June 22, 2009
Even twenty-five years after the original movie's release, Ghostbusters remains a beloved franchise, which has seen the spawning of cartoon series, comics, toys, and everything else that mega-franchises entail. It was this love of the franchise that led developer Terminal Reality to meet with Sony Pictures to discuss the possibility of developing their own Ghostbusters video game. Development of the game ceased when Activision decided not to support it during their merger with Blizzard, leaving the game's future in doubt. Thankfully, Atari came to the rescue to publish it, which we're very thankful for, as this new Ghostbusters game is one of the finest licensed games we've seen in years.
The game casts players into the role of an unnamed rookie joining the Ghostbusters squad two years after the events of the second movie. As an exhibit of Gozer artifacts is about to be unveiled to the public, a mysterious shockwave of paranormal energy sets off a chain reaction of hauntings, and it'll be up to the Ghostbusters to once again save the day before the walls separating our reality from the world of ghosts are completely shredded. Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, who also wrote both Ghostbusters movies, the story is filled with the humorous dialogue, paranormal technobabble, and great sequences at least as good (if not better) than both movies, making the game's story worthy of being considered 'Ghostbusters 3.'
A Ghostbuster's bread and butter is the proton pack they carry into battle, and this wonder-tool has been considerably upgraded to enhance gameplay. Of course, you've got your standard proton stream, which weakens ghosts, but there's also a stasis beam which can 'freeze' ghosts, a shock blast that turns your proton pack into a ghost-annihlilating shotgun, a rapid-fire overload pulse, a slime tether useful for chaining ghosts to the ground, and more. This diversity of weaponry ensures that the gameplay provides a good amount of variety, and doesn't boil down to "proton stream, send out trap, repeat" for the whole game.
Controls for Ghostbusters are smooth as silk, with the game playing like a well-polished third person shooter. The left and right triggers control the primary and secondary fire of each weapon, and equipping these different proton pack abilities is as easy a pressing the right direction on the d-pad. Necessary status meters, like player health or the proton pack's heat level, are shown right on the proton pack, eliminating unnecessary HUD space, and not disrupting the immersion. It should take players mere moments to pick up the controller and feel like professional poltergeist hunters.
Ghostbusters also provides excellent variety in enemies and level design. It seems that every new level provides a new type of enemy or two, and each enemy has different attacks and weaknesses, making quick thinking and knowledge of each enemy type essential for success. Encounters range from battles with a few ghosts to large-scale battles against swarms of apparitions, with large boss fights often coming at the end of a level. Mixing things up in this fashion keeps things fresh, so the gameplay never feels repetitive or stale. The only knock on the combat is that several of the bosses follow the "obvious weak spot" cliche, and if you can't figure out how to take out a boss on your on, your teammates will usually tell you straight-up what to do, which takes away some of the satisfaction of finding out that winning strategy.
Every single level in Ghostbusters features a unique design that makes it memorable, and very few games can make that claim. Some areas, like Ghostbusters headquarters or the public library, look like picture-perfect copies of the movie sets, and every level is guaranteed to have at least one brilliant moment. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll simply say that each level seems more impressive than the last, and memories of each level and the battles fought within them will remain long after the story has been completed.
Veteran Ghostbusters Venkman, Egon, Ray, and Winston will be doing battle by your side for most of the campaign, but these paranormal pioneers aren't as brilliant as we could have hoped. The concept of concentrated fire seems almost alien to them, except in boss encounters, when they have nothing else to aim at. This means players will have to adapt to a free-for-all style of ghost wrangling, since your teammates often run off to do their own thing. They're not terribly adept at defending themselves either, and frequently get knocked down by attacks, forcing players to run over to revive them. Fellow Ghostbusters do a reasonably good job reviving the player should they ever get knocked down, but are much slower to revive each other. These AI issues are annoying, making some encounters more difficult than they need to be, and the load times to reload a checkpoint should you die (greater than 10 seconds) won't help to ease any frustration.
After the credits have rolled on the campaign, Ghostbusters offers multiplayer action in six different game types across ten different maps, each based on a location from the story. Survival feels vaguely familiar to Horde from Gears of War 2, with Ghostbusters taking on up to 10 waves of increasingly difficulty enemies. While this mode is cooperative in the sense that players want each other to stay alive to keep the game going, it's also a competition to see who can earn the most money. Therefore, some players may let others who are knocked down stay that way for a bit to earn some extra money on the competition. Containment mode works similarly, except the goal is to trap the most ghosts within a set time limit.
Protection and Thief are both defensive games. In Protection, players must defend a stationary "PKE Disruptor" as it charges up. If ghosts succeed in attacking it, it takes longer to charge, and players lose if they can't get all three charged before the game's time limit expires. Thief, which is the better of the two modes, tasks players with defending four artifacts from being stolen away by aggressive ghosts.
The last two modes, Destruction and Slime Dunk, aren't as good as the other game types. Destruction involves players destroying evil "relics" which also destroys the ghosts these relics spawn, so it becomes more a game of evading ghosts than actually capturing them. Slime Dunk, as the name suggests, involves trying to dunk more slimers into traps than anyone else. While it's a game of skill with your proton pack, where the more skilled player will win nearly every time, it lacks the intensity of Survivor or Thief, which are easily Ghostbusters' best game types. With the addition of special "Most Wanted" ghosts to hunt down, the multiplayer experience is good fun, and is surely not a tacked-on afterthought.
Ghostbusters' visuals do an exceptional job of bringing the Ghostbusters experience to life. Areas from the movies are perfectly reproduced, and many of the new areas are similarly impressive. It's a joy to take on massive bosses with a beautifully rendered proton stream, and enemies look like they were pulled from the movies. Being able to destroy much of the environment with your proton stream is fantastic, and any damage inflicted on walls remains there, making it easy to see the devastation of a battle once the dust settles. The game's cinematics look great, though the scenes done in with the game's engine don't look quite as nice, and there can be some lip-syncing issues between the animations and voice acting.
Voice acting is handled by a star-studded cast, including the all the key actors from the movies. Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis all return to voice their characters, with Alyssa Milano voicing Venkman's most recent love interest. Naturally, their performances are spot on, and help instantly establish the game's setting as a sequel to the movies. The music is dramatic and well placed to add tension and drama to the experience, and the sound effects are just as you'll remember them from the movies, making for an exceptional audio experience.
The objectives for the achievements in Ghostbusters are fairly standard, including some for simple story progression, or finding collectables throughout the game. Some points are awarded for success with various ghost capturing techniques, and each level has a bonus task for an achievement. Some may groan at the online achievements, but they're pretty reasonable, and most will come naturally with play, though a few take some skill (or boosting). What really makes the list stand out are the nice achievement tiles and the achievement names themselves, which are frequently references to lines from the movies.
All told, Ghostbusters was as a wonderful surprise, surpassing all my expectations. The dedication to translating what makes the franchise so fun into a compelling video game shows in every facet of the experience, from the great level design and enemy variety to the script and return of the original cast. Ghostbusters takes everything great about the franchise and combines it with the tight controls and solid gameplay we demand, making for what will hopefully be a successful rebirth for the franchise.
The entire movie cast returns to do voice work, which is exceptional. Sound effects are exactly how movie fans will remember them, and the music is dramatic, adding tension and excitement to the experience.
Areas taken from the movies are perfect imitations, and many of the new areas look stunning, as well. Giant bosses, including the familiar Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man, are truly a sight to behold, and the proton streams looks gorgeous. Some lip-syncing issues are the only real issue with the visuals.
The controls are simple and every bit as responsive as they should be. Capturing ghosts is a blast, though the teammate AI could have been better.
The dedication to creating a genuine Ghostbusters experience shows in every facet of the game's design; voice acting, visuals, the story, gameplay mechanics... it all comes together incredibly well, making the game truly memorable.
It's a pretty standard achievement list, but the nice achievement tiles and achievement names, which often reference lines from the movies, manage to make it feel more unique and fun than other similar lists.
The dedication to translating the finest qualities of the Ghostbusters franchise into a great video game shows through in every facet of the game, making it easily one of the best licensed games to arrive in years.