BY ADAM BONANNI Movie tie-in games, as a rule, are utter duds. Generally rushed to the shelf in order to provide a safe, accessible tie-in to some blockbuster film, they often serve as a functional, but utterly unremarkable gaming experience. “Seen the movie? Buy the game” is the mantra that justifies their existence, and they sell like mad because of it. Of course there, have been a few exceptions. The last movie-to-game adaptation that really stuck in my mind was 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick, and before that, 1997’s Goldeneye. Now, in 2009, the much delayed and anticipated modern Ghostbusters game finds itself in a unique position to mix up a franchise of life support, as well as offer a decent adaptation from film to game. Being 25 years too late to tie-in to anything significant, it stands decently on its own as a brand new story, as well as throwing a healthy dose of trivia and inside jokes at anemic Ghostbusters fans starving for that third movie (don’t hold your breath, guys).
Ghostbusters: The Video Game takes place two years after the events of Ghostbusters II, leading in with one of the Ghostbuster’s (in)famous commercials. After a brief catastrophe that sets up the story, the Ghostbusters logo is stamped on the screen, and the player is treated to Ray Parker Jr.’s original theme song, probably the first time it’s been captured so authentically in a game. It’s a very cool moment, and really nails the feel of a continuation of the franchise, right down to rolling the credits introducing all four original ghostbusters voicing their respective characters.
You play as a rookie ghostbuster; a name-less mute with a very generic face. The reason behind this being that by keeping the lovable oaf as generic as possible, the barrier between gamer and game is minimized. I didn’t really warm up to the idea that keeping this character as bland as can be was the best move until halfway through the game, and even then, I wasn’t crazy about it. Egon, Ray, Winston, and Peter (especially) come off as overly-sarcastic and fairly mean-spirited, especially to your character as a newbie, so it’s hard to care about what’s going on when the four real ghostbusters have formed an exclusive club of assholes. Pretty ironic, since, due to the sub-par AI controlling the other characters, they’ll end up needing you much more than you need them.
The idea of doing a Ghostbusters game had been kicked around for a while, but ideas must have begun to seriously materialize when someone sat down and played 2006’s Gears of War for the first time. The similarities hit the player right out of the box; the “roadie-cam” angle, reviving fallen partners, and squad-based battles to name a few. Hey, if you’re gonna rip something off, as least rip off something good. A mash-up of Gears of War and Ghostbusters may not sound too great on paper, but it pretty naturally generates the frantic atmosphere portrayed in the movies. Eventually the similarities between the two become less apparent, andGhostbusters settles very comfortably into its own style.
But how much style is too much? It’s commendable that Ackroyd and Ramis haven’t forgotten what makes Ghostbusters so fun and funny, but if the game’s story were to be judged alongside its past installments, it would be the worst by far. The game has no personality of its own, rather feeling the need to throw as many familiar Ghostbusters set pieces at the player as possible. You’ll square off against the Stay-Puft marshmallow man again as well as return to Hotel Sedgewick and the library from the first movie and the museum’s Gozer exhibit from the second. The catastrophic event tying all these pieces is also very reminiscent of how things went down in the first movie, as even noted by the characters in the game. Score no points for originality.
A section evaluating the online multiplayer is absent because of its removal from the PC version. The trade-off is a $30 reduced price, which is actually pretty fair. Multiplayer is only available on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions.
The controls for this game can be broken into two parts: what your character does in-game, and how effectively you can make your character do what he wants in-game. The former, consisting of trapping and neutralizing ghosts, actually works fairly well and is a decent challenge. Trapping ghosts consists of weakening them with an assortment of four different kinds of blasters, and balancing the enraged ghost over the trap as it’s vacuumed in. It’s a tricky process at first, but happens so frequently that it can be learned within the first hour of gameplay.
Unfortunately, the enjoyment of trapping ghosts hinges pretty heavily on how well you control your character; an aspect that doesn’t translate very well to keyboard and mouse controls thanks to a ludicrous amount of mouse acceleration. In theory, mouse acceleration makes moving the mouse simpler by assuming that the more you move it, the farther you want to go. The cursor then picks up in speed faster than a souped up Camaro, and you can imagine how this would wreak havoc on any kind of accuracy. Part of me thinks this was intentional, because painting the walls and expensive hotel rooms with nuclear proton blasts is something the Ghostbusters do on a regular basis. Unfortunately, sacrificing a critical gameplay element for some humor, if intentional, makes for a pretty lousy joke.
I must admit, Ghostbusters is a good looking game. Although the characters have this strange shiny plastic look to them, the lighting is top notch and actually colorful! A welcome break from those gritty games that only feature 14 shades of brown for enhanced realism. The trade-off, however, is some pretty noticeable drops in the framerate. You could be squaring off against a few rouge ghosts in one room at a silky smooth 60+ fps (frames per second), only to move down the hall and watch the framerate plummet to the low 20’s. This problem isn’t only confined to scenes of heavy action, where it would at least be understandable. It’s also notably prevalent in Ghostbusters HQ, where the most action onscreen is watching Egon take a break to play an arcade game in the corner. I’m not sure what data needs to be processing in scenes like this, but with such long loading times between levels, the game should run a hell of a lot less choppy. Some rather stiff character animation and unforgivably jagged edges are also minor detraction.
The sound, on the other hand, is almost always solid. The soundtrack is ripped straight from the first movie, and, as expected, fits in well with the action in-game. It occasionally highlights the wrong notes, like hitting a dramatic moment when there’s nothing onscreen, but thus is the perils of orchestrated music in games. The dialogue, written by Ramis and Ackroyd, is consistently funny, relying mostly on one-liners. Funny games are few and far between, and it’s nice when one comes along that doesn’t try too hard. The only knock against the dialogue is the overabundance of it. TheGhostbusters have a tendency to just talk, and yell, and spout off dry humor, even when being attacked from all sides. Ackroyd, Ramis, and Hudson all sound great in their reprisals, but Murray sounds out of place; half of the time mumbling his lines, and the other half, sounding like he doesn’t give a rat’s ass what is going on.
Ghostbusters was a bit of a scare for me at the young, impressionable age of six when I first watched it. The game sets up a pretty creepy atmosphere, and has a few jump out at you scares, but is fairly harmless. TheESRB has rated Ghostbusters “T” for Teen for Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, and Mild Language.
FINAL GRADE: C+
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 ($59.99), PC ($29.99). Wii and Nintendo DS versions are available, but offer a dramatically different experience from what was reviewed.