If you know to say "yes" when someone asks if you're a god, then you'll like Ghostbusters: The Video Game. If hearing things like "Go get her Ray!" or "Don't cross the streams" makes you smile a little bit, then by all means, strap yourself in. But if you have no idea what the hell I just said, then it's already too late.
Terminal Reality's homage to the iconic ghost exterminators of the late 1980s is a vortex of nostalgia that fans can't escape. As a playing experience, it's certainly not a classic, but as a companion piece that complements all things in the Ghostbusters universe, it's a treasure.
The story takes place two years after the events of "Ghostbusters 2," when Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston animated the Statue of Liberty, controlled it with the NES Advantage and opened up the slime blowers to foil the rebirthing efforts of tyrannical lord.
Now it's 1991, and the guys find themselves scouring New York City to seal up (again) a new wave of phantasms and monsters, a possible omen of an invasion from the spirit world. You're in the brown jumpsuit of the Ghostbusters' newest recruit, an extra body they need to field test their newest ghost-fighting tools and provide backup.
The first aspect of the game that jumped out was the visual presentation, but not in a way I always enjoyed. The cinema screens are passable when compared to other titles, with each of the characters sporting a cute, action figure-like quality to their skins and textures. There's a disarming lack of detail in the character models. It works in this game, as the focus is more on what the Ghostbusters can actually do as opposed to how they look.
However, I couldn't help but cringe a little when the time came for action. There's a difference between the cinemas, which feature a lot of detail, and the intermission/extended dialogue sequences. Conversations can be frightening, as everyone in these screens has the kind of glazed-over look people get when they walk through a cloud of "smoke" at a hip-hop festival. For extreme graphical nitpickers, it's a buffet for the eyes.
You're also not going to find a lot of visual pop in the first hour or two, as you revisit places like the relatively boring Sedgewick Hotel (the site of the guys' first job) and battle it out on the streets of New York City. Frankly, gamers have seen New York City enough to not be excited about it, unless something fantastic or out of the ordinary is going on. This being Ghostbusters, that's all but guaranteed.
Ghostbusters picks up visual steam in its later levels and missions, as you start venturing more into the spirit world, which has evil representations of the public library, warped occurrences at a museum and eventually, the hellish skies of the spirit world itself. The final level involves an island in the middle of the Hudson River, complete with spooky castle housing secrets of the undead. The title balances its graphic shortcomings with some inspired design and story concepts that, with more polish, would almost make you forget that the game looks funky.
If you're looking for a star (aside from the original cast members from the movies), look no further than the proton packs. They jump off the screen more than anything else, and they function as the whirring, blipping and churning epicenter of the ghost-hunting gameplay. In layman's terms, these things are badass.
Aside from the versatile particle stream that leaves flaming scorch marks on everything it touches, you also have access to a wide range of energy weapons that cater to both offensive-minded gamers or people who take pride in precision, skill and strategy.
Fans will recognize the mighty slime blower, which you can use against people possessed by spirits. There's also a shock blast weapon (the closest thing you have to a shotgun) that works in tandem with a dark blue energy stream that can slow down your enemy's movements. Then there's the "meson collider," which most gamers will liken to a plasma burst rifle.
The hard part, however, is mastering all of these wonderful toys. For instance, all of the weapons can make the proton pack overheat, and gamers know that once something overheats, you can't fire it. The pack will either automatically force a cooldown, or you can "vent" it yourself by pressing one of the shoulder buttons. Think of it as the ghostbusting equivalent of active reload. Such a small detail speaks to one of the one of the game's triumphs — making ghostbusting a real challenge, an exercise in perseverance that results in a true sense of accomplishment.
I learned that the art of ghostbusting can be clumsy to the untrained. Capturing a free-roaming vapor is a multi-tiered process: First, you use the particle stream or another weapon to beat down the ghost and tire it out. Then when it's tired, you launch a capture stream and try to wrangle it into a trap. Of course, the ghost doesn't want to be trapped in a box, so the correct instinctual thumbstick movements are needed to corral the ghost into the trap's cone-shaped vacuum of light. Then you have to force it in. Sloppy particle stream work results in a free ghost, and you're forced to do this dance all over again.
It's a lot easier to bust ghosts with help from the other Ghostbusters, who all move and act on their own in the single-player campaign. It's typical squad-gameplay stuff: You can revive fallen teammates, and they in turn can put you back onto your feet. However, there's no weapon swapping, as everyone carries the same payload.
We sometimes forget that these guys aren't trained ex-soldiers capable of sniping the enemy from great distances. These are exterminators, average Joes carrying large equipment, and their sluggish movement indicates that. Running is the extent of their athletic ability, there's no cover system (why would there be, really), and you'll get standard crosshairs. I guess I got spoiled by cute gameplay gems, such as fast-zoom or little red aiming dots. You don't get that with the Ghostbusters — just line up the shot as best you can, and let it rip.
I enjoyed how the game redefines the concept of "workload" for the Ghostbusters. In the movies and ensuing cartoon shows, the guys were fighting one major ghost at a time, sometimes two. This being the game world, the guys are swarmed with everything from swirling phantoms, possessed partygoers and flying stone angels within the same hour. Ghostbusters fans will get to know what a real "infestation" of ghosts feels like, so sound strategy and planning are involved along with a little bit of skill.
Your computer-controlled teammates could stand to be a little smarter, however. Sometimes, I was caught in the repetitive hell of reviving and babysitting teammates who waywardly walked into trouble or didn't always think to avoid a terrain-altering blast from a boss creature. Sometimes, I'd get smacked trying to revive someone and immediately need their aid at the moment of their revival. Then I'd need saving, and I'd get to my feet just in time to watch my savior — the person I just helped — get torched by ethereal fire or cut down in a hail of flying books. Then I would have to help them again. Nowhere is this more evident than the pain-in-the-ass museum mission, where you not only have to ward off a swarm of ghosts and trap them, but these ghosts also invade the bodies of people at the museum. This means you have to hose down the people with slime to free the spirit, and then engage in the art of capturing them. By the way, these ghosts can also possess your teammates, and they like cheap-hitting you with purple fireballs while you're nearly defenseless. You're going to find more than a few moments when you think the game simply decides that it's your turn to die and will hurl a cavalcade of animated giants or phantasms at you to make sure that happens.
As far as the story goes, I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed it, considering it rehashed a lot of old ideas. You fight the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (again), you encounter the concept of Gozer, the evil god (again) and you even deal with the fact that the containment grid gets shut down (again). You'll also run into the library ghost from the first movie, along with Walter Peck, the stick-in-the-mud city official who has a nearly irrational hate of the Ghostbusters. However, therein lies the problem – if you're a fan, you'll get much more enjoyment out of all these elements, much more than someone who didn't know anything about the Ghostbusters. In essence, this was the ultimate piece of fan service.
There are more Ghostbusters staples littered throughout the game: Tobin's Spirit Guide, the name of Ivo Shandor, Slimer sliming Peter Venkman (again), and of course, the original theme song from the movies. The song is drilled into my head, since it plays every time you encounter the obnoxiously long loading screen. Then, there's the PKE meter, which leads to one of the game's other bright spots.
Like the movies, especially the first one, this title has the power to freak you out. For all of its funny, goofy moments, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (the writers) never forget that fighting ghosts can't always be hilarious. Use of the PKE meter shifts you into first-person mode, where you have to scan the area to track down elusive ghosts. The game uses this as the perfect scaring opportunity, since your weapons are holstered and the only sound you hear is the increasingly high buzzing of the PKE meter, with its signature "bunny ears" rising higher the closer you get to trouble. Before there was the radio in Silent Hill, there was the PKE meter. The way it generates tension is almost identical. As a nice bonus, you can scan practically every enemy you engage and read up on it by accessing Tobin's Spirit Guide.
You'll need to enjoy all the free reading you can get out of Ghostbusters: The Video Game because you can kill the single-player campaign in one, perhaps two, dedicated sittings. That roughly seven-hour window was generally enjoyable for me. Then again, I'm one of those people who can be asked, "What did you do, Ray??" and be able to answer. Verbatim.Score: 7.0/10
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