Has it seriously been like two and a half years since the idea of a new Ghostbusters videogame started making its way around the internet?
It seems like it's been a lot longer than that, but regardless: The game finally came out last week, and this weekend, I burned through it entirely too quickly. It's my fault for beating it so fast; Ghostbusters is the only game in recent memory that I decided to play through on easy mode. The impetus for that decision? The description of the game's "casual" mode, which is something like, "Bust some ghosts and experience the story." After stressing my way through Resident Evil 5 and trying (and failing) to be all strategical in Halo Wars, I wasn't looking for a life-changing or challenging experience with Ghostbusters—just a chance to spend some quality time in the Ghostbusters universe with the original characters and cast.
Which is exactly what I got: Every movie tie-in videogame attempts the difficult task of replicating the tone and feel of the film it's based on, but I honestly can't think of a single one that nails the humor, charm, and aesthetic of its source material as well as Ghostbusters: The Videogame. It's not the most groundbreaking or imaginative game you're ever gonna play, but Ghostbusters is a blast to play, it's genuinely hilarious, and seeing the films' cast united again is pretty fantastic. In other words, for Ghostbusters fans—and who isn't a Ghostbusters fan?—Ghostbusters: The Videogame nails it where it counts.
With a script by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and the voices and likenesses of everybody important from the films—Aykroyd, Ramis, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and even William Atherton and Annie Potts all return as their characters—the game basically feels just like a Ghostbusters 3. (Sigourney Weaver isn't around, because apparently nobody told her that this was kind of a big deal, and neither is the now-retired Rick Moranis, but their absences aren't too big of a deal.)
It's that script and those voices that make this thing work as well as it does. The gameplay is certainly fun, and developers Terminal Reality deserve props for some clever and imaginative level design (as well as making the act of shooting a proton pack feel exactly like you imagined it would when you were six), but the reasons why the Ghostbusters films are still so much goddamn fun are the characters and the writing, both of which are excellent here, still feeling fresh and solid, 20 years after the last Ghostbusters film was in theaters.
Rather than taking on any of the roles of existing ghostbusters, you play as the "Rookie"—a new member of the team who's ostensibly hired to test Egon and Ray's more experimental ghostbusting equipment. This concept feels a bit weird at the start—let's face it, everybody would rather just play as Peter Venkman, right?—but after the first few minutes, it starts to make sense: The fact that you're not playing as one of the actual ghostbusters means that you get to sit back and let the ghostbusters handle the comedy, while you focus on blasting ghosts and throwing out traps. As soon as Venkman starts making wisecracks (often at your expense) and Egon starts mumbling about funguses and molds, it becomes clear why it's a good idea to have you play as a silent stand-in—the gang's perfectly fine as it is.
As for the gameplay, it's standard-but-polished third-person action/shooter stuff—you'll run through levels that range from downtown Manhattan to Central Park-as-graveyard to more fantastic realms of the spirit world, all the while blasting and trapping ghouls and monsters. (Occasionally, Ghostbusters even manages to be a bit creepy in its level design—the number of scares here is pretty minimal, but, right on track with the films, there are a few moments that'll scare little kids.) For the most part, the game's based on a singular mechanic of blasting ghosts and wrangling them into traps, and it works well enough to never get old. You can upgrade your equipment throughout, and in addition to your proton pack's default energy blast stream, you can also shoot slime, slime tethers, explosive blasts, and freezing rays—there's just enough variety to keep things interesting without ever becoming overwhelming. (It's in the details that Ghostbusters really shines, though, like how you can roam around the Ghostbusters HQ between missions, how you have to use the PKE meter and para-goggles to find your way around levels, and how you can refer to Tobin's Spirit Guide to learn about ghosts' histories and weaknesses. In another game, all these nods to a movie's throwaway dialogue might feel like shameless fan service—but here, they're integrated well enough to make them feel like natural parts of the game's universe.)
If I have one complaint about Ghostbusters: The Videogame, it's... well, shit. Seriously, I guess I don't really have any. (If I was stretching, I'd grumble about how there's some bewildering, distracting Doritos product placement in the game's first few levels, which feels whoreish and lame—but also just confusing, because seriously? Doritos vending machines? [A] Those don't even fucking exist, and [B] How much better would those have been if they were Ecto Cooler vending machines instead? Thankfully, once you're through the first level or two, all that Doritos shit disappears.) Ghostbusters is just fun, and funny, and it captures everything that's so appealing about the films and their characters. (It's also the closest I'm ever gonna get to fulfilling the plan I had when I was in first grade of being a ghostbuster when I grew up.) In short, I'm already looking forward to another playthrough of the game—this time on a non-wussy difficulty setting.
Ghostbusters: The Videogame is developed by Terminal Reality (single player) and Threewave Software (multiplayer). (I just played the single-player game, though the game also has online co-op.) Now available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.