Thursday, 22 October 2009 14:36

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (xBox 360, 2009)

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Overview

1984. A relatively unremarkable year, all things considered. Ma Bell was broken up, Michael Jackson provided his own stage lighting when his hair caught on fire during a Pepsi commercial filming, and Ronald Reagan tries his hand at humor with the line, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes," during a radio voice check. Nothing particularly interesting. A legion of little transforming toy robots invaded and forever corrupted my co-writer's consciousness as Transformers debuted. Like I said... small potatoes. And oh yes... A little town on an island on the East Coast got overrun by ghosts, goblins, ghouls, spirits, apparitions, and one really nimble little minx with a flat top... But who you gonna call when something like THAT happens?!

Review

There are better places to be than the New York Museum of Natural History at night after closing, I've decided. Unfortunately, the night security guards that work there don't have a lot of choice in the matter, right? Oh well, what's the worst that could possibly happen in a building full of ancient relics in a town that's been visited by both Gozer the Gozarian and Vigo the Carpathian within the last decade, right? I mean, it's not like ANYTHING could go wrong with the new, soon to be debuted Gozarian exhibit that's been donated to the Museum... And the sudden appearance of a woman running out of a room in the supposedly empty museum that scares the skivvies off the security guard she almost runs over can't possibly be the harbinger of bad things to come. The huge, explosive blue shockwave that follows her, on the other hand...

So, Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Where do I really start? I mean, seriously, where do I start with one of the most beloved sci-fi classics of all time, a movie that brought together the writing genius of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, then turned around and tapped not only them, but Bill Murray, Rick Moranis and the Alien Queen herself, Sigourney Weaver as the cast? As much as I'd love to turn this review into a mini-fanboy session for one of my favorite story franchises, I suppose I'd better stick to the topic at hand, the Terminal Reality developed, Atari published take on Ghostbusters. Can I just toss this out there right now? DAMN! They did a kickass job! Alright, on with the review.

The year is 1991, and the boys are back in town. It's been a few years since taking Vigo down, and the Ghostbusters are apparently doing enough business that they've decided to take on some fresh meat – that'd be you, Rookie. Congratulations, you're now the new official Experimental Equipment Technician. In other words, you're the pack mule that gets to carry all the untested new Ghostbusting gear... as Stanz says, all the dangerous stuff that could theoretically malfunction and blow you clear to New Jersey. What a horrible fate. As the game starts, the shockwave that started at the Museum is just passing through the firehouse, and everybody's favorite little glob of glowing green slime breaks out of his containment cage. And, ain't that convenient... you just happen to need some training!

As suggested by the story overview, Ghostbusters: The Video Game picks up pretty much right where the second movie left off. One thing that deserves mentioning right up front is that the game was written by Dan and Harold, and that they brought back pretty much the entire original cast, sans Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis. As such, I think I'll touch on the voice acting first this time around. Folks... Bill, Dan, Harold, Ernie? You'd never know it's been twenty-five years since they first performed the roles. For that matter, Annie Potts, returning for her role as Janine Melnitz, just NAILED that awesome deadpan voice as she takes calls for the guys. They're in perfect form, and they let you know it in a hurry. The game is presented as the effective third movie in the series, rather than a video game. Your role as the silent rookie allows the fantastic foursome to do their best ghostbusting banter while allowing you to come along for the ride.

How about the gameplay, though? You control the Rook in an over-the-shoulder view similar in execution to Gears of War, but instead of appearing and fading graphic overlays to track your ammunition, your proton pack itself... hang on, the fanboy in me has to savor that for a moment. YOUR proton pack... Ok, moment over. The pack functions as you status and selected weapon display. While your health regenerates similar to games like CoD and GoW, there's a status indicator that displays how much damage it takes before you get knocked down. Get knocked down hard enough often enough, and you STAY down. There's four weapon modes for you to use that get unlocked through the game as Egon completes new modifications, each mode has a primary and secondary function, and each function has a couple of purchasable upgrades that make them more powerful, fire faster, build up less heat, etc. Similar upgrades are also available for your PKE meter and your trap. You earn money for these purchases by trapping ghosts.

While you have unlimited 'ammo' to use – it's a freaking nuclear particle accelerator! – the pack does build up heat during prolonged firing. All in all, this was a well handled way to add a little bit of realism to the game, and even makes sense in its context, even if we never actually saw the guys pausing to vent in the movies. I have to say that the depiction of this heat building up was awesomely handled, too. Your main warning that things are getting hot is a pair of indicator bars that slowly grow in height and get more and more red on the upper right edge of the pack, but as heat builds, a control rod gradually ejects further and further from the pack, and the four lights around it strobe faster and faster. There's even an audible alarm as you get too high. If you ignore everything else, the pack shorts out and forces a full venting that takes longer than a manual venting.

Also, while we're on the topic of nice touches on the proton pack, each firing mode alters the pack's appearance in some way. For instance, the basic proton stream mode is pulled straight from the movies – setting aside the health/heat readouts, of course. Switching to the slime blower changes the color of the four lights to green, and raises a tube of slime that retracts slowly into the pack as you deplete your supply. It's attention to detail like this that really makes Ghostbusters the immersive experience that it is, and if they were going to get one thing right, it HAD to be the packs, let's face it.

On the other side of the proton stream is the ghost capturing portion of the game. Stanz explains the basics early on, so I'll summarize – tire the ghost out, then hold them in place over the trap until they get sucked in. There is a little bit of strategy in the proper placement and usage of your ghost trap – and woe be to those that forget to pick the damn thing back up. You can always toss it right when your ghost is ready to be caught, but if you plan ahead some you can vastly shorten captures and make it easier to deal with multiple ghosts. It's really that easy... as long as you can get a clear line of fire on critters that like to move around rapidly, and through walls/other obstructions constantly. Also, unlike with a gun, the proton stream does a great deal to block your view of what you're shooting, so you really have to be aware of where you're aiming. Some – like Yahtzee over at Zero Punctuation – complained about this, but personally, again, I found it rather realistic. What do you really think would happen, if you were firing a very bright stream of nuclear accelerated particles at something? They wore those goggles for more than just tracking ghosts in the movies.

He did have a point when he mentioned that the guys have a bad habit of running in front of you, though. Fortunately, they seem to have zapped themselves enough times that they've developed immunity to being shot at with accelerated nuclear particles... And c'mon, tell me you don't find the idea of sliming Venkman with the slime blower amusing. For variety, not all ghosts are capturable – many, in fact, just need to be blasted until they fall apart. I'd have liked to have seen more segments with capturable ghosts, as I found those fights more enjoyable – and longer lasting. Also, for as constantly as they make comments about crossing the streams, the guys have a bad habit of turning their line of fire into yours. You learn to listen in a hurry for the sound of impending doom the backfire building up. It's not instantly fatal, but you WILL be knocked down if you don't stop firing quick.

Throughout the course of the game you'll be paired with one or all of the Ghostbusters at any given time, though there are also a couple sections where you end up on your own. Let's face it, Rook: You're there to be the workhorse while the guys kick back and relax. The best part of it is, thanks to Dan and Harold's writing, it all stays perfectly in character. Gate closed ahead of you? Guess who Venkman nominates to walk alone through the graveyard to get it open. There's a lot of laugh-out-loud funny one liners and great situational comedy, such as when the game hangs a lampshade over the Point of No Return trope you often see in games. For those not familiar, it's what happens when you walk into a new section of the game and the area you just left is abruptly, usually permanently closed off just after you exit it. Maybe a rockslide blocks the path, maybe the hull breaches and you don't have a space suit – whatever, you ain't going back. Late in the game, you – the Rookie – fiddle around a bit with your blaster... and accidentally blast down a tree that blocks your path back out. Whoops! Ghostbusters: The Video Game is just loaded with great, subtle humor like this.

Lessie, graphics, I haven't touched on graphics yet. The game – at least the versions for the newer systems – is the official debut of the new Infernal Engine. I've got to say, for an unproven graphics engine, I was really rather impressed at the mostly crisp visuals and solid detail to be found throughout the 360 version of the game. It's not 100% consistent – I did get an ongoing sense of shadows being used to hide flaws, and it's not on the level of the Unreal 3 or CryEngine 2, but I think we can expect some great things from it in the future. It's worth mentioning that the Infernal Engine runs all the modern-generation versions of the game – from the 360 and PC to the PS3 and the Wii, which really is an incredible spread of capability when you consider the limitations of the Wii and the excessive capabilities of the Cell processor in the PS3. Even worse, the Wii version features cartoon-styled, cell-shaded graphics, opposed to the more realistic – and frankly, better looking – graphics of the other systems.

As far as the soundtrack goes, it gets points for being nostalgia loaded. Much of the background music was pulled directly from the first movie, note-for-note, and while there are one or two remixes, there's no 'original' music for the game soundtrack. I dunno, I don't really want to detract points from the game for this, as the nostalgia value and continuity granted by going back to the original is actually exceedingly high, but it would have been nice to see at least some new stuff here. Call me on the fence here folks, and take your own judgment as to which is more important.

I did get a chance to play some of the multiplayer for Ghostbusters, and I rather enjoyed what I saw. Online games are co-op based, and feature arena styled stages where you have to fulfill a given goal. Protect the artifacts, catch the ghosts, destroy the portals, whatever. Unlike the main game, your ammo is limited in multiplayer – you always have unlimited proton stream of course, but have to pick up supplies to fire the other weapon modes. Like most multiplayer games, as you progress you can gain levels, unlock bonuses and new costumes, etc, etc. I enjoyed the multiplayer, and that's good enough for my tastes.

Overall

Not to be repetitive, but DAMN, Terminal Reality did a kickass job on Ghostbusters: The Video Game, and they stayed true to the source material, which in this sort of game is actually more important than the story proper. That's not to suggest that the game's story was bad, either. I thought it was pretty good, myself, if on the short side. I know of at least one level that was cut from the final version of the game, which is a pity, really, and the ending was a bit anti-climactic. Also, Ghostbusters does suffer a bit from repetitive stress syndrome. As you progress through the game, you don't meet different enemies so much as you meet more durable, faster, and/or stronger versions of things you've fought before.

With that said, though, Ghostbusters: The Video Game does an excellent job of being what it is: a great homage to a true classic in the world of sci-fi, while standing on its own two feet as a solid, well rounded game. The return of Dan, Bill, Harold and Ernie to voice their characters again is a real treat, and the storyline itself is just plain fun. The guys over at Terminal Reality even tossed in a tongue-in-cheek way to keep track of your score – the amount of dollar damage you do throughout the game with your well aimed – or not – bursts of proton fire. I have to highly, HIGHLY recommend Ghostbusters, not just to fans of the series, but to anybody interested in playing a very well done game with a great mixture of humor, story, and game play, to say nothing of some great nostalgia value.

Oh, and say howdy to Vigo for me when you see him.

Additional Info

  • Title: Ghostbusters: The Video Game
  • Genre: Third-Person Shooter, Action
  • Platform: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS
  • Developer: Terminal Reality, Threewave Software, Red Fly Studio, Zen Studios
  • Publisher: Atari
  • Engine: Infernal Engine
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Graphics: Very Good (+3)
  • Controls: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Above Average (+1)
  • Replay Value: Very Good (+3)
Last modified on Saturday, 28 July 2012 22:51

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