Ghostbusters: The Video Game Review: Survival Comedy

Ghostbusters: The Video Game comes to us bearing a twin-blockbuster burden: Both as a game, and also as the first true representative of a beloved franchise to come along in 20 years.

The presence of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the film's original writers and two of its leading actors, lent weight to the game as more than just a supernatural shooter involving familiar faux-technology. But we've seen impressive star power in movie adaptations before. So is Ghostbusters: The Video Game just a bunch of friends getting the band back together, or are we in for something more, a canonical sequel in its own right?

Loved
Multiplayer: This made me love the game all over again. It's deep and fun enough to keep you involved with Ghostbusters for well more than, say any rental period. You get instant action or cooperative campaigns - action being one "job" and campaigns being a series of them. Job types range from survival (destroy ghosts) to containment (trap them) to protection (protect a series of positions) and "thief" (a reverse-capture-the-flag, ghosts against you.) The ranking, achievements, and "most wanted" ghosts you encounter provide plenty of incentive to hang in there and pile up your score. The weapon enhancements you accumulate lend a semi-MMO quality to your online career. But mostly, it's just nonstop ghostbusting action, which is probably what made you reach for the game in the first place. I promised my review copy to a friend, and after finishing my first campaign, mailed it to him and raced back out to buy myself a copy so we could play together. That's how good the multiplayer is: It's $60 impulse-buy good, for someone who had the game for free.

Ghosts in a Ghost Land: Visually, Ghostbusters: The Video Game hits the original movie's art direction right on the screws. The phantasms carry on the themes of the original films, presenting the spirits as gross caricatures of their emotions and motivations. Not only is their look consistent, so is their behavior, and their ghostly swooping and darting, heedless of aerodynamics - as it should be. The more warped intersections of our world with the beyond are very impressively rendered; walls and ceilings disintegrate, the rubble drifting away into infinite, swirling backgrounds.

PKE Performance: Quite subtly, this game lets you decide what kind of Ghostbuster you want to be. If you want to blast your way through the game like a paranormal firefighter, go for it. But if you want to investigate a scene before cleaning it up, the PKE Meter is your tool. It exposes collectibles (worth money for upgrades) and scans ghosts, giving you some extra cash and filling up your notebook with some amusing histories. This should appeal to completionists, and very much extends the campaign mode's lifespan.

Doing damage: Destruction is an art in Ghostbusters, and the proton stream is your medium. Nearly everything in this game is destructible - most of it quite pointlessly, but that was Ghostbusters, wasn't it? A running dollar-figure arbitrarily totals up, the damage you do in your career. It's just a score, this has no effect on your in-game funds. Large insurance policies taken out by the city cover all the cleanup, and since this is set 14 years before Hurricane Katrina, you know they'll pay up. So go ahead and rake those priceless works of art with your slime blower. And after you finish a prolonged bout with all four Ghostbusters wrangling a platoon of spookies in a library basement, be sure to take a look around and admire your tableau of flickering scorch trails and slime puddles. It would make Jackson Pollack proud.

Ghost wrangling: On harder difficulties, the ghosts soar higher, and slamming them into the ground or walls takes greater effort. The venting option, too, is brilliant, forcing a reload-type mechanic on you without violating the infinite-ammo supply of a canonical proton pack. You'll have to develop your own methodology, when to deploy a capture stream, how to use it, and when to let go and vent the pack. Sometimes it can feel like you're not connected to anything on the other end. But sitting here writing this I'm still lured in by the whirring sound of the trap and the satisfaction of dragging some struggling ghoul down a flight of stairs, through stacks of books, and into confinement. Every one is a battle in its own right, rarely repetitive. I relished having ghosts to trap, even though they took much more work than those I blasted into infinity.

Dialogue: People speculated this game couldn't possibly be as funny as the film because Bill Murray's celebrated ad-libbing, said to be the source of so many quotable lines, isn't feasible in a mo-capped production. In a way, they're wrong. At times, the in-game banter substitutes for this ad-libbing, and some of the lines are bona fide howlers. Winston Zeddemore's obvious, yet subtly stated agitation at having to fight Confederate ghosts cracked me up so bad I had to hit pause. "I wish these traps had windows," he said, "it'd be like a little Vicksburg snow globe." Even the little things show you this was not some thrown-together script. In the game's first sequence, New York is rocked by a pulse of energy, passing through the Ghostbusters headquarters. Everyone staggers. A lesser writer would script out "What the hell was that?" or some other useless exclamation. Here, Harold Ramis calls for Egon to say, deadpan, "Was that us?" Just three words, but they instantly brought me back into the world of the Ghostbusters.

Hated:
Errata: For all of the above, Ghostbusters is not a perfect game. Here's an omnibus paragraph buttoning up the flaws, none of which on their own are enough to spoil the game but need to be mentioned. Single-player load times are a bitch, especially after repeatedly failing a mission. The single-player campaign upgrades are nice, but you'll have bought them all by the middle of the game, diminishing the incentive to do extras to earn them. For another reason, I felt a twang of disappointment midway through; the mystery seemed to be building up for an incredibly long experience, and then the story abruptly and conspicuously lurched into its resolution phase. Finally, in parts the game really could have used a map, or at least some way to highlight your next objective. In dimly lit environments it is not always obvious how to overcome the obstacle in front of you.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game is what a film adaptation should be - true to everything that made a movie a hit and a thrill ride in the first place, without shamefully exploiting itself. It's not the first good game of the season; but in a way you'll feel like summer has truly begun once you play Ghostbusters, a game that very much honors its blockbuster heritage.

Some might think that a game that brings in the entire core cast (minus one), two of whom are the original writers, should be a success born on third base. If so, why hasn't it been done until now? Because for everything in the gameplay and set design expected of a AAA title, that's what puts the shine on this experience. You want to be a Ghostbuster? Strap on the pack, because you are going to run with the real Ghostbusters. "This team plays to win!" Winston said, right before the finale, and I swear I swelled up with pride.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game was developed by Terminal Reality and published by Atari for the PlayStation 3, PC, and Xbox 360. Multiplayer developed by Threewave Software. A substantially different version is available for Wii and PS2, developed by Red Fly; Released on June 16. Retails for $59.99 PS3 and 360, $49.99 PC. Played the Xbox 360 version. Completed singleplayer campaign on "casual" difficulty; retested several levels of singleplayer on all difficulties; Played all online multiplayer modes.

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