As gamers we may often lament the presence of film properties in games (or when games are made into movies), but it is less commonly the case where games are used as a storyline succession for a movie franchise. The 2009 release of Ghostbusters: The Video Game is the lesser known direct sequel of the stories told during the 1980s. Though it follows the same story and happens after Ghostbusters 2, it is primarily a sequel to the original focusing on Ivo Shandor, Gozer, and the concept of supernatural architecture.
As a game in the sense that we know it, Ghostbusters is a third person shooter with a meta game of purchasing upgrades, tagging monsters, and seeking artifacts which are added to a visible collection back at the Ghostbusters’ HQ. The game controls fairly clunky at times with the keyboard and mouse which can be off putting at first, but I grew to accept it as the environments never require precise input. Combat consists of wearing down tough opponents and then pulling them into the stream of your ghost trap. Outside of that, on occasion the enemy has simple health, or is sustained by an object you will have to isolate from a mass of objects to defeat it. Combine that with a mechanic of resistances and weaknesses and you get enough variety to prevent monotony, but nothing any experienced gamer would consider complex.
The fighting is only part of it though, and for me the real meat came out of the cursed artifact searching. Often the game will require you equip your PKE Scanner to progress, but I used it far more often in a hunt for the artifacts. The key change to the PKE Scanner is that it is used in the first person, with goggles on. Suddenly this supernatural comedy action game has a bit more tension as your field of view is tightened; dividing your attention between what the scanner shows and what is down range from your character. This in addition to the sounds of the scanner and the film grain effect adds a natural tension to the game world. You see, the scanning is not a mini-game within the normal level, you are just as vulnerable to attacks in this state, nothing pauses for you. Artifacts have a presence greater than cash value in that they contain lore, and that is the heart of this game sequel to a beloved movie franchise.
The lore is whimsical and rich, painting a picture of a world not unlike ours, but where the divide between the supernatural and the natural is thin, and at times, transparent. Many mundane objects are brimming with energy ready to be discovered, and have a storied past: some of it sinister, some of it silly, all of it entertaining. Many of these items and their stories act as flavor surrounding the overarching storyline of mad architects and ancient Sumerian gods. So who are you to be collecting all of these oddities? You are the new recruit, literally unnamed, which sidesteps ever having the awkwardness of portraying one of the original Ghostbusters, along with the issue of never speaking up. Being a separate character from the Ghostbusters enables an experience akin to the movies, as you watch them move through the environments making their own brand of commentary, which is still pretty good. ″Champ″, ″kid″, ″new guy″, ″recruit″ and other such honorary titles are your calling card from mission to mission which enables a better projection of yourself onto the character, though that might be hampered by the third person view unless you are an average height light-brown haired Caucasian twenty something guy who may or may not be mute.
That mute aspect is for the best though as the dialog between the Ghostbusters is still just as good as before, other than some repetitious battle chatter (″They felt that one back in Pittsburgh!″) that could have been better regulated by the developers. The characters are very much still there as you know them: Ray’s optimism and curiosity, Egon’s stoic intrigue and sardonic commentary, Winston’s practical common sense and even tempered take on the situation, and of course Venkman’s womanizing and distinct lack of enthusiasm for any task. As the new recruit, you primarily function as a hired gun against the experience and expertise of the other members of the team, there is little decision making on your part, but a fair bit of exploration from time to time. The new guy role serves as an excellent framework to the use of tutorials, it makes sense why Ray or Egon would want to explain things to you and lead by example early on. As the game goes deeper, they expect more of you meaning you are on your own in more battles, and left alone for greater periods of time to search for clues.
Ghostbusters is a very linear game with the aforementioned exploration occurring only within discrete (but sometimes large) areas, usually for the sake of artifacts. I loathe linearity as it seems a refutation of the virtue of games – individual choice. The argument for linearity is how much it facilitates a great story, and Ghostbusters’ story isn’t simply great, it is fun. The story is better than any story which is typically considered ″great″ in games because it isn’t a one trick pony; it is not reliant on any reveal. Its foundation lays squarely on the characters and the world they inhabit. I said earlier that the characters return in true form, but it was not fully emphasized. You are living a moment of life with the Ghostbusters, not simply observing them, and for that the linearity is almost a worthy tradeoff. This quality and structure also goes great lengths for explaining the lack of player agency. You do not call the shots, you are playing someone who doesn’t have the experience.
You are a guest in their world: their linear world for the sake of the story. What does this mean for replayability? In a sense it almost damns it. If you are anything like me, you will revisit favorite levels as there are several memorable locations to find the artifacts which eluded you during the first play through. This time though, you know the story, yet still are inhabiting it and the experience goes from being one of the Ghostbusters to remembering that time you were one of them. The game transitions from an experience to a memory, a faded photograph, or an old dream that might come to mind and just like that it is reminiscence rather than replaying. For that, I almost wish I hadn’t played it – but it was great being one of the guys and seeing them in their prime one last time.
“In Case You Missed It” is a new retrospective series from TPG where we offer our thoughts on PC titles released within the last 5 years. Consider this a conversation piece as opposed to an official review.