Ghostbusters. If you don't know the name, stop reading and go check out the original 1984 film that started it all, you youngin'. We'll wait. The sequel isn't bad either. Good, now that we're all up to speed on how awesome those films were, it's also important to remember that Ghostbusters wasn't just a film franchise, it was a phenomenon. Through the 80's and even into the early 90's, people couldn't get enough of it, from animated series, to soft drinks, to toys and yes, even video games. However, it's here that the franchise hit something of a stumbling block, as besides a fun incarnation on the Sega Mega Drive, the Busters just didn't seem to be able to produce a good game. However, the original team is back for another crack at it, with a game that aims to provide the ultimate authentic Ghostbusters experience. So do you wanna call Ghostbusters?
Set in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters II, the Ghostbusters aren't doing too badly. The current mayor's election was largely due to their support, and as such they seem to have gained free reign on the city to cause as much damage as possible while catching ghosts. As the game begins, they've hired a new recruit, your unnamed and silent character, to test out some of their more experimental and volatile equipment. They don't want to know your name, less they get too attached to you and you end up like the last guy they hired. However, there's an exhibition on the Sumerian god Gozer in town (who fans will remember from the first film), and soon enough it sends out a supernatural shockwave through New York. After re-catching some escaped ghosts from their containment grid, the Ghostbusters set to work battling the paranormal consequences of this event.
It's a fairly simple set up for a game, and allows for some of the fan favourite monsters and ghosts to return, as well the antagonistic Walter Peck. While the script, refined by the film writers Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis themselves, has some funny moments and and allows for some amusing situations, it's never really as funny as the films.
Thankfully, the gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a Ghostbusters game. It's a third-person shooter that mostly revolves around you catching ghosts. How do you do this? Well, using your nuclear-powered proton pack, you fire a highly-charged proton stream at the spectre, draining its health until it reaches red. Then, you switch on your capture beam, which is also used for picking up and throwing around objects in the game, and wrangle the ghost towards the capture trap, where it will get sucked inside. You can use motion control on PlayStation 3 for ghost wrangling, but while it's cool to wave your controller around like a proton wand, you're better off sticking to the right analogue stick. Successful wrangling also allows you to 'slam' the ghost to weaken them.
There are also three other weapons you can use in the game. The Positive Slime Blower from Ghostbusters II makes a return appearance, allowing you to counter black slime, as well as create slime tethers, and the other two weapons are essentially just shotgun and machine-gun stand-ins. Most of the time you'll stick to your proton stream, since it's definitely the coolest. Where Ghostbusters really nails the bustin' experience is in the final moments of catching a ghost. You're usually completely surrounded by chaos, with bits of the mostly-destructible environment flying everywhere, with the ghost inching closer and closer to the centre of the trap before finally it shuts, the lights return to normal, and everything falls silent. It's awesome.
As we mentioned, most of the environment is destructible, and the game amusingly keeps a running tally of the financial cost of the damage caused. The physics engine in place works quite well, although occasionally feels a little floaty. The boss fights in the game are also worth mentioning, as they are usually fairly inventive. The only annoyance here is the team mechanic in the game. Normally the friendly AI in the game is quite adequate and helps you out when catching ghosts. When you get knocked out, as long as one of the other team members is alive they can revive you, but you have to do the same for them once they get knocked out. In some boss battles, it's easy for the boss to wipe out all of your team in one go, forcing you to restart the fight, or in some cases keep you in a loop of reviving Ray, then being knocked out, then Ray reviving you, then being knocked out, etc. It's a small problem, but it occured a few times for us.
The other piece of equipment at your disposal is the PKE meter, essentially a paranormal scanner that hones in anything that goes bump in the night. It turns red for enemies, green for environmental disturbances and blue for collectibles. You can scan all of these, Metroid Prime style, to add them to your ever-growing database, and to the game's credit there are some pretty interesting backstories to be learned from scanning. You can also upgrade all of your equipment in the pause menu by spending cash you gain from bustin' ghosts, although most of the upgrades aren't very exciting, save for one which allows you to slam ghosts into your trap for an instant catch. Finally, there are some standard multiplayer modes, and one quite interesting one called Slime Dunk, that sees you battle for control over Slimer, the fat green ghost, to slam dunk him into your trap. It's kind of like basketball but with laser beams and ghosts.
Fans of the franchise will be delighted to see the amount of detail which has gone into the game. The Ghostbuster's firehouse headquarters are replicated in a meticulous fashion, although with some new additions like a cage for Slimer and the painting of Vigo the Destroyer (which if you've seen the second film actually doesn't make a lot of sense). Beyond their headquarters, several cues and shots from the films are re-created, and absent characters such as Dana and Louis are referenced rather than ignored. The Ecto-1, the containment grid, Janine the receptionist, they're all here. Although, assuming you played through the game without checking any of this out at length, it's about eight hours long.
For the time being, the game is a timed exclusive for Sony in PAL territories, which is a bit of a shame since Ghostbusters' presentation on PlayStation 3 is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the special effects in the game are second-to-none. The proton streams perfectly duplicate those seen in the films, your character will get coated in slime, mucus and melted marshmellow bits, and the ghost designs are fun and in keeping with the franchise. Character models are great, and the scale is also impressive, from buildings hanging inside inter-dimensional rifts to the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man rampaging through New York. However, the game appears to be very noticeably running at quite a lower resolution than 720p, with several textures appearing to be blurry or low quality.
Additionally, the game suffers from frame-rate dips, particularly in the library level. In one sequence, bookcases manipulated by poltergeists close in on you, spilling books as they do, and the game actually froze. We restarted the console and tried again. Same result. We found we could still hear the game playing, and after wiggling the analogue sticks around, we managed to get our character to face the wall of the room and unfreeze the game. From what we could see, currently the only way to avoid this problem is to enter the room, turn around, face the wall, and walk backwards until the bookcases stop moving around you. We tried the same section on a couple of consoles, and unfortunately this problem occured on both. We also encountered some other problems. The game uses a checkpoint save system, but we had some problems with the game not recognising our save file intermittently, and after successfully loading our file placing us a little further ahead in the game than we were, which is kind of annoying since it means we missed out on some of the story.
However, the audio work in the game is largely fantastic. A lot of the music is taken directly from the first film. The original cast of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson return to reprise their roles as the Ghostbusters, and with a funny, but not brilliant, script to work with they play off each other extremely well as if twenty years hadn't passed at all. With one exception. While Bill Murray's presence in the game is indeed awesome, the character is not. We're not sure if it's the script or it's his performance. We're inclined to go with the latter since with the subtitles on some of his lines read a lot funnier before he says them, as he mumbles along under his breath, generally acting like a jerk to everyone. Peter Venkman was always sarcastic, but he borders on being downright unlikeable at times in this game. Murray aside, Akroyd, Ramis and Hudson aquit themselves nicely and Alyssa Milano does fine as well.
Obviously, your mileage with this game will vary depending on how much you love the Ghostbusters. If you've never heard of them before, which means you ignored our test at the start of this review and are therefore very naughty, then this game will offer an initial thrill at the uniqueness of catching ghosts, but then settle into repetitiveness. However, if you're a fan then this game was tailor made for you. There's so much here that shows that developers truly cared about making an experience that would be enjoyed by the fanbase, and we personally found that even the simple pleasure of zapping ghosts with our proton streams never got old. From what we can tell from the game's North American release, the Xbox 360 version of the game has the edge graphically, and doesn't suffer from some of the same presentation issues. However, since the PAL territories are stuck with the PlayStation 3 version for now, just be aware that the game will sometimes get too epic for itself to handle. But, when all is said and done, the game has some funny moments, some surprising chills and most importantly, the bustin' makes us feel good.