Saturday, July 4, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?


Whenever a licensed property and gaming collide, there are always eyebrows raised. I don't know what it is, the gaming industry and the movie industry borrow so much from each other, but whenever the two collide, it's a mess. Movies rarely translate into good games, and good games rarely translate well into movies. It's just the way things are. So you can imagine my (and everyone else's) skepticism when a Ghostbusters game was announced. How could it possibly be any good, even with the original writers (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) in charge of the story? I expected a potentially funny, but ultimately forgettable gaming experience at best.

Was I wrong?

As a matter of fact, yes.

Because the actual movie is currently stuck in development hell, this is the closest to a Ghostbusters III we’re going to get. With that in mind, I’m pleased to say that for the most part, game succeeds admirably in filling this void. All of the original actors return for their roles (with the exception of two, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis) and their performances are nearly flawless. The game takes place in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters II, and they’ve hired a new recruit to test out their newer, more dangerous equipement. A training mishap or two later, and one of the ghosts, the ubiquitous Slimer, escapes and makes his way back to his original haunting grounds. In the midst of hunting and capturing him, they discover the Stay Puft Marshmallow man wreaking havoc in Times Square, apparently chasing a mysterious woman. But what’s her significance? Also, WHY is the marshmallow man back?


If you found any of those elements hard to follow, you aren’t a Ghostbusters fan, and honestly, that’s who this game was made for. From the minute you boot the game up, you’re treated to the 1980’s version of the Columbia Pictures logo and the nostalgia takes off running with no sign of slowing down. Inside jokes, fanservice, and references to both movies are packed to the brim here, and even the plot itself relies heavily on you having seen the first movie, since nearly every character from the original shows up in some way. It’s well written, practically a love letter to fans, and even though it’s been 20 years since the last adventure, it does a great job of pulling you in like no time has passed at all. I also love the idea of playing as a nameless rookie. By placing you in your own shoes instead of emulating a member of the cast, it's almost like fufilling a childhood fantasy of tagging along during one of their adventures.

Gameplay wise, it feels like a third person shooter with exploration elements--think Gears of War without any cover system in mind, but with a unique twist in the form of ghost trapping. This was the one part of the game that stood to make or break the experience, and I'm pleased to say it's pulled off well. In order to capture a ghost, you need to weaken it with your primary weapon, a proton stream, then when its life is depleted, you wrangle it with a capture beam and wrestle it into a trap. It sounds odd on paper, but in practice, it’s quite fun:

In fact, the ghost wrangling part of the gameplay is easily the best part of the experience, it's so well thought out that you'll eventually slide into a rhythm of weaken, snare, slam, trap, and while the secondary weapons, ranging from a "Dark Matter" upgrade that gives you the ability to slow enemies down, to the "Meson Collider", an electrical based rapid fire weapon all have their own feel and use, nothing beats your default weapon. It's so addictive in itself that it's almost disappointing when the game switches gears near the final act and puts an emphasis on shooting, but it isn't a dealbreaker by any means. Of course, a gaming concession had to be made in the form of having to vent out your pack manually so it doesn't overheat and short out, but even with that dose of realism to keep you on your toes, it doesn't take away from that feeling of being a Ghostbuster.

Speaking of feeling like a Ghostbuster, for all of the hits with the writing and references, it wouldn't have come together quite as well if the visuals hadn't been so on point. It isn't a overstatement when I say it's one of the best looking games I've played this year, textures, lighting, everything looks much better than anyone ever though it would, from your character's incredibly detailed proton pack (that shows off everything from your health, to morphing depending on your weapon mode) to some down right spot-on character likenesses.


The physics are also out of this world as well, the "Infernal Engine" powering Ghostbusters is already impressive in itself with the aforementioned graphical staples, but it’s the physics behind it that makes the package stand out overall. Just about everything in the environments can be broken, smashed, and thrown all over the place, something that happens almost constantly because of the collateral damage caused by your proton gun during even the smallest trapping session. By the time the dust clears, tables will be smashed , windows broken, even flaming embers embedded in the walls from your gun's stream are all present, especially if it's a particularly tough catch. It isn’t limited to your interaction as well, some ghosts will possess objects in the levels to manipulate them, and occasionally, entire areas will simply break apart at will in order to spook you. By the time I reached the New York Public Library chapter, with the moving bookshelves and realizing every single book had been taken into account, I was floored.


Audio wise, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The music is excellent and pulled straight from the first movie, but that's also it's shortcoming, as there are literally only 5 or 6 tracks to choose from. The fact that they're already familiar doesn't help matters either when you've heard the same fight theme several times over be the close of a chapter. Also, while every character is voiced INCREDIBLY well(with the exception of Alyssa Milano, who sounded wooden as all hell), I had an issue with Peter Venkman's character. Whether it was Bill Murray's delivery, or the fact that his lines just weren't that good this time around, I found myself actually disliking him as the game went on, which is strange, considering he was the life, the personality of the entire team in the movies.

Don't let that ward you off though, Ghostbusters : The Video Game not only succeeds in being a great licensed game, but also in being a great game on its own merits. The level of quality and love put into it is almost surreal, and even though it's a bit on the short side (I clocked in at around 8 hours my first time through) and a pinch repetitive, it's well worth a second playthrough, as there are a bunch of collectibles and well thought out Achievements/Trophies to collect. I didn't even mention the multiplayer, which is actually campaign in itself, allowing you to take the role of the original four and indulge in several varied co-op campaigns with three other players.

If you're a fan, this is a no-brainer. If you aren't, I would strongly suggest watching the first movie, but even being a bit lost to the mythology doesn't keep this game from being something worth playing. I can't recommend it enough.

[Multiplatform Note: Between the two next-gen versions, the Xbox 360 one wins by a landslide.The PS3 version just can't cut it graphically.]

No comments:

Post a Comment