As we said in our playtest last week, Ghostbusters The Video Game is so full of fan service that it potentially locks out anyone unfamiliar with the fictional universe, assuming (rightly or wrongly) that you’ve not only already watched both movies, but you’ve also seen the animated series, played with the toys and eaten the breakfast cereal. Yes, you can get by without having lived Ghostbusters for the last 25 years, but the game won’t carry nearly as much weight and you’ll not only miss the references and in-jokes, you’ll wonder what the hell’s going on and who all these characters are.
Because if there’s one thing Ghostbusters The Video Game does well, it’s characterisation. By re-uniting all the old guard from the motion picture Atari, bless them, have turned what would otherwise have been something of a middle-of-the-road third person blaster into something with soul and personality. With a script led and edited by Aykroyd and spirited performances by the rest of the gang – Murray, Ramis and Hudson – the likenesses and voice acting creates a really powerful grounding to the game. Supporting roles from Annie Potts and William Atherton round off the IMDB checklist.
Likewise, the motion capture, facial modeling and cut-scenes are all integrated beautifully. The game jumps to a pre-rendered video when it’s loading to mask the wait a little, but for the most part Terminal Reality have managed to power everything you see with the in-game engine. It’s often an impressive sight: despite being a multi-platform release there are often sparks of brilliance and scale when the game wants to show off its graphical grunt and the showcase level, the streets of New York, is a wonderfully powerful display of technology.
But it’s not an even game. Whether the fact that the game was meant to play out like a third movie or not, Ghostbusters is so linear in it’s storytelling it feels like an 8-bit game. You’re ultimately only ever given one path to walk down, the script will loop until you’re in the right spot, and despite some impressive opening sections the game descends into a standard shooter at about the midpoint and never picks up again. Even the story itself, revolving around the player joining the Ghostbusters as a rookie, fails to excite as much as it could and the key devices in the story are ill-explained and poorly delivered.
The plot itself, revolving around a new Gozer exhibit in Manhattan, takes the player back through familiar territory: the Sedgewick hotel, the library, and thus trips down memory lane with reference to the ghosts you’ll find there. There’s some artistic license involved: Slimer is back and serves as little more than a tutorial target which is fine, but the creepy library ghost, who is meant to arc into a story thread, neither scares nor really forwards the story along. The fact that you end up in the same hotel twice in the game (using up two of the already few levels) is a shame, although it is distinctly different the second time.
Whilst the notion of using the Proton Packs to trap the ghosts is clever, the controls are initially quite confusing. It’s never really clear why the main Proton stream changes to the capture stream automatically, despite giving you a button to do this yourself, or how far your trap has gone once you tap Square. Regardless, the middle third of the game involves you getting various (and increasingly daft) power ups to your pack that turn the interesting mechanic of capturing ghosts into simply blasting them out of the sky with what amounts to a shotgun, a machine gun and a bazooka. Yes, they’re rooted in the Ghostbusting universe but they turn an initally clever game into a me-too third person shooter.
Terminal Reality made some odd design choices: the roadie run (pulled straight from Gears of War) controls oddly and doesn’t have the visual flair of Epic’s title, the tapping a button to heal your downed characters seems at odds with the rest of the game and the way the game communicates your ammo and health, via your Proton Pack, is a nod to Dead Space but not nearly as clearly expressed. Likewise, the silly icons that determine which weapon you’re holding only start to make sense once you’ve got a few, and the emergence of these new weapons, and their alternative fire modes, appear suddenly and without clear direction.
The visuals start to decline, too – despite the headquarters being rendered with a stunning attention to detail, later levels appear to be built from an identikit block building system and you spend so much time in the dark with your torch that it’s often difficult to find your way around. There’s considerable use of some kind of normal mapping which coats everything in a shiny, plasticky sheen which would have been fine if between it and the real time shadows the frame rate managed to hold true. As it stands, the game shakes wildly between 30fps and much, much less and there’s even one point (in the library) when the game completely locks up – the audio continues, and you can move, but the graphics don’t update until you manage to get your player through a particular section blind.
The physics engine is smart, though: some of the later weapons allow some truly impressive feats, and although the puzzle-like areas are sparse and underused, when they do appear it’s a welcome break from the blasting. Almost everything in the game is destructable (you’ll be rewarded for keeping things tidy) and whilst you’re never forced to use the environment as a weapon it’s often entirely possible to have some fun with the tougher ghosts if you choose to.
So, despite a smart, exciting start, towards the end you’ll be tired of the game. The pacing slows considerably during the last act, which takes far to long to get through and never really fulfills its promises – the story twist isn’t nearly as satisfying as it could have been and the final boss pay-off is weak. Yes, Ghostbusters fans will get a lot out of the alternative world sections but the reliance on arcade-esque twin-stick shooting rather than considered, tactical trapping is a shame. Stand out moments like the re-appearance of Stay Puft are clever and the set-pieces often impressive, but these are few and far between, disappointing considering the game’s length (five or six hours) because it should have been moment after moment of quality gaming.
Please note that we have been unable to properly assess the multiplayer portion of the game and thus the score is indicative of the single player portion only. Developed by Threewave, Ghostbuster’s co-op online mode will be reviewed later in the week, when hopefully more people have the game.