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Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good

June 23, 2009

My feelings about Ghostbusters are well-documented, so I’ll skip the background and jump right in: Ghostbusters: The Video Game has finally been released, and I have played it. There be some spoilers ahead. 

The game features all four of the original GBs reprising their roles, along with Annie Potts and William Atherton reprising Janine and Walter Peck, respectively. MIA are Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. Standing in for Dana Barrett as Venkman’s love interest, we get a new character, Dr. Illyssa Selwyn. 

It’s great to hear the guys again. Aykroyd and Ramis in particular dive right in, totally committing to everything they say. A particular treat is Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore — essentially the token black guy in the first two films, little more than a featured extra in the second one especially, Winston blooms into a funny and engaging character in his own right in the game, matching the banter of the other three blow-for-blow.[1]

A number of reviewers have claimed that Murray’s performance as Venkman “phones it in.” I don’t think this is the case; I think he genuinely gets back into character, and you can hear that he’s enjoying doing so. He lacks some of the energy that characterized Venkman, but I chalk this up to a combination of “Damn Murray, you old!” and the fact that he’s sitting comfortably in a recording studio rather than running around on set. He’s not bored or apathetic to the performance, he’s just not psyched up like he would be if they were shooting it as a film. 

Milano’s performance, on the other hand, is shrill and melodramatic. Sigourney Weaver’s absence is conspicuous and painful, and may become even more pronounced if the rumors are true and she reprises her role in the in-development-for-serious-this-time-guys Ghostbusters 3

As to that, Ghostbusters: The Video Game was designed to serve as the third installment in the story, the one that would have taken place in the 1990s (1991, to be exact) and which we never got. What’s interesting is, aside from a few offhand references to “mood slime,” the slime-blower weapon (which shoots green slime instead of pink and is integrated into your proton pack), and the fact that the Vigo painting resides in the Firehouse, the events of GB2 are irrelevant to this game. Conversely, the events of the original film feature quite prominently, being revisited and in a few cases turned on their heads. If anything, it seems to me that Ghostbusters: The Video Game could easily be seen as a replacement second installment to the storyline. 

The storyline revolves once more around Gozer, and the Sumerian deity’s second attempt to return to our world. The early levels of the game are like playing through the original movie — you trap Slimer in the Hotel Sedgewick, finally capture the librarian ghost that has apparently been Ray’s white whale these past seven years, and blast the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man off the side of a high-rise. 

Aykroyd and Ramis, reprising their writing duties for the project, have found a clever way to tie everything together and justify this repeat of past events. It revolves around a man named Ivo Shandor.

Only briefly mentioned in the original film, as the architect of Dana Barrett’s apartment building/conduit to the dimension in which resides the demigod Gozer (also incorrectly but persistently referred to as the “Zuul Building”), Shandor was the lead worshipper of Gozer in the modern age. Apparently he had a hand in the building and/or renovation of a number of New York landmarks — including the public library.

As we know from the climax of the original film, Gozer seems to get a perverse satisfaction in giving its victims-to-be the option of choosing the form of their destruction. A choice which backfired on both Ray and Gozer when Ray chose Mr. Stay-Puft. As it turns out, Gozer cannot choose another form in a given dimension once a form has been chosen for it. Any time it returns to our world, the form it takes is Mr. Stay-Puft. Gozer’s goal, then, is to use the psychokinetic channeling power of New York City — courtesy of Shandor — to collect enough power to essentially “reset” and take on a new “Destructor form.” And it’s up to the Ghostbusters — the original four plus you, the mute rookie — to stop it before it’s too late. 

Not a bad plot, and I think a worthier follow-up than GB2 was. 

As for the gameplay, the controls and interface are very similar to Gears of War, and extremely easy to pick up. The mechanics of scanning, busting, and trapping ghosts are well thought-out, and consistent with established canon while still expanding on it. I never, ever get tired of turning to see a ghost and watching as the other guys’ proton streams come blazing in from behind me. There’s something magical about it. 

The game has some flaws. There’s no multiplayer campaign — a complaint that can be levied at way too many damn games, IMO, but particularly egregious in Ghostbusters, a game based on a movie the whole appeal of which was its ensemble cast. You have the characters, let us play them!

The graphics and animation in the cutscenes are kind of embarrassing. Sometimes it’s really cartoony, and at others it’s stiff, lifeless, and very “stock mocap.” In-game graphics aren’t terrible, though the characters still do the Half-Life “talking off into space” stare-at-nothing when they’re supposedly talking to you. 

Fanboy nitpicks: 

As mentioned above, the Vigo painting resides in the Ghostbusters Firehouse. You can go speak to it and have it taunt you. But Vigo was banished/destroyed at the end of GB2, and the painting became one of the Ghostbusters and baby Oscar. They were making this game for the uber-nerds. They had to know we’d notice. 

Also, at the climax of the game you confront Ivo Shandor himself, who expresses his disappointment with Gozer’s (now double) failure by saying “I can’t imagine how he ever earned the title ‘the Destroyer’.” But Gozer’s title isn’t “the Destroyer,” as far as Ghostbusters canon goes. The titles attributed to Gozer are: the Gozerian, the Destructor, the Traveler, Volguus Sildrohar, and Lord of the Sebouillia. Shandor built temples to and worshipped Gozer. If anyone should know this stuff backward and forward, it’s him. 

But those are, in the end, nitpicks. In the end, all I wanted to do when I heard about this game was shoot at ghosts with a proton pack and wrestle them into the trap. So as far as my expectations go, the game overdelivers and satisfies my desire to get just one more outing with characters I’ve known my whole life. I’ve missed them and it was good to have them back. 

  1. Apparently, Bill Murray’s only demand in exchange for agreeing to do a third film was that Winston be fleshed out into a complete character equal to the other three. Gotta admire an actor who uses his clout to get a better deal for the other guy.

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  1. Talk about a trip in time!!.
    I remember playing “Ghostbusters” in my Commodore64, and even had to load the game from a tape !!.Good times…
    I am a bit surprise you make no mention of the music (iconic) and sound effects on this one. Any thoughts ??

  2. C64… when a Blue Screen meant your computer was working properly.

    I’m more than excited to play Ghostbuster’s Part 2 (which is what it sounds like rather than GB3). I’m a cheap bastard and gonna wait, though.

    If they do GB3 as a sequel to GB pt 2, I kinda think another Gozer incident might be good as a Gozer trilogy. Whatcha think?

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