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Ghostbusters: The Video Game

(Atari; US: 16 Jun 2009)

I saved the world again this weekend but rarely has it been so fun to do so.


As a child of the ‘80s, I realize that the significance of Ghostbusters cannot be underestimated.  Few other films of the decade (okay, there was that whole Star Wars trilogy thing) were as beloved as this one.  The successful qualities of the original film seem related not only to the strong writing team of Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis but also to the chemistry of a partly veteran SNL cast.  That’s why Terminal Reality’s and Atari’s decision to utilize the writing talents of Ackroyd and Ramis once again and to get most of the original cast to sign on to this project has created a game that really does the Ghostbusters brand justice.


Unlike the slipshod efforts that the medium has attempted in purchasing licenses for the latest blockbuster, a number of developers and publishers have done very well with generating material based on older film licences.  It would seem that having the time to develop an intellectual property without the time constraints of getting something on the shelf in time for the film release date has allowed the development of some really good properties like the two Godfather games and the Scarface game.  In the case of these mafia inspired franchises, it also seems to have allowed developers to really consider what qualities that the material these films are based on might serve best in creating not a mere retread of a film but a game itself.  In the case of The Godfather, rather than simply attempt to recreate the films, the games’ developers smartly focused on mostly developing an aspect of the films suitable for gameplay.  If The Godfather tells the story of the rise of Mafia don through the development of his power through control, the games’ focus on area control and strategy in taking over a city and managing a criminal economy match this thematic interest of the movies.  Scarface similarly focused on the elements of criminal enterprise appropriate to its source material, managing the drug trade.


Terminal Reality likewise has focused on the best elements of the film property that they were working with and worked them pretty smoothly into the gameplay of Ghostbusters: The Video Game.  The interesting psuedo-science of the proton pack and its ghost wrangling beam that resembles something more like a fishing line than the normal heavy weaponry of video games becomes a very pleasing mechanism for the business of busting ghosts.  Business is also emphasized in the light RPG elements of the game, which have the player as a new recruit to the Ghostbusters team sinking any money earned by trapping ghosts into R&D for his upgradable proton pack.  By earning a few hundred dollars for the capture of poltergeists and other assorted spectres, the proton pack gains new features that assist in paranormal investigation and antagonism.  In particular, the slime tether, a long tendril of slime that can be anchored in two different targeted areas and then contracts bringing environmental objects closer together, serves as a really fun puzzle solving mechanism.


In addition to finding ways of making ghost busting techniques viable and entertaining during play, the game’s additional strength lies in the way that it captures the aforementioned spirit of fun of the original film.  The most interesting thing about the game is its pure loquaciousness.  With Ackroyd, Ramis, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson all on board as voice actors, the game is full of a constant stream of chatter, much more so than in any other game that I can recall.  Unlike such games that do feature talk throughout the gameplay experience, this game avoids looping dialogue in which characters just seem to repeat the same one liners over and over again (that is for the most part—there are some notable exceptions during some extended combats). 


Instead, throughout explorations of haunted hotels, libraries, and museums, your fellow Ghostbusters keep up a steady stream of patter. Ackroyd & Ramis have not skimped on legitimately fun and amusing dialogue and the weird chram of Murray’s delivery is very much working on overdrive throughout.  As a result, while the game only logs in at somewhere around a scant 8-10 hours, you still feel like you have gotten your money’s worth as most of the sequences in the game do not seem to be filler.  There is a concerted effort to constantly generate an immersive experience of hanging out with the Ghostbusters who always have something witty to say about the absurd situations that they find themselves in.  The sheer volume of verbal nonsense that   emerges from the Ghostbusters as they work matches what the player knows about the Gostbusters from the film, adding to the authenticity of the experience.


This effort to authenticate the Ghostbuster experience through dialogue that feels appropriate to the franchise is matched by the attention to detail of many of the game’s levels.  In particular, the first two sequences when the Ghostbusters re-explore familiar locations from the first film, the Sedgewick Hotel and the New York Public Library, are fun not just because they appropriately help set a tone recognizable because they re-imagine in a new context some of the most memorable scenes from the film, but they are also dense with visual details, like card catalogues whose contents explode in the presence of the paranormal or the general collateral damage taken by any room in which proton packs are allowed to wreak havoc.  If ghost busting has an investigational quality, the player finds the locations under investigation here to be well worth looking at and taking some time to really observe closely.  Truth be told, the game’s environments and character models are simply some of the best looking material seen on the XBox 360 to date.   


The other theme and quality that is part of the allure of the films that is not given short shrift here is the strange mixture of anti-intellectualism and legitimate scientific inquiry at the heart of paranormal investigation. The Ghostbusters use “science” to investigate phenomena that no scientist would admit to believing in.  Murray’s infamous introduction in the movie with his bogus research study of psychic phenomena sets the tone of anti-intellectualismin the movie that curiously makes the audience root for a bunch of guys that normally they would likely deem frauds.  Strangely, this distrust of the institutions of science and learning are present even in the gameplay here.  With many of the “boss” ghosts representing the ideals of science and learning (you battle both the ghosts of both a librarian and a museum curator at various points in the game) and also the standard Ghostbusters trope of pitting the guys not only against the paranormal but also what might be deemed by many Americans as “normal” threats like the city government, the game recaptures the anti-establishment spirit of the films.  What Murray and the gang respresent is a very American attitude at valuing those that thumb their nose at the rationalism of science and intellectualism generally as well as the restrictive qualities of the establishment and the authorities that represent it.  We root for the Ghostbusters because they are just “regular guys” investigating irregular experiences none of which “the man” would really ever understand or believe in.


Thus, with 2009 marking the anniversary of the release of the original Ghostbusters on celluloid, Ghostbusters: The Video Game seems a fitting celebration of the qualities of the film that have made the franchise such a well loved one.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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