Ghostbusters: The Video Game

A distrust of the institutions of science and learning are present even in the gameplay.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Publisher: Atari
Players: 1
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Terminal Reality
Release Date: 2009-06-16

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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