they brought back William Atherton to play Gregory Peck for crying out loud! That? That’s cool. The game also uses the soundtrack of the first movie as its soundtrack, and as the first film had a fantastic score, so too does the game, as the score has held up quite well. The sound effects are also pretty fabulous and accurate to the films, so the proton packs sound exactly as they should, the various ghosts and ghouls sound eerie and frightening, and the ambient effects are also haunting and appropriate when employed.

Ghostbusters is designed as a third-person shooter with some horror elements here and there, so anyone who’s familiar with Dead Space, Resident Evil 5, or Gears of War will pretty much be familiar with how this works, though the experience is streamlined and simplified a bit. You’ll be seeing everything from over the shoulder of your character, with your Proton Pack acting as your status display. From the Proton Pack you can tell what type of weapon you’re presently equipped with, the heat level of the weapon itself, and your present health, making the pack your heads-up display, essentially. You move around the environments with one stick and aim with the other, the D-pad switches between weapons and you fire the pack with the triggers, so everything is pretty self-explanatory and easy to pick up. Your character can also run and dodge around with the B button and interact with the environment with the A button, the former of which is useful for quickly traversing a location or avoiding damage, and the latter of which is useful for opening doors and activating devices, as well as helping up knocked over teammates.

You’ll be spending all of your time relying on the Proton Pack for various things, so you’ll be pleased to know that it’s more than just a beam-firing backpack. When you start out the game, you’ll only be able to fire the Proton Beam, which acts as you’d expect it to if you’ve seen the films: you fire a long stream of energy that can injure ghosts, damage property, and set fire to lots of stuff. That isn’t the only weapon you’ll be given access to, however, as Egon has been busy since the second film coming up with fun and interesting tools to test out, and joy of joys, you get to be the guinea pig. Each of these weapons also comes equipped with a secondary shot of some type or another, each of which also has its own specific uses. The Proton Beam itself features a secondary shot called the Boson Dart, which is essentially a large exploding ball that wrecks ghosts, but takes a while to recharge. As you progress you’ll unlock three more types of shots for the Proton Pack: The Shock Blaster, which acts as a shotgun and a stun laser, the Slime Blower, which can be used to slime ghosts and hostile objects as well as to clean up black slime in some areas in addition to allowing you to fire “slime tethers” which can be used in a number of different ways, and the Meson Collider, which acts as a machine gun that can home in with its secondary shot .

Each of these weapons can be upgraded a few times each, and you can perform these upgrades by earning cash through your various missions when you capture ghosts, destroy haunted minions, find hidden artifacts, and other things, so there’s more reward to busting ghosts than just the satisfaction of a job well done. Switching between the four is as simple as pressing the corresponding direction on the D-Pad, and all of them work pretty much the same: primary fire is enabled with the right trigger, secondary fire with the left. As you fire the Proton Pack, the weapon you’re using will begin to generate heat (or in the case of the Slime Blower, drain the reservoir), and if it overheats/drains, it’ll need to take a few seconds to recover before it’ll be usable again. To avoid this, you’ll have to manually cool/refill the Proton Pack by pressing the right bumper, which essentially acts as the reloading mechanic for the game. You’re given a handy meter, as noted, on the back of the pack to warn you when it’s time to cool down/refill which you’ll want to watch, as knowing when to cool/refill the pack means the difference between effectively taking out ghosts and ending up on your back.

You have a few more tools at your disposal aside from just your standard weaponry, of course. The most obvious toy you’ll have to work with is your PKE meter, which you can activate with the Y button. This brings you into a first-person view of the meter, which you can use to track down spectral energy and scan enemies. When tracking things down, the antennae on the meter will perk up as you approach a target, allowing you to essentially play “Hot and Cold” to track down mission important locations and hidden artifacts. When there’s a ghost or a haunted object on the screen, you can instead aim the circular target that appears in the center of the screen at the enemy in question and press a button to scan them, which adds their data to Tobin’s Spirit Guide, which should be a familiar mechanic to anyone who’s played Metroid Prime. When it comes time to trap some ghosts, after damaging them enough to stun them you’ll toss out a trap with X, then attempt to guide them into said trap with the Capture Beam, which is a modified version of the Proton Beam, and is used by equipping that weapon. When a ghost is weak enough, the Proton Beam will immediately convert to the Capture Beam, allowing you to move the ghost toward the trap or slam them into walls and obstacles, like an ethereal and more vicious fishing game. The Capture Beam can also be used to move around objects when needed by holding down L1 while using the Proton Beam, but you’ll find it to be both more useful and more enjoyable when used for catching ghosts. Once the ghost is lined up with the trap it’ll open up, and you’ll then fight to keep the ghost in the area of effect of the trap until it’s sucked in. Success means a trapped ghost, failure means you’ll have to try again. More creative players will find that several other tools can be used to accomplish this beyond the Capture Beam, so you could, for example, use the stun beam on the Disruptor to stun a ghost and make it fall into the trap, or the slime tether to drag a ghost into the trap, among other things.

The game isn’t all about trapping ghosts, though. You’ll find yourself spending a good amount of time puzzling through how to open doors, move obstacles and enable switches with your Proton Pack a few times through the course of the game. You’ll also find that, aside from the regular ectoplasm-based ghosts you’d expect, you’ll also face down various haunted objects that have been animated by some of the more powerful ghosts in the game, or some huge monstrosities, including our old friend the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. The core game can be completed in about six to eight hours, though you can go back to it to try and earn all of the ghost scans and hidden artifacts or unlock some of the other achievements, or you can take your busting online with some friends. The Xbox Live multiplayer allows you to jump online with up to four players to either take on Campaigns (set mission types in game locations) or Jobs (missions that can take place in any level), such as capturing ghosts, surviving an onslaught, preventing ghosts from destroying or stealing objects, and other things. You can play these modes in Ranked or Player matches, as is expected, and as you complete missions you earn cash that can be invested into new gear, so you can show off your skills. Nothing earned online affects the offline modes, unfortunately, and you can’t play any sort of local multiplayer, which is disappointing.

Now, taken as a product for the fans, Ghostbusters is honestly mostly flawless, but looking at it in a more objective way, there are a few minor issues here and there that might annoy those less acquainted with the franchise. For one, the game itself, though fun, is kind of limited if you’re not a fan of the franchise. Fans will appreciate running around, busting ghosts with Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston, and they’ll love all of the little details that are stuffed into the game, including random answering machine messages that pop up after missions and such, but for a casual fan, it may be disappointing that you only get four weapons with limited upgrades, or that you end up visiting the Sedgewick Hotel twice instead of some other, different location, among other things. The actual gameplay mechanics, while they are not bad at all, may feel a bit elementary to anyone who regularly plays third person shooters, as the game doesn’t feel quite as polished as something like Dead Space or Gears of War. In sections where the action is focused on shooting and trapping, things work fine, but when fast movements and good dodging are important, Ghostbusters tends to feel a little sluggish, and while this isn’t frequent or painful enough to be a big issue, it’s still notable. The game also gives an inordinately large amount of enemies the ability to perform knockdown attacks that lay you out for a few seconds. This means you’ll end up watching your character fall down, lay there for a few seconds, then get up more than a few times per level, and while these attacks don’t take you out completely in most cases, they’re disruptive and would have been better served by having been limited in their frequency. The Capture Beam mechanic is also a little awkward when you’re forced to use on anything other than a ghost, both because you have to hold down two buttons to make it work properly and because the beam itself is kind of awkward to move around at times. You needn’t use it more than a handful of times throughout the game, as most of the time you can just destroy whatever you were expected to move, but when it does pop up, it’s annoying.

Minor issues aside, Ghostbusters is easily one of the best games to come out this year, as well as quite possibly the best Ghostbusters game ever, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of third person shooters or the franchise would be well served by picking this up. For casual fans, the story is funny, the visuals and audio are great, the gameplay is solid and easy to pick up and learn, and there’s a decent amount of depth to the game, online and off. For serious fans, the story is an excellent effort from Akroyd and Ramis, the characters look and sound exactly as you’d expect, and busting ghosts is a blast. Those who aren’t that into the franchise might be disappointed with the limited variety to the game, the at times limited and basic gameplay mechanics, the odd Capture Beam mechanics, and the fact that getting knocked on your ass isn’t infrequent and is tiresome. Frankly, however, these are minor quibbles, and for the most part, Ghostbusters is well worth the asking price for fans, both casual and serious, alike, as this may well be the first great Ghostbusters game, well, ever.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GREAT
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a surprisingly solid licensed product that combines everything fans of the product love with some solid gameplay elements to make something that casual and dedicated fans of Ghostbusters will want to own, though it’s not without its flaws. The story is fun and funny, the visuals are solid and well done, the audio is exactly what you’d want from a Ghostbusters product, and the gameplay is easy to pick up and work with. The game is fun in both single and multiplayer, and there’s a ton of charm to the product that fans of the franchise will love to death. The variety is a little limited, however, and the controls and mechanics, though solid, lack the polish of better third-person shooters. There are also a few annoying mechanics, such as working with the Capture Beam to move anything other than a ghost, or being knocked down a decent amount of the time, that might put off someone who isn’t much of a fan. Fans, however, have no reason not to pick this up as soon as possible and play it like nuts, as Ghostbusters is arguably the best game based on the franchise, ever, and it’s a blast from start to finish, period.

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