Revivals of long-dormant properties tend to return disturbingly altered, a convention that disappointed many with the Star Wars property. While more moderate fans deign to enjoy the first three movies, no one claims that they entirely capture the appeal and magic of the original trilogy. Phantom Menace may be a goofy little movie with its own charm, but when it comes to Star Wars, nothing hits the spot like Empire. I expected something similar with Ghostbusters: The Video Game from Terminal Reality and Atari – an experience that, while vaguely related to the Ghostbusters I knew and loved, would still be warped and foreign. Luckily, Ghostbusters is the exception to the rule, being both a great game and worthy expansion to the series.
Players strap on the proton pack of a silent newcomer to the returning Ghostbusters team, hired on to test new and experimental equipment. Due to the danger and expected high turnover of the new position, Dr. Peter Venkman insists on calling the new hire "Rookie" to avoid personal attachment. As Rookie is introduced to the rest of the team, a massive psychokinetic energy wave rips through Manhattan, triggering the return of old as well as new ghosts.
Once the game starts proper, the story strikes a delicate but satisfying balance between fan service and original content. While the Ghostbusters return to the Sedgwick Hotel and wreck a ballroom to capture Slimer as in the original film, they also go to new areas of the hotel and fight a wildly original nautical ghost. Similarly, The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man returns so players can once again caramelize his boyish visage from a Manhattan rooftop, but entirely new villains and set pieces fulfill creative expectations that one would have for an entirely new entry in the Ghostbusters franchise.
But who would care about story if the game isn’t fun to play? Luckily, digitally busting ghosts is a thrill. Ghosts come in two major flavors – dispersible and trappable. Fighting dispersible ghosts is a simple affair, merely blast away at them until they disappear. For more substantive specters, the player must engage in the three step process of trapping. First the player must weaken the ghost with the proton beam (or other armament if available). Once the ghost is sufficiently weakened, the player can grab it with the capture beam and slam it into the floor and walls to tire it further. After a few good thumps, the ghost becomes entirely dazed. The player can then corral it into an available trap while it claws and thrashes about. The sounds and visuals of this process convey the chaos of a full on corporeal vs. ethereal brawl, and the process never gets old. Hearing the trap snap shut produces a feeling of relief and satisfaction every time.
These brawls don’t happen in a vacuum, either. Every environment in the game is destructible, and battling ghosts in a room doesn’t exactly leave it in proper Martha Stewart shape. Thrashing a prim office environment or posh hotel ballroom provides the kind of pride that makes one hike up his/her belt after a hard day of work. Visuals compliment the action well, with the game’s effects taking the cake. In fact, the proton beam looks as good as its movie counterpart (if not better). Sounds are all completely authentic as well.
Through the course of the game, Rookie is granted different variations of the proton pack that add variety to combat. Each of these variations range from the shooter standard shotgun / rocket launcher to the more esoteric slime blaster and slime tether (which attaches two items with an elastic band of slime). What’s more, each gun can be upgraded with proceeds from ghost trapping. These upgrades change the function of the guns a great deal, potentially turning a weapon from impractical fluff to a reliable standby.
Of course, players need downtime every now and again to shuff off all the psychokinetic goo from their tan dungarees. Between ethereal exhibitions, the player can investigate their surroundings by switching to a first-person PKE meter. Objects of interest can be scanned to reveal related information in a manner very similar to Metroid Prime’s scan visor. Compulsive collectors will spend a great deal scanning around, and the information this reveals offers both subtle doses of humor and information for those eager to experience more of the Ghostbusters universe.
The original Ghostbusters cast all return to reprise their roles, which contributes a great deal towards the game’s authentic feel. Ray Stanz’ child-like enthusiasm and Egon Spengler’s deadpan placidity could not have been as entertainingly produced by sound-alikes – with Dan Aykroyd’s performance warranting special mention. The only rough spot is found in the awkward editing and delivery of Bill Murray’s lines. His respective character, Peter Venkman, has noticeably fewer lines than other characters and is absent for half of the game. It seems Mr. Murray’s dislike of sequels and voice acting has had an impact. Regardless, the performance present in the game is still better than a sound-alike, or some untenable excuse for Dr. Venkman to be absent from the game completely (Oh, you didn’t hear about Dr. Venkman’s presentation tour in Europe?).
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a blast to play. The game’s material, setting, and characters retain the spirit of the movies while providing original content for long-deprived fans. The greatest compliment one can pay Ghostbusters is that any gamer, when needing a Ghostbusters fix, will just as likely reach for Ghostbusters: The Video Game as grabbing one of the DVDs.