Penned over two decades ago by the comedic geniuses of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters brought well-timed humor to paranormal activity, spawning a faithful fanbase, loads of merchandise and content across media. Though the brand has fallen from mainstream popularity, the time is ripe for rebooting popular, ye olde franchises. Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the original film, Ghostbusters: The Video Game brilliantly reunites the original team for a quasi-sequel to the second film. Spearheading a cross-platform release of the game is Terminal Reality (360, PS3, PC), which, ultimately, has taken a license that was all but doomed to die in publishing limbo and has delivered an experience that any fan would be proud of, despite some technical and mechanical shortcomings.
Set two years after the conclusion of the second movie, the team is looking to expand as you hire on as the new guy and guine...Technical Expert to test out some of Egon's new Proton-based technology. Just before you can settle in peacefully to the new role, however, a massive ethereal shock wave bursts through New York City, promulgating a series of events that leads fans to familiar locales and confrontations with infamous characters from the Gozerian dimension—the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Gray Lady included.
Though hollow and strained in its romantic offering, the game's biggest strength is in its story-driven execution: it simply fits in the vein of the canon. The collaboration between Ramis, Aykroyd and the development team has netted an adventure that uses events and situations from the movies to drive the current conflict. What's incredible with this setup is the game's ability to make you feel as part of the team. The original foursome is the focus of the story; you just play as a minor character who is integral in moving things along. To achieve this, throughout Career play your character is a nameless mute, but while this kind of move is usually a weak attempt at allowing players to portray themselves in a role, here, the decision creates a situation where you can take “live” the story.
And ultimately, you do feel as if you're actually living out a Ghostbusters' adventure. Between faithful in-game renders of the entire late-eighties cast and actors reprising their roles superbly, the game feels like a true sequel—just on the little screen, and in interactive form. Other small touches like the team's firehouse and references to past events from quick quips round out the fan-catered treatment.
This is all a treat for any die-hard, but there are a few things holding the game back if you look at it more objectively from an action gamer's point of view.
Rated PG, the films capture a wide audience and don't require mature elements in order to be enjoyed. While the appreciable universality spills over into the game's script, lending itself to beautiful cutscenes with brilliant subtleties, it also seems to affect gameplay to the point where “T for Teen” just doesn't seem necessary. The game never offers overly complex puzzles to challenge you with, and the action can become tedious and mundane at times as you run from room to room tracking and trapping ghosts.
Also, while there is an upgrade system that offers you incentive and reward to work for, with cash earned by securing ghosts and picking up easily found items throughout levels, you're certain to max out these upgrades early on, leaving you with nothing else to do with extra cash. Finally, along with accruing money to spend, you can track how much destruction you cause in your efforts to free NYC from its trans-dimensional poltergeist attack. Alas, there aren't any repercussions from utterly destroying the New York Public Library, which leaves this stat simply for Achievement purposes.
Essentially, the entire experience plays more action, RPG and adventure-lite; like a technically superior, souped-up child's game. There's just not much to bring you back for a second play through, right away. Though you can scan ghosts to find out interesting backstories with Egon's favorite PKE (Psycho-Kinetic Energy) meter, and locate hidden objects to fill the firehouse with, it's all pretty easy to do in under eight hours. Frustrating sequences of failure will pop up once and again with ridiculous spikes in AI difficulty, but these are portions that neither make you want to play them again nor take too long to get through.
Being able to throw a trap and aid your team in a capture is fun, but doing so over and over again with little in the way of unique challenges doesn't lend well to longevity and replayability.
Where the single-player Career disappoints in novelty and challenge, online play supplements. What Ghostbusters does well, in terms of multiplayer, is deliver competitively cooperative gameplay. The concept might not make much sense, but it makes for games where your allies are your biggest opponents. In all of the gametypes it requires teamwork to stay alive and be successful, but you also need to execute some strategic backstabbing in order to outscore your friends.
The overall online interface is a bit lackluster, with minimal stat tracking and little to work for other than a title and Achievements as you progress through ranks; but between contests of trapping ghosts, slam-dunking Slimers with proton lasers, destroying poltergeist-propagating artifacts, surviving waves of ghostly onslaughts, or securing PKE points, the online setup is something fun enough to provide for more than just a once-over.
In the end, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a standout licensed product; one that every movie-game tie-in needs to learn from. With a strong graphical presentation, exceptional acting by the original cast, and subtle humor that has worked well for over two decades, there's plenty to love here. However, once you step back the game as a Ghostbusters fan, you soon discover there's not much holding it together as a strong action-adventure title as it lacks any actual challenge, can become a bit tedious with an over-reliance on bustin' ghosts, and is disappointingly short.
Still, it's hard not enjoy everything at least for the first time through.