Thursday, June 25, 2009

Beaten : Ghostbusters The Video Game

Almost a quarter century ago, I was enjoying the first Ghostbusters videogame on my Commodore 64. At the time, the graphics, gameplay, and especialy the sound were all impressive, and it certainly conveyed the feeling of actually being one of the ghost bustin' crew.

And here we are again. I picked up Ghostbusters : The Video Game for the XBox 360 at its midnight release at Wal-Mart last week (which got me a code for an in-game gold proton pack and a CD of three songs) and can happily say that this modern title once again puts the player fully into the jumpsuit of a Ghostbuster for a great ride.

Players assume the role of a new recruit to the team in a whole new story, written by Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd, who, along with Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and several other stars, round out the fantastic cast. It takes place in 1991, and offers much in tribute to the two movies, as players get to re-create the battle with Slimer in the hotel and the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Times Square.

The story is good and flows well, and the laughs are certainly there. Bill Murray's character style stands out once again, as it did in the movies, but the player will enjoy some one-on-one time with each of the other team members in turn throughout the game's progression. While the script and voice acting are great, the synching to the in-game talking of the characters themselves is not, often resulting in a Godzilla-movie sort of look.

The gameplay in Ghostbusters is generally pretty good. One of the plot points established early on is that the player is not just a new recruit, but one hired to help test out some new equipment. The good old proton packs that the Ghostbusters have been using get a few upgrades along the way, selected using the d-pad. Some of them are even used for a few minor environmental puzzles, which was nice.

Actual busting of a ghost is a surprisingly fun and unexpectedly more complex game mechanic than I thought it would be. Players zap the ghost with the proton pack and wear it down, and then switch on the capture stream, and then wrangle it into the trap. And since they put up a fight, the whole expereince really feels like wrangling a ghost.

In addition, the proton pack is a piece of equipment prone to overload, so players must be careful to vent the thing lest it overload and be out of commision for a few seconds. The pack also is used like the suit in Dead Space, to convey the player's health bar and equipment status meter, which works well since the game is played in a very good third-person viewpoint.

Another pleasant surprise is the complexity of the PKE meter device. During gameplay, it is used to track and scan ghosts and ectoplasmic residue. The device is held out in front of the player, who then dons goggles to assist in the scanning. When the game is paused, the PKE meter is pulled up and viewed like a PDA, with access to game save features and options, as well as the lore of each scanned ghost. It's a good place to check for each ghost's weaknesses, and the lore itself is entertaining.

The game has some spooky environments to explore, but it's honestly very short. There are seven levels, essentially, and it took me less than ten hours to beat the game on the normal setting. There are checkpoints throughout each level, making starting over not too bad.

However, there are points of high frustration in the game where I found myself dead quite a few times. When a fellow Ghostbuster falls in battle, the player must run to them to revive them, and if they're alive they will return the favor. Sometimes the action is so fast an frenetic that players can get locked into a cycle of 90% revival (you revive them, they revive you, repeat, with little time to do much else like, say, bust some ghosts), and this can get quite tedious.

In spite of these few shortcomings, the game delivers on exactly what I'd hoped for - I got to go on a whole new adventure with the classic Ghostbusters and had a great time doing it. There's online multiplayer available, too, but I have yet to try it out. I hope Ghostbusters does well enough to warrant a sequel, because if the game's developers took what was here and improved on it - more levels, less teammate healing, driving the Ectomobile, better voice-synching - they'd have a real winner.

As it stands, Ghohstbusters The Video Game delivers what any fan of the movies would want, and I found it well worth the price. As for gamers who don't necessarily geek out on the Ghostbusters but are looking for something fun to play, I'd recommend keeping in mind the brevity of the game when considering a full-price purchase.

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