The review for this game has been a long time coming – seriously. Ghostbusters for me, like so many others of my generation, was so much more than a movie; it was a cultural phenomenon. At my house, we had the Ray Parker Jr. 45 that I used to play over and over on our record player. My sister once got busted by my mom for picking up the phone and yelling “Ghostbusters!” into it, while my mother was having a conversation with someone else on the phone. I was obsessed with the Commodore 64 game of the same title. And yes, my jazz dance troupe had a Ghostbusters dance that we used to perform in the local mall (we also had a dance we did to the song “Pac Man Fever”, but that’s another story).
So – it’s going to be a little hard for this review not to have some emotional weight riding behind the score. Be warned.
Also: be warned about the installation process for this game. It is truly awful. If you choose, like many people do, to not install the game in the default location, be prepared to still have to go hunting through your c:Program files directory to find all the game launcher files, which you will then need to manually copy to your custom installation location. Your launcher exe will hide away there too – the game won’t set up a shortcut, menu file, or an entry in your “games” folder; you’ll have to do that yourself.
Once I was all set up, however, I was presented with a lovely opening sequence. Though not as spectacular as the C64’s , it still sets the scene and gets you pretty excited for what’s to come. Fittingly, you get to take on the role of the guy the Ghostbusters crew all call “Rookie”, a fairly bland, non-assuming type. It’s 1991 and you’ve just been hired as their Experimental Equipment Technician. As part of the team, you get access to some interesting (if temperamental) equipment, as well as the firehouse itself, and outings with the guys.
Oddly enough, you’re not in your new job long before the first call-out comes in. Fortunately for you, the guys take the time to explain the ins and outs of your Proton Pack functions, your PKE meter, and the art of busting ghosts. Unfortunately for the city of New York, they choose to do it in one of the city’s swankiest hotels; destruction and mayhem ensue. It’s just as well the city has taken out a huge insurance policy to cover any and all Ghostbusters-related damage (I hate to imagine what their premiums would be). The game, however, very considerately displays the ever-increasing damage cost on the upper left hand corner of the screen.
You start playing with just a few different firing options: the standard proton pack fire, as well as a short sharp fireball blast called the Boson Dart. As you progress through the game you acquire more abilities, such as the Shock Blast, Meson Collider, and the Slime Blower, each of which is useful in different situations (the Slime Blower, for example, which covers targets in a coat of goo, also helps you to drag two objects towards each other). As well as these, once you start earning some cash for bagged ghosts, you can purchase even more upgrades.
In addition to wrangling ghosts, the game has a collection aspect, which lets players find haunted or cursed items (that wind up back at Ghostbusters HQ once you’ve found them), as well as cataloguing the 55 different types of ghost you’ll find around the place. To do this, you’ll need to slip on your para-goggles, which give you an alternate view of your surroundings. By using these with your PKE meter, you can detect psychokinetic energies for ‘paranormally-tainted entities and objects’. If you scan a creature successfully, it will appear in the Tobin’s Spirit Guide, which you can then refer to, to find out more about a creature’s weaknesses, and also its back story.
And that really is the gist of the game. Of course, a description of the mechanics does nothing to convey the feel of the game, which at times is hilarious, and others, quite spooky. The game is totally made by the participation of the original film actors (Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson), and the script, written by Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, still includes a lot of the dialogue and humour that made the movies so great. And familiar environments such as the firehouse, where you get to hang out between missions, are loads of fun to explore.
Sure, there are drawbacks; the game’s quite linear play might not appeal to many gamers, the AI leaves the Ghostbusters standing around looking off into space while they wait for you to do something, and in tough battles you often spend a lot of time reviving your colleagues rather than fighting. The PC version, from what I’ve read, also loses out on a lot of the extra material that the 360 and PS3 were able to enjoy, such as multiplayer mode, 20 Ghostbuster rank levels, and twelve whole maps. And at 8 hours’ gameplay, losing those extra features might make the replayability of the game pretty limited.
Still – there is a lot to be said for the ability to sling on a proton pack and stand shoulder to shoulder with the four members of the Ghostbusters, to catch a ghost in your beam and drag it down towards a trap. The moment when the trap swallows up the ghost and Egon tells you “good job Rookie”, is a truly great feeling. Ghostbusters the game – a lot like the Ghostbusters movies – does a great job of reminding us that sometimes the simplest, most childish joys are as fun as the complex ‘adult’ games and movies we usually spend time with. Play it and remember those good times.