"The plot begins by ambitiously introducing two new central characters—a strange young woman and a rookie member of the ghostbusters team—but after that it almost immediately turns into a retread of familiar adventures. Many of the same faces and places make new appearances, to the point that although the story is technically all-new (and penned by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who drafted the original), it often feels like a rerun. This time, though, someone stripped out most of the good parts. There's nowhere near enough of the memorable dialog that made the film so good and even the most interesting bits wear out their welcome because you're playing the thing, not watching it."
Before I began playing Ghostbusters: The Video Game, you could have counted the number of minutes that I spent watching the movie with the fingers on one hand. That made me rather unique among my peers and it meant that as I sat down to play the game, I did so knowing that my eventual review could provide a unique perspective: that of the impartial gamer who was just looking for another fun game and who wasn't worried about hype and expectations. I could limit my scope to nuts-and-bolts analysis and a relatively distinct review was sure to result. There was just one problem: the game left me so uninspired that finally I watched the Blu-Ray just to see what I'd been missing. Now that I know how great the film is and the video game isn't, I really have no choice but to compare the two. So much for my ambitions and originality!
Perhaps it's fitting that things fell apart like that. After all, the same thing seems to have happened to Ghostbusters: The Video Game. The plot begins by ambitiously introducing two new central characters--a strange young woman and a rookie member of the ghostbusters team--but after that it almost immediately turns into a retread of familiar adventures. Many of the same faces and places make new appearances, to the point that although the story is technically all-new (and penned by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who drafted the original), it often feels like a rerun. This time, though, someone stripped out most of the good parts. There's nowhere near enough of the memorable dialog that made the film so good and even the most interesting bits wear out their welcome because you're playing the thing, not watching it.
Despite the lack of the trademark banter or introspection that made the movie stand out, joining the ghostbusters crew might sound like a riot. Unfortunately, it proves rather unpleasant as a whole. Some might suppose that this is because the central protagonist has no features that do much to distinguish him from a block of wood or a tire iron, but I applaud that particular decision. It was the right way to go and allows players to easily step into the experience. The real issue is a lot more basic and a lot more difficult to ignore: catching ghosts is a pain in the butt.
As you work your way through the claustrophobic city, you'll realize first that there aren't a lot of lost souls wandering the streets, then that the few ghosts who do exist are anxious to avoid you. The minute you fire your beams, your targets will zip all over the place in evasive maneuvers, perhaps trying to attack but mostly just staying out of range or ducking behind walls and pillars. Dual-analog control means that you shouldn't have too much trouble locking onto them in spite of that--a process that sets them to quivering like Jell-O--but then you have to lasso the specters into submission and drag them over a deployed trap so that they can be contained. Somewhere along the way, they'll probably break free or you'll lose track of where the stupid trap is because of unstable camera angles. Upgrades that you can purchase later in the game eliminate some of the hassle, as do the lower difficulty levels, but the mechanic remains irritating no matter how well you are equipped. Popping the bubbles on a sheet of packing materials is more fun than busting ghosts.
That's a problem when the game you're playing is all about capturing spirits, but such complaints are in a sense putting the cart before the horse. First you have to actually find the buggers. To that end, you'll spend hours wandering through linear environments while hoping that you can find some sort of spook. Often you're supposed to follow one or more of the team's senior members, but they generally just stick at your side and let you lead everyone in circles as you try to figure out where in the world it is that you're supposed to go. There's no in-game map or compass and some of the environments are quite repetitive, so these little dances can go on for minutes at a time. Spectacularly, there sometimes are hidden walls that no one but you can find (way to go, team!), walls that you must pass through in order to reach the end of a stage. To locate them, you'll need to switch to your goggles and then slowly meander through a zone as the little lines at the bottom of the screen light up to indicate that you might be getting near something of interest.
In the rare instances where the developers leave behind the wandering and the ghost wrangling, you'll find yourself tackling situations that make you wish no one had bothered. An example of one such diversion comes into play as you travel through a parallel universe. Right from the start, navigating the bizarre area proves frustrating because it's comprised mostly of look-alike portals and crumbling platforms. Then you come to an area where you must cross a field of debris suspended in space. This means using your weapon upgrade to lasso distant platforms into range so that you can use them as stepping stones to higher ground before repeating the process. However, the whole exercise is tedious. An ectoplasm rope first must hit its mark, then you have to tighten it and then you have to tug. One line is never enough, so you'll have to create several and hope that you've done it all within the proper time frame or the first tethers will fall apart and you'll get to redo everything.
Such moments of tedium and frustration are disappointing because there are places where it's clear that a lot of love went into developing Ghostbusters: The Video Game. The battle against the Stay-Puft marshamallow man, for instance, is a nostalgic trip back to one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. Even the more ordinary situations are crafted with style, though, to the point where sometimes the PlayStation 3 can't even keep up with the on-screen mayhem (particularly in the library stage, where it can freeze for seconds at a time as dozens of books rise from the floor to form shields or to assault the player). Character models also are detailed and instantly recognizable, plus it's quite the trip to hear the same familiar voices saying new things. If only those new things were actually interesting...
Ultimately, though, that's the criticism that one might level at the game as a whole. Take away the characters and heart that made the movie such a resounding success and you might as well not even have the license. Take away the license and what you're left with is a frustrating and generally uninteresting action game that falls apart too often for its more enjoyable moments to ever mean anything. Newcomers to the series should start with the movie, while long-time fans would do well to forget that the game even exists. With any luck, I'll be doing the same thing...
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 08, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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