Who ya gonna call?

Pub date July 8, 2009

Ghostbusters: The Video Game

(Atari/Sony Computer Entertainment/Terminal Reality)

XBOX360, PS3, PC, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS

GAMER Before survival horror, pwnage, and musclebound men cursing at each other in 1080p, video games were pretty funny. The mid-’90s saw a slew of comedic adventure classics, released when low computing power made witty writing more valuable than dynamically plasma-rifled gobbets of viscera. Now, it seems, the jokes are slinking back. Aging titles like LucasArts’ Monkey Island series and Sam and Max Hit the Road have been resurrected by Telltale Games. Tim Schafer, creator of the tragicomic noir masterpiece Grim Fandango, has Brütal Legend, starring Jack Black, slated for release this fall.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a worthy example of this humorous trend. With a script by original Ghostbusters (1984) writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the game demonstrates the immense value of providing characters with amusing, engaging, human dialogue. While most developers will probably stick to the monkeys-with-typewriters approach (yes, you, Gears of War 2), Aykroyd and Ramis flesh out an enjoyable new Ghostbusters tale, nailing the atmosphere, repartee, and goofy sarcasm that made the movies such big hits.

All four lead actors are back in the fold for voice work (plus Annie Potts as the secretary), and familiar ghosts and locations will give fans of the films much to revel in. Though the plot is not spectacular, casting the player as the anonymous, mute "rookie" member of the team, the action ramps up quickly. And having Bill Murray’s laconic Peter Venkman on your six is probably more than enough for some people anyway.

Terminal Reality did yeoman work on the level design, replicating recognizable movie environments and surrounding the team with destructible, physics-based junk just dying to be zapped with a proton pack. Cutscenes bring the four actors (and their ’80s hairlines) to life, although the lip syncing and motion-capture animation is decidedly substandard.

When the gameplay sticks to a classic "bust-’em, trap-’em" formula, playing is a breeze, and a variety of "experimental" weapons add some spice. Ill-considered design decisions abound, however, and the game can quickly become frustrating. The AI Ghostbusters are good for an impressive number of hilarious quips, but can’t bust ghosts or stay alive worth a damn. The difficulty spikes and ebbs, skewed by the fact that most enemies can take you out in one or two hits, and the environmental puzzles are lame when they aren’t sort of obtuse. Boss battles tend towards the tedious. I’m glad people still remember how to build a game around great writing, but someone should hook them up with creators of fun, invigorating gameplay. It could get ugly, though. I hear the monkeys have a union.