Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox 360) Review

We came. We saw. We kicked its ass! No, seriously, this game is my childhood in HD, which has me all in a nerdgasim. Released on the 25th anniversary of the original film, my second most watched movie of all time, Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox 360) is, for all intents and purposes, the third movie. Set in 1991 and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the game features the original cast, excluding Sigourney Weaver and "Honey I Shrunk my Career" Rick Moranis, and it even features everyone's favourite Peck, Walter Peck, voiced by William Atherton.

Being an '80's franchise, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is all about nostalgia, and it does this very, very well. The early parts of the game are true to the source material, so much so that at first it feels like Terminal Reality was simply re-hashing the original film, but thankfully this changes greatly after the first few missions, allowing the story to become really fresh, branching in its own direction and even concluding several points from the previous films.

You play as the Rookie, a new cadet and the fifth Ghostbuster who's just been hired to test out new and experimental equipment. Unfortunately, as you begin your first day on the job it looks like Gozer may be back, so the Ghostbusters need to swing into action. The game's tutorial introduces you to the Firehouse (complete with the painting of Vigo!), and then you're off on a mission to catch 'em, slam 'em, and trap 'em.

The gameplay for Ghostbusters: The Video Game has been described as a lite Gears of War, and from a certain point of view, I agree. While there is no cover system, the game is played from a third person perspective with your "HUD" built into your Proton Pack itself, and you can sprint, leap, and revive downed teammates. Really though, what's so much fun is the combat; bustin' does make me feel good! As described above, there are generally three phases to catching a ghost. First, you zap 'em with your Proton Pack until their health is low. Then you use your Proton Pack's Capture Stream to wrangle them, and you can slam the ghosts around to daze them. Lastly, you trap 'em. Toss out a Ghost Trap and guide them down into the little box to complete the capture and get paid.

Throughout the course of the game, you get a total of 4 weapons to use, your Proton Pack, and three variations, including the Slime Gun, which now dishes out green slime instead of the lovey pink crap from Ghostbusters II. You also get the Dark Matter Generator, which is more or less a Shotgun, and the Meson Collider, which is a high damage weapon that can track a target if used correctly.

Every weapon has a secondary fire that eventually becomes available, and all of your weapons, including your Ghost Trap, and your PKE Metre, can be upgraded with the cash you earn. Secondary fire for the Proton Pack, for example, is a grenade-like Boson Dart, and the Dark Matter Generator has the Stasis Stream which temporarily freezes enemies in place. The coolest of all secondary fires though has to be the Slime Gun's Slime Tether. It's a great puzzle solving device. You attach a rope of slime to an object, or even an enemy, then you attach the other end somewhere else. The Slime Tether will then contract, moving platforms closer together, getting objects out of your way, or slamming that ghost right against a wall or into your Ghost Trap! The Slime Gun is so useful for both its modes that it's actually my favourite weapon and usual my "default."

Did I also mention how destructible the environments are? Zap a wall, and you'll leave carbon scoring, just like in the films. You can leave slime trails, smash tables, break pillars, and in fact you can destroy so much that the game actually tracks how much damage you've caused (in dollars) and there's two damage based Achievements to earn, one for causing a ridiculous amount of damage, and the second for causing a very minimal amount of damage, which I have yet to earn. Considering the amount of damage you'll likely be racking up, it's a good thing the Ghostbusters have that damage claim arrangement with the city of New York!

You also get your handy-dandy PKE Metre to help navigate your environments. The PKE Metre, when used, drops you into a first person view in which you're looking through your Para-Goggles, providing image enhancement. You'll be able to see things normally invisible to the naked eye this way, and the PKE Metre will detect hidden ghosts and entities (red), Cursed Artifacts [collectables(blue)], and environmental phenomena (green). Ghosts and entities are just that and self-explanitory. Cursed Artificats provide you with some cash, Achievements, and you'll find them scattered around the Firehouse when you return there. Environmental phenomena are usually walls you can blow open, switches you can pull, or other some such that will advance your progress. The game has no map, which is frustrating at first, but once you learn to rely on your PKE Metre and get used to it, you'll never be lost. In fact, you can also see your PKE Metre on your belt in third person, so you don't need to walk around with it out all the time, but I personally found it more helpful to do so.

The game also relies strongly on team work with your AI allies. You're very rarely alone, and there's usually at least one other Ghostbuster with you, and your AI allies generally do a good job of helping out. The PKE Metre is also used to scan ghosts and find out information about them, such as what weapon they're the weakest to, and your AI allies will switch to that weapon when fighting different enemies. They'll also trap Ghosts, revive you when you're down (yes, unlike Gears of War, the game doesn't end if you're downed), and occasionally move ahead to guide you in the right direction. Ironically, for a game that's built well on teamplay, there's no Co-Op version of the Campaign, which is really sad. The more Ghostbusters using their Capture Streams on the same ghost, the less it can resist the Ghost Trap, and while the AI does help out here, it would have been much more fun with a real live buddy, either via splitscreen or Xbox LIVE. While the AI is also quick about coming to revive you, they're rather slow about helping each other, which means you'll be playing medic a little more often.

Visually, the game looks very good. Not Unreal Engine 3 good, but very good. The environments are extremely detailed (and destructible. Did I already mention that!), the character models fluid, and they very much resemble their '80's counterparts. In fact, the only major graphical con would be the lip syncing, which is generally poor, however the voice acting and dialogue, as previously mentioned provided by the original cast members and writers, is spot on and full of '80's cheese. The sound effects are great, right from the films, and some of the environments you'll traverse are quite eerie. Not scary, mind you, but definitely moody. The music is also pulled right from the first film, but it gets overplayed, which is rather a shame.

Like most shooters on the console market, Ghostbusters: The Video Game relies on an archaic, inferior checkpoint save system, except unlike other games, it never tells you when it checkpoints! This was very frustrating at times, 'cause unless I died I never knew when quitting exactly where I'd start up again. Usually just before a big battle or plot point makes sense, but there were some oddities to the system. For example, I had completed a mission and returned to the Firehouse, quitting and saving for the night. I come back the next day to play, and instead of loading me up at the Firehouse the game drops me right at the beginning of the next mission, forcing me to miss some crucial story information. Fortunately, being based on an '80's franchise, I was able to pick up what was going on quickly but come on! Don't jump me _forward_ when I load a bloody checkpoint! Yet another example of how Quick Save systems are the superior save system. And they've only been used since, what, 1993's Doom?

I also find it rather annoying that some games today, not just Ghostbusters: The Video Game, still ask you to select a Storage Device on starting up the game, and they still prompt you with a notification that Save Data will be overwritten if you continue. Honestly fellas, it's 2009. If I start up the game and have an HDD attached and _only_ an HDD, guess what Storage Device I'm going to use? No really, take a wild, educated guess! I also fail to see why most games don't support multiple Save slots. I mean, if I have 46 GB free, I think I could hold another 500 KB save file. Again, the steps backwards the gaming industry has taken on game saves over the last 5 years hurts my head, and while it's not deal-breaking, it's certainly annoying.

The real question you're asking though is if Ghostbusters: The Video Game is worth your hard earned coin. Well, that's going to depend on you. If you're an '80's kid like me who was obsessed with the franchise, then you will own this game. It's that simple, and Ghostbusters: The Video Game is, without a doubt, the best movie-tie-in game I've ever played. If you aren't into Ghostbusters, I'd recommend a rental first, as the game does get repetitive gameplay wise and while fun, isn't overly innovative. The enemies are challenging and there's enough variety to keep things fresh for the short Campaign, which took me about 9 hours on Experienced (Normal) and there's also some Multiplayer to have fun with, but really, the game's strength is its faithful rendition, re-creation, and continuation of the classic source material, so if you don't have the nostalgia for it, you'll likely enjoy the game less.

Regardless, if you do plan to pick up or rent Ghostbusters: The Video Game, I strongly urge you to watch the previous two films first. You'll get a whole lot more of the inside jokes, and you'll also learn why it's a bad idea to cross the streams.

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