film & game reviews, the retro way.
Red Fly Studio
Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, more
THE VIDEO GAME
Released in 2009 for the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360, Ghostbusters: The Video Game was a spiritual sequel to the first two Ghostbusters films with most of the original cast returning to voice their iconic characters. This would be the last time that Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray would appear on screen together, albeit this time in animated form.
The game sees the Ghostbusters hire a new recruit, showing him (you) the ropes as they tackle various ghostly enemies in familiar and not-so-familiar locations. Right away, it's clear that there is a genuine attempt made here to recapture, not only the tone of the original movies but the look and the feel of them as well. The post-Ghostbusters II setting makes this the perfect opportunity to tell a brand new story while paying homage to what came before.
No time is wasted as you soon come face to face with the likes of an escaped Slimer and the ever-persistent Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The Ghostbusters' banter feels authentic as the writing, overseen by Aykroyd and Ramis themselves, is as sharp and as funny as ever. The performances are all hugely enjoyable also and it's a treat to hear the likes of William Atherton, Annie Potts, Brian Doyle-Murray, even Max Von Sydow (as the voice of Vigo) return to the franchise.
Getting used to using the proton packs in this game takes a bit of time as you combine buttons to shoot, reload (the packs overheat constantly), execute capture streams and slam ghosts into the traps, not to mention switch to different types of packs later on. Once the whole system clicks, however, it should feel pretty good blasting ghosts left and right, sometimes by the dozens. Another very important thing to master in this game is the multi-tasking. Between the weapons and their quirks, the sluggish (and short-lived) running action and dodging the ghosts who often leap towards you, causing damage, there's also reviving the other Ghostbusters to keep track of.
Yes, you get to fight the ghosts with your favorite team of ghost-busting buddies but they are every bit as fragile as you are, which doesn't really make any sense but remains something you have to keep in mind throughout the game. It's very likely that during big brawls or boss fights, you will be prompted by one or more teammates to come and save them. This is both very easy and extremely stressful as reviving a teammate is only a short run and one press of a button away but managing that plus a room full of ghosts, knowing that if all your allies are down and you get hit it's all over, can be challenging to say the least.
While this reviving thing is a good idea on paper, in practice it adds a level of frustration that the game could have done without, frankly, as it distracts from otherwise super fun fights. If the aim was to add another layer of challenge to said fights, then mission accomplished, but there had to be other, less tedious ways to do that. Some teammates become possessed by ghosts at one point and that's pretty clever, definitely one way to evolve that idea, but reviving is still a must even during that so, instead of an evolution, it's an extra chore. This is not a game-breaking issue, however, merely one of the few minus points in an otherwise rather good game.
The plot, which is set into motion after an energy pulse prompts supernatural events to take place at various spots in New York City (the Museum Of Natural History, the Sedgewick Hotel, etc.), is very engaging and goes familiar places without feeling tired, constantly adding new, interesting elements. The Public Library, for example, builds on what we saw in the very first movie as a portal opens up and the Ghost World starts to merge with the human world. This part is very creative visually and it's a pleasure just looking at the surreal setting unfolding before you. Same goes for the hotel that slowly turns into a giant spider's nest and the gothic floating island.
The Remastered version, currently available on the PS4, the Switch and the Xbox One, shows off the cool level designs to their fullest so this slick makeover was well worth it.
Another thing the game excels at is atmosphere. This is a surprisingly spooky game where you often find yourself in an unpredictable, dark setting where ghosts can leap out of the walls or appear at the end of a foggy corridor at any moment. The PKE Meter and goggles you wear to detect hidden items, analyse ghosts, slime and other substances help isolate you further, sometimes leaving you discombobulated when something attacks you that you can't see right away, out of nowhere. The game fully embraces the original movies' horror vibe and it does so in style with plenty of jumps but also laughs along the way.
Structurally, the game could be seen as a bit repetitive since the Ghostbusters jump into the Ecto-1 (no driving level, sorry), go to a specific location, then go back to the firehouse, and the whole process repeats with every mission. You can tell that this could have easily been a Grand Theft Auto-style open world game where you drive around in the Ecto-1, patrolling the city, occasionally catching ghosts in the car or stopping by certain places for missions and side quests. Unfortunately, while you do get to explore the firehouse a bit, this game doesn't go all in with that concept, instead focusing on the individual missions and making the whole thing feel like different acts in one movie, rather than a game where you can do whatever you want, which is pretty good but might underwhelm more demanding gamers.
There's a good variety of ghosts to be found here from fiery gargoyles to fishermen, chefs, Civil War soldiers, opera singers, the list goes on and on. Like I said, once you figure out the controls, it's tons of fun to blast 'em, throw those traps down and slam the ghosts in there. You can purchase upgrades to your weapons during the game and these are definitely handy as they make attacking the ghosts feel a lot smoother, but the stock is limited so don't expect a crazy variety of different weapons as these are just upgrades. There are also hidden items placed in every level for you to find and trying to scan every single new ghost or substance isn't quite as easy as it sounds so there's an extra challenge there as well.
This isn't a very long game at all and none of the missions feel like filler, the absence of side quests is surprisingly refreshing, so you'll breeze through it. Which is not to say it's too easy, some of the boss fights will take some time to beat and there'll be repeat attempts at tackling certain rooms, partly due to the reviving thing. This isn't a game you'll be revisiting over and over again necessarily but you'll enjoy every minute of it, especially if you're a Ghostbusters fan, as this is the closest thing to Ghostbusters III we ever got.
The cast alone makes this a must-play but this is still a clever, well crafted game in its own right and the fact it shows a genuine respect and adoration for the movie franchise it's based on is a welcome bonus.
It's very funny, it looks cool, it's scary at times: altogether a very enjoyable experience.