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Notification of How Busting Makes Me Feel

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ghostbusters_XBOX_360_OWP_v4.5.inddThe Ghostbusters game came out a couple of weeks ago a month ago I’m lazy.  You all knew it was coming.  And you knew I’d be all over it.  So I have to assume you’ve been waiting to find out what I think.  Those infinitudes of reviews out there mean nothing; it’s my opinion and mine alone that matters.  On this, I am sole arbiter of taste.

I’ve seen the first Ghostbusters movie more times than I’ve seen my mother.  I wrote my first highschool essay on the subtextual differences between it and Ghostbusters 2.  My prized souvenir from my trip to Japan is a skwooshy little Mr. Stay Puft.  And it still burns me today that my glow-in-the-dark peace sign/2 ghost logo T-shirt disappeared sometime in grade 7.  So I’m qualified to judge.

The verdict is: Not guilty!  Of being not as good as we’d hoped.

Now you can either decipher what I just said, or read on.

There’ve been a fair handful of Ghostbusters games put out over the years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever actually disliked one.  The C64 game is a classic; I pretended to want to hang out with people so I could play their copy.  I had a bitchin’-hard Ghostbusters 2 game for my Amiga 500; its graphics were so amazing I would’ve loved to have gotten past the second level.  I loved the critically-obliterated NES Ghostbusters 2, also bitchin’-hard.  And there was that Genesis game that was just repurposed from a freaky Japanese game; I dug it, too.


Perhaps I’m an easy sell.  But I also have enough fanboy expertize to tell what’s authentic and what isn’t.  Those old games were fun, but they were never really Ghostbusters.  They were just whatever old style of game the programmers could put together, hidden in a shiny lacquer of Ghostbusters paint.

But this, this is Ghostbusters.

Not just because they’ve got the voices, though that’s certainly a big part — they’ve included everything in the Xbox 360 version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game that makes the movies (especially the first one) what they are, and they’ve done them really well.  Well, okay not everything is really well.  Some things are just, well, well.

Really Well

The Look: Damn if they didn’t nail the visuals.  All the equipment, the jumpsuits, the car, the locations — perfect.  Wandering the firehouse feels great.  The tool effects are beautiful; proton stream are exactly right, and the way they destroy the scenery is a delight; slime blowers are sloppy and gross.  The large variety of ghosts in the game look pretty cool, too.


The Rookie: The early announcement that you’d be playing the game as a new “fifth” Ghostbuster did not sit well with me.  I wanted to be one of the four, as did we all.  We were all wrong (especially the rest of you), because standing back as a voiceless avatar, being bossed around by the real Ghostbusters feels better than being Venkman could.  I am not Venkman, not since Halloween ’81 ’91.  But I am a nobody, and that perspective is just right for the humour: it’s great to be the butt of their jokes, to be the real Ghostbusters’ whipping boy and guinea pig.  We get some nice variety, too: sometimes you wander levels with all four Ghostbusters, sometimes you’re on your own, and sometimes it’s mix-and-match.  You get exactly the right amount of each of them, never too much.

The Voices: The big fear from the early clips was that Bill Murray would be sleepwalking his way through this one.  And while he seems the least invested of the four, it’s not by much, and those other three are bringing it all.  Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and perhaps Ernie Hudson the most, are clearly 100% into their voice work here, and Murray is probably in the mid-90s.  It’s great to hear them, and Annie Potts does right by Janine.  The weak link of the original team here is William Atherton as Walter Peck — but that may not be his fault entirely, as his character isn’t necessary to this game at all.  (And no, Louis and Dana are not in here, though they aren’t forgotten either.  Well, not completely forgotten.)


The Dialogue: For the most part, everything those voices are saying is vintage Ghostbusters.  The friendly banter, the technobabble, the throwaways, the enthusiasm — Aykroyd and Ramis tapped right back into their mid-1980s minds when they wrote these lines.  And it’s a lot of lines; a ten-hour video game will contain a lot more dialogue than a pair of two-hour movies.  Twenty years later, we’re hearing more Ghostbustersly talk here than we ever have before, and it feels like it could’ve been taken from late-80s deleted scenes.

The Bustin’: The Proton Pak handles so, so right.  They’ve changed things a little bit, adding to the films’ instant-capture concept the requirement to wear down ghosts with a normal stream before you can wrangle them with a capture stream, but that is fine.  It’s a fun mechanic, trying to keep your stream on a wily spirit, ending up causing thousands of dollars in damage in the process.  Finally grabbing hold of it, whipping it into wall, ceiling and floor as you maneuver it over and into the trap.  And the three other weapons — slime blower plus two new ones — are useful and fun in their own rights.

Fairly Well

The Humour: It’s not Ghostbusters 1, but were any of us expecting that?  Is that even possible?  It is funny, however, and it’s the right kind of funny.  The films have their bit of setup-punchline, but the humour we all remember are the offhand lines (mostly from Venkman, but everyone gets their respectful moments), and that’s the kind of wit we get here.  The elements may not be in exactly the same proportion — the films are comedies with action/scifi/fantasy, the game has that balance reversed — but that’s just an inevitable part of the genre of game.  It’s not out-of-the-park home run funny, it’s not as funny as Sam & Max or Portal, but it’s more than adequate funny.


The Music: On the plus side, they’ve taken Elmer Bernstein’s music right from the first movie and plugged it in throughout the game.  On the negative side, they didn’t use any of the non-Bernstein music from Ghostbusters 2, and they didn’t seem to compose much new music themselves.  It gets repetitive, the more dramatic songs especially are way overused, and there are definitely some spots where a particular choice wasn’t right.

Just Well

The Plot: It leans a bit too hard on the Gozer story from the first movie.  Part of that’s practical — they needed get the Marshmallow Man in there somehow.  And it’s cool to get back to the Sedgewick Hotel and the library.  Ultimately though, that’s the problem: so much of the story was obviously designed to give us the nostalgic cool, that there’s a lack of the fresh cool.  The new ideas here are decent and fine, but they haven’t really added anything to Ghostbusters lore.  Plus, if you’re gonna go back into the movies, can I please get some Scoleri Brothers love?

Apparently their electric chairs died, too.

Not-So Well

The Girl: Fine, for whatever reason, you’re not using Dana Barrett as the girl.  Maybe it’s a plot decision, maybe it’s because Sigourney Weaver didn’t want to do it.  No problem; it’s not the end of the world that she’s not here.  But I really don’t want to see Pete Venkman having a real romance arc with some other chick — flirting, of course; copping a random feel, I guess.  But I don’t want the story to end with him rescuing and then kissing anyone but Dana.  And to hop back to music for a second, some museum chick voiced by Alyssa Milano definitely does not deserve to have “Dana’s Theme” played to introduce her.

07-wiicoverWii Well

There’s also a Wii version, which I’m only about half way through.  It follows the same basic plot as the 360 game, though very abridged — some levels are smaller, others gone completely, and lots of lines cut.  The graphics have been cartoonified and the backgrounds greatly simplified.  What it adds is motion-controlled busting: you aim your own proton wand, hold your stream on the ghosts until they’re weak, then physically whip them into the furniture.  It’s good fun, if a bit sloppy, and the overall experience feels closer to the C64 game than the movies; it’s a pleasing little toy for the Ghostbusters fan, but it doesn’t for a second feel like the real thing the way its big brother does.

Ends Well

One of the running gags of the videogame world is that adaptations of movies always suck (similar to the old and disproved movie one about bad sequels).  There’s some truth to it, since movie tie-in games tend to be pumped out to meet the film’s release date, and the majority of them have about as much care put into them as the tie-in pencilcases and pajama pants.  Even those that try to do something decent with their games tend to fail, whether it be from limited time, a scope constrained to the property, or just from starting a creative work from an outside idea, rather than internal inspiration.  Here we have a game that completely defies the stereotype, good in all the ways you’d hope.  It’s not a classic, best-game-ever type game, but as adaptations go, it’s top quality.  It’s good enough and authentic enough that serious Ghostbusters fans who don’t play videogames might want to, at the very least, look into renting a 360 and the game for a week.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, August 19, 2009 10:38 am

    Well, we’ve been friends for a long time, so let’s hope you won’t get too suspicious when I show up at your apartment only to play your Ghostbusters videogame.

    Though, knowing me and my videogame-challenged-ness, it’ll probably take me a good few hours just to learn how to use the console. Do they still even call them consoles? I better get practising on my joystick.

    That joke was probably lame even in the 80s…

    I’m also amazed that you had the foreknowledge and coolability factor to be a ghostbuster for Halloween 3 years before the movie came out! How come you haven’t turned this gift for predicting the future into some sort of profitable enterprise? I’m only saying…

  2. Tuesday, August 25, 2009 10:45 am

    The C64 game was made by Activision, and there was also a version of it for the Master System — that was my favourite too. You know, GB would make a very good sandbox type, I think.

    Can’t wait to play this one though. I wonder if I could easily rent a 360 and get a copy of it in English here.

  3. Sunday, September 27, 2009 11:04 pm

    Why do ghosts only get busted in NYC? Why can’t the Greater Toronto Area get rid of their blasted Spectres? Instead they set up their own neighborhoods filled with creaky below code houses and heavy ghoul on ghoul crime, taking jobs that rightly belong to the living. Sure, I dig the haunted restaurants, but somebody ought to do something. Strike back, you know, set up a committee…

  4. Sunday, September 27, 2009 11:37 pm

    Our universal health care system means nobody ever dies up here.

    But actually, the game speaks of franchise opportunities. Perhaps it’s time you stopped just talking about the weather …

  5. Sunday, March 28, 2010 10:01 am

    Just picked this up and have been at it for about an hour. As I predicted way back when the first demos were shown, I absolutely HATE the camera interface, the whole ‘at the back of the person the whole time’ thing. I hate that the whole screen jerks around whenever I’m trying to aim at something. Or when I’m trying to back up and shoot at the same time. It’s really annoying.

    I know you’ll probably say I’ll get used to it, but I really think they could have made it so that the right stick aims the proton pack, but the view itself doesn’t change with it.

  6. Tuesday, August 3, 2010 5:20 am

    Forgot to mention that I’ve finished this game now, and I basically agree with everything you say in the post. I did end up getting used to the camera, obviously, though I still think it could have been done better (but maybe that’s a thing about FPSs in general). In a while I’ll go back and try to beat it on Professional mode.

    The online multi-player is better than I thought it would be . . . would be nice to play through it with some friends, though . . . Playstation Network is free . . .

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