Call it fanboyism, call it a Pavlovian response, call it what you want — Ghostbusters: The Video Game made me smile. And why not? The 1984 movie is a cultural touchstone for anyone born in the '70s and '80s. Tell a 30-year-old, "When someone asks you if you're a god, say . . . ," and I'll bet you $1000 he shouts, "Yes!" The video game is not shy about exploiting our affection. The iconic logo, Ray Parker Jr.'s unforgettable theme song, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man all make an appearance.
|Ghostbusters: The Video Game | for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Terminal Reality | Published by Atari|
Movie games always have the potential for disaster. Still, a Ghostbusters game couldn't have been any more of a lifeless cash-in than Ghostbusters 2. That may explain why the video game attracted the talents of the original principals — perhaps they saw it as a chance for redemption. The credits tout the script as being "written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis," which isn't quite true — Aykroyd admitted to the New York Times that he and Ramis had merely polished the existing draft. Nevertheless, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is canon, a true third entry in the series.
The narrative holds most of the game's appeal. Aykroyd and Ramis also lend their likenesses and voices, as do original 'Busters Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson. The only significant omissions are Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis. Murray's presence in particular is something of a surprise, but, like all the performers, he seems to relish the opportunity to reprise the part. Nobody does smug condescension better.
The cast may also appreciate being depicted as younger and thinner than they are — the game takes place in 1991, with the player controlling a nameless rookie on his first mission. This is a nice way to ease into the tutorial, with the other Ghostbusters offering tips on how to use the proton pack and trap ghosts. The plot, thick with mythological folderol, is mostly an excuse to let you engage in childhood wish fulfillment. ("Ohmigod, the Ghostbusters need help, and only I can rescue them!") Although your character never speaks, the other characters keep up a stream of chatter: Venkman attempts to duck his responsibilities; Zeddemore gripes about his performance review.
A nostalgia trip wouldn't mean much if the game weren't fun to play. This one is a well-made, if not revelatory, third-person shooter. Your proton pack gets upgraded over the course of the game with different beams, most of which differ only slightly from the usual shooter arsenal. (One exception: a slime gun allows you to tether ghosts and objects together.) Although there's no cooperative option for the campaign, you're rarely without at least one AI-controlled ally, and that works great, especially when several Ghostbusters struggle to wrangle a stubborn ghost into a trap. On-line play takes the form of several cooperative modes, with players earning money based on their performance.
The game looks terrific, embracing bold colors and wild, imaginative backgrounds. (I played the Xbox 360 version, which is nearly identical to the PS3 edition; ports for the Wii and PS2 have more-cartoonish, less-sophisticated graphics.) The only problem involves replayability. The levels are linear and rarely require problem solving — which means they're designed to deliver maximum impact the first time around. Having been through it once, I can't imagine a reason to go back. Which isn't to say I was unsatisfied. Playing Ghostbusters is like visiting the haunted house at an amusement park — the experience is short and tightly controlled. But it's worth the price of admission.