It’s a wonder they didn’t think of this earlier. Voice acting has been part of video games for a decade now (I still can’t quite get used to Final Fantasy characters talking after so many years of reading their badly translated dialogue on a blue window at the bottom of the screen), so the idea of getting Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson together to do a Ghostbusters game should have been a no-brainer. Scheduling conflicts and Murray’s general unwilling to do another film have kept Ghostbusters 3 from becoming a reality (though that’s supposedly about to change), so why not just do a third film as a game and convince Murray to merely record some dialogue for a boatload of cash? He did it for Garfield.
So now we have the creatively titled Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which reunites the four, plus Annie Potts and William Atherton and puts you in the shoes of a new, nameless and mute recruit who joins the team just in time for yet another attempt to take over the world via New York. The story is actually more interesting and epic than the 2nd film’s, and thanks to a Ramis/Aykroyd script, everything feels genuine. It picks up two years after the 2nd film, and largely feels like a real continuation (which even 2 didn’t have - why were they all losers in that movie?). The only missing elements are Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver (who didn’t want to do it, so their characters are gone), but aren’t really missed. The love interest this time (Alyssa Milano) maybe should have attracted Ray’s attention, to keep the character from feeling like the Dana replacement that she obviously is, but if it WAS Dana, I think folks would be just as annoyed by the fact that she is once again a catalyst for the ghostly goings-on.
In terms of gameplay, it’s similar to Gears of War, oddly enough. You get the same camera perspective (behind the shoulder) and an identical running system that is just as clunky as the other game’s. You even switch weapons using the D-pad, which works well (though you seemingly can’t switch while your character is in a certain state of animation, i.e. getting knocked down). However, for the most part, instead of just mowing down monsters, you have to wear them down for a while, then trap them. There are plain ol’ “just keep shooting them until they blow up or disappear” types too, but trapping feels far more satisfying.
You can tell whether or not you have to trap them via the EPK meter, which is the game’s most handy tool. It will not only tell you where ghostly activity is occurring with a sort of “hot and cold” style system (a must during some of the darker, labyrinthine levels such as the graveyard), but also where hidden artifacts can be found. You also use it to scan enemies, which will tell you their weaknesses, how they will attack you, if you have to trap them, and also some of their historical data. As the game progressed, I found myself using the EPK almost nonstop, both to help me find my way and to help me feel more like an actual Ghostbuster instead of a foot soldier.
Another great element of the game is how it keeps changing up who you’re with. Sometimes it’s just you and Egon, other times you get all of the guys on your side. Of course, this means some characters are in it more than others, and I doubt it will surprise anyone to learn that Murray is probably in it the least. Hell, at one point he is written out of 3 levels in a row! You’ll be spending the most time with Egon and Ray, which is fine as Aykroyd and Ramis seem to be having the most fun stepping back into the world. Murray could be worse, I suppose (there is certainly no shortage of A list actors giving lackluster performances for their movie tie-in games), and he seems into it at first, but as the game goes on he seems to be more and more bored by his dialogue.
But Murray isn’t the problem here (did anyone expect him to really go all out?). Cheap-shotting ghosts are. Maybe it’s because it feels so much like Gears of War in the way its controlled, but the complete lack of cover or “backing up until it’s safe” is very noticeable and very annoying. None of the bosses pose much of a threat, which makes certain mid level basic fights all the more infuriating. One during the second level where you have to take on a few gargoyles had me screaming in frustration, and there’s another in the final level vs. some “Stone Angels” where I almost considered changing the difficulty mode to easy (I played on medium, as always). The problem with these and other fights is that there is no place for you to “hole up” and fight; you are susceptible to injury or instant death from all sides. Worse, the AI tends to get incapacitated a lot, and you’ll often get into situations where you go to rescue them and get incapacitated yourself trying to do so (Winston and I went back and forth reviving each other three times each at one point before we were finally able to actually fight again). Your health also takes forever to refill, so again, without any place to retreat to or “hide”, it’s incredibly frustrating. The 30-40 second load times don’t help much either (expect to be pretty goddamn sick of the first few bars of the theme song by the time you finish the game). I don’t mind a challenge, but I like a game that gets gradually more difficult as it goes, not relatively easy with a few soul-crushingly difficult parts (for the record, you’d actually have to put the controller down in order for the final boss to kill you).
Speaking of finishing the game, I’m pretty amazed by the range of timeframes that reviewers are placing on it. Some complain that it’s 15 hrs long; others claim to have finished it in 5. It took me just under 9, and that’s with looking around for extras and dying several times on the aforementioned scenes (plus one boss that was pretty tough until I realized that I could take him on by myself rather than get myself killed trying to revive teammates). I would say 8-10 is a fair estimate, hardly epic but no shorter than most shooters (including Gears of War itself). Plus there is a pretty in-depth and fun multiplayer component, with several game types and enjoyable co-op modes. I haven’t gotten to play it too much yet, but I can tell that I would be spending at least what I spent on the campaign (if not longer), making the 60 dollar price tag actually pretty justifiable, especially compared to other movie games (for example, Terminator Salvation, which I finished in 5 hrs and has no collectibles or multiplayer whatsoever).
As I played on the Xbox (as always), I also think it’s a good game for Achievement whores such as myself. I got about 550 just for playing through the game, and another 100 or so for finishing up finding all of the collectibles and scanning every ghost (of which I only missed a couple throughout the game, without using a guide!). None of the remaining ones seem particularly difficult, with the exception of finishing the game on Hard (no way in hell I’d want to bother with that Stone Angel part on Hard), and also one for finishing the game with under 100,000 dollars in damage - especially considering I DID get the one for causing more than 3 million, with only some of that total stemming from my attempt to get the achievement by purposely destroying stuff once I realized how close I was just from playing normally. I bow to anyone who can get through all seven levels (particularly the museum) without costing poor Manhattan taxpayers a 9 digit sum.
Oh, that reminds me of another thing. The city seems pretty empty. The locations you are in are often ghostly or other-worldy, but that’s no excuse for a totally empty New York block in the cutscene when they go to the Sedgwick Hotel in level 5, or the lack of any hotel guests the first time you play through the area. With everything at stake, it would have been nice to see the city feel a little more alive (especially with those lengthy loading times - GTAIV takes less time to load and there are cars and pedestrians everywhere!). The trailer shows us what looks like an out of control Macy's Day parade, with haunted floats running amok - this is just briefly glimpsed on a TV screen in the game, but a scene like that would have been far more fun than say, going into the sewers. And going back to cars, the lack of a driving scene with Ecto-1 is somewhat unforgivable (they even make a joke about letting you drive; salt in the wound!).
On a technical level, besides the load times, Terminal Reality has done a terrific job. Some of the models are a bit stiff, and it would have been nice to have some full on FMV at the beginning and end, instead of in-engine cut-scenes, but otherwise the graphics are terrific, especially on the proton packs and their various firing modes. The bosses and other enemies are also well designed, with some great touches (Stay Puft gets burn marks when you blast him). The sound is also a marvel; you get the original film’s score, some truly eerie ghost voices (Children’s library room - GAH!), plus, of course, the voice work of the principals and other celebrity talents (Max Von Sydow!). They could have recorded a few more generic gameplay lines for each character - you’ll want to smack virtual Bill Murray after hearing him yell “Ow! That was, that was OW, there!” for the 50th time - but after playing so many games with sound-alikes (or in Lost: Via Domus’ case, sounds-nothing-alikes), it’s just so nice to have the real folks commenting on your actions and delivering exposition.
Having just watched the two movies again, I can safely say that the story/writing is superior to 2 at least. The stiffness of the “performances” keeps the game from being as FUNNY as the first film (where a lot of the humor came from subtle looks and moments), but at least it’s almost as FUN. The little references and callbacks are a nice touch (have fun exploring the firehouse!), and the interplay between the guys is terrific. In fact, the game’s problems (cheap moments, long load times, disappointing boss fights) have nothing to do with the license itself, which is almost unheard of. Considering how bad the other games based on the property have been, the fact that it’s good at all is something of a miracle. It could use some polish, and maybe a bit more variety in the gameplay, but at least the stuff Ghostbusters fans really care about is spot on.