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Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Terminal Reality / Red Fly Studios
Release Date: June 16, 2009


Xbox 360 Preview - 'Ghostbusters: The Video Game'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 8, 2008 @ 6:19 a.m. PDT

All four members of the movie team (Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis) will lend their voices and likenesses to the game, which is set in the '90s after Ghostbusters II. Equipped with a variety of unique weapons and gadgets, players will hunt, fight and capture a wide range of supernatural villains in a funny and frightening battle to save New York City from its latest paranormal plague.

There is something about "Ghostbusters" that stands out to me. Maybe it is the fact that as far as movie heroes go, the Ghostbusters are average joes. Sure, three of them have PhDs, but they're still your average kind of guy. They wear jumpsuits and work to pay their bills, and the fact that they battle paranormal entities from beyond the grave doesn't change that. Maybe it's the humor and the excellent interplay between the cast. Heck, maybe it's just how darn cool the proton pack and neutrona wand look in action. Whatever it is, the Ghostbusters are something special, but they've sort of fallen by the wayside in recent years.

Ghostbusters only got two movies, one excellent cartoon series and a lot of less-than-interesting spin-off material; as the cast got older, the odds of us seeing another Ghostbusters film got slimmer. Thankfully while people have to age in real life, such is not so in the world of video games. Terminal Reality has gotten the entire Ghostbusters cast back together for Ghostbusters: The Video Game. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are writing the script, every member of the cast has returned except for the now-retired Rick Moranis, and for all intents and purposes, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is "Ghostbusters 3." Despite the star power behind it, the title is shaping up to provide the definitive Ghostbusters video game experience.

Our demo of Ghostbusters opens up at the very same New York library where the Ghostbusters had their first case in the original movie. They have returned to their origins to hunt down the Gray Lady, the same ghost who dealt them an ignoble defeat in the opening of the first film. However, the cast is not entirely the same. Egon Spengler and Ray Stantz have returned, and everyone's favorite Ghostbuster latecomer Winston Zeddermore joins them, but Peter Venkman is absent for unexplained reasons. The role of the fourth Ghostbuster is taken by a newcomer, only called "Rookie" or "Rook" by the other members, who is controlled by the player. Along with the three classic Ghostbusters, Rook descends into the depths of the haunted library to get a bit of Ghostbusting revenge on the Gray Lady.

As the newest member of the Ghostbusters, you're given all the requisite gear: a proton pack and neutrona wand, a PKE meter, and a stylish jumpsuit. In the demo, the proton pack had two distinct firing modes, each with its own unique uses. The Blast Stream is a powerful burst of protons that severely weakens ectoplasmic entities and destroys everything else it touches. To disrupt ghostly activity or simply when you really really hate the wallpaper in a room, you simply aim and fire, with the beam firing in a concentrated ray as long as you hold down the button. Pressing the secondary fire button activates the Boson Darts, which are large bursts of extremely powerful proton energy that move down the length of the stream. If your ray is actually on an enemy when the Boson Dart reaches the end of the stream, it'll take massive damage. However, Boson Darts have a habit of overloading the proton pack.

Functionally, your proton pack has infinite energy. It doesn't require ammunition, and since a proton pack is an unlicensed nuclear accelerator, it doesn't need recharging either. However, it does overheat with too much usage, and the only way to prevent this is by venting the packs. As your pack overheats, steam will begin to erupt from it and your controller will begin to shake. You have two choices: manually vent the pack, which takes less time, or fire until the pack overheats itself and forces an automatic cooldown. It may seem obvious to you to simply vent the pack manually, but doing so requires you to turn off your stream, and if you're three seconds away from capturing a ghost, it isn't going to be that easy.

Beyond the Blast Stream, your proton pack is also equipped with a Capture Stream, which doesn't damage the ghosts it hits and only does minimal damage to the surroundings. Instead, it encases whatever it hits in a glowing aura of energy, which can then be controlled by moving the stream. This can be used to capture ghosts or simply to move objects around without destroying them. While the Capture Stream is less violent than the Blast Stream, it can also be a formidable offensive weapon. By focusing the stream and using a Slam attack with the secondary attack button, you can brutally throw whatever is in your Capture Stream against the walls, ceiling or floor. This can be useful for doing damage to an unruly ghost or pulling a stuck object from a spectral grip.

As in the movies, proton streams are not exactly good for the surrounding environment, and that plays out in a fairly interesting way in Ghostbusters. Your various streams do substantial damage to your surroundings. You'll scar the walls, blow tables apart, set curtains aflame and make a mess. It's pretty awesome to see the aftereffects of unleashing the proton pack in close quarters. You can't exactly fire your proton pack willy-nilly, though, since most of the objects in the game are destructible. In the demo, we had to capture a ghost inside the city library, and every mistimed shot had some financial consequences. Damaged books, doors, paintings and even manila envelopes were added to the Ghostbusters' bill, so it was in your best interest to keep your streams locked on the ghosts and not the surroundings.

That's actually easier than it sounds. You see, the ghosts in Ghostbusters: The Video Game rarely come out into the open where you can blast them. In the entire demo, we only encountered a total of four enemies, as much of our time was spent dealing with spectral emanations. Ghosts will pop out of walls, dash across your screen, lure you into traps, or phase into existence right in front of you. Sometimes, they're actual dangers and you have to blast them with your proton pack before they take a chunk out of your health, while other times, they were just there to get you to blast valuables. While keeping an eye on your PKE meter can warn you of upcoming ectoplasmic activity, it isn't a sure bet that the activity won't be of the dangerous sort, and even in the demo, I found myself accidentally blasting my proton stream at an innocent bookshelf.

Your PKE meter is vital for identifying spectral shenanigans. Ghosts are not always visible, and the meter allows you to follow their trail or even scan various ectoplasmic residue for hints. Your PKE meter is made up of two parts: the meter and the paragoggles. They're used in tandem, and equipping the PKE Meter causes you to slip on your goggles and put away your neutrona wand. In PKE meter mode, you hold the meter in front of you, which registers various paranormal activities like a dowsing rod. The twin wings on the side of the meter lift in a game of hot-and-cold as you get closer to paranormal activity, and the color changes depending on the kind of activity. Important non-ghostly objects seemed to emit a blue glow, nonviolent ghost residue glowed green, violent ghostly residue was red, and other low-level signals cause a white light. In addition, the meter can scan ghosts and ghostly objects. Scanning a ghost's ectoplasm may allow you to follow its trail using your paragoggles, while scanning a ghost itself adds its information to the Tobin's Spirit Guide for later reference. For those worried about the Doom 3 problem in regards to the PKE meter, don't be. While the specifics of the meter are unavailable outside of PKE mode, when you're using your neutrona wand, you'll still have the meter sitting on your belt, and you can see it change colors as you approach various spectral activities, so you're not forced to choose between one and the other during dangerous combat situations.

Working with the other members of your team is important. Not only does having four proton packs instead of one greatly reduce the risk involved with fighting ghosts, but having your team around also keeps you alive. Like Gears of War, the Ghostbusters don't have a health bar. Each member of the team can sustain a few repeated blows before falling, and avoiding damage for a while regenerates your stamina. However, if any of the Ghostbusters fall, one of their allies can run over and revive them, and even if Rookie falls, as long as the other Ghostbusters are standing, they can come and heal him. The ghosts you're battling will do everything in their power to separate the Ghostbusters, so don't expect to have a healing buddy available at all times.

I really can't speak highly enough of the setting pieces in the Ghostbusters demo. They were all true to the movie and yet interesting and sometimes even spooky. One segment has you entering the library's stacks, which continued to violently rearrange themselves as you try to progress, forcing the Ghostbusters into an ever-changing maze filled with ghostly apparitions. The ghosts would fling books at you, fool with the lights, show up in front of you, and so on. Early on in the demo, I saw a bookshelf shaking, so I went to investigate it — only to have a Cruster pop out, spook the heck out of me, and fly right through my character. It didn't do any damage, but in the immortal words of Peter Venkman, "I got slimed."

Sometimes, ghosts take a less subtle approach and come out to fight, which is when your proton pack really comes into play. In the demo, we encountered three unique types of ghosts. The first was a paper zombie, who was fairly easy to defeat with a Blast Stream, although you had to be careful with the surrounding bookshelves. The second was the Book Bats, a large group of flying books that attacked us. While they burned up in a single shot of the Blast Stream, they came in fast numbers, and like the paper zombie, the challenge was hitting the fast-moving buggers without racking up a huge bill.

The other two enemies required a bit more skill to defeat. The first of these was a book golem, which attacked me in the library's main room. Made up, unsurprisingly, of books, it was capable of near-infinite regeneration until I found the "key," a haunted lamp buried deep in the golem's head area. By nailing the golem with the Blast Stream and Boson Darts until the lamp was revealed, I could grab it with the Capture Stream and yank it out, destroying the golem. While the golem wasn't much of a challenge, it was certainly intimidating as the very first enemy you encounter in the demo.

The last of the enemy types is the actual ghost itself. The demo took us up to a battle with one of the Cruster brothers, who trapped Ray and my character in a room full of furniture and proceeded to toss it at us. Unlike the other enemies, the ghost took a bit more strategy to put down. Blasting him with Blast Stream and Boson Darts weakened him, but to actually stop his rampage, you had to switch over to Capture Stream, throw out a ghost trap and work with Ray to drag him into the trap. It's certainly not easy, with the ghost pulling away at every moment, and to actually capture him required careful use of the Capture Stream's slamming ability to weaken the ghost and move it into position. All the while, it would continue to summon Book Bats to interrupt our Capture Stream. Finally, Ray and I managed to get it over the trap, and with a very satisfying burst of light, it was contained.

Visually, Ghostbusters is pretty impressive. The characters and environments from the movie are recreated in perfect detail, right down to the movie actors voicing their characters. Everything looks perfect, from the glow of the proton streams to the look of slime on your poor character's face after an unfortunate run-in with a Cruster. The actors sound good, and while some of them are unavoidably noticeably older sounding, it isn't to the point where it takes you out of the experience. Ray, Egon and Winston were their usual selves, and it really felt like the cast had gotten back together for a new movie. Bill Murray's Venkman was noticeably absent, but there were enough references to him for us to know that he was surely going to be showing up at any moment, had the demo lasted just a little longer.

If Ghostbusters: The Video Game consisted of a few more hours of what I played in this demo, it will be the Ghostbusters game I've always wanted. While there were a few nagging flaws here and there, they were fairly small and far overshadowed by the excellence of the gameplay. Somehow, Terminal Reality managed to recreate the Ghostbusters experience almost perfectly. When I realized that a spook had caused me to accidentally unload a full blast stream directly into some very expensive artwork, I knew that this wasn't going to be Gears of War with a Ghostbusters flavor. This was Ghostbusters: The Video Game is funny, spooky and clever, and it was mostly true to the movie experience. If this is the sort of experience Terminal Reality has in mind, consider me convinced, and hopeful that they'll find a publisher for this game soon.



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