HIGH It feels exactly like playing a never-released Ghostbusters movie.
LOW Bill Murray has a few good lines, but mostly phones in his performance.
WTF The last level is the weakest, most trite in the entire game.
Games based on film and TV properties are generally so bad that it's cliché to even talk about how bad they are. The number of disasters-on-a-disc released to coincide with other types of media is so long that it's not even worth attempting to guess how many there are—but there are a lot. As a critic who's been playing games for over two decades, following the rule "if it's licensed, skip it" has served me very well. Until now, that is. Flying in the face of the expected outcome, I'm quite glad to say that Ghostbusters: The Video Game isn't just an excellent licensed game; it's an excellent game overall.
Although the property's two films and cartoon series were most popular in the '80s, the Ghostbusters name and iconic anti-spook symbol have an incredibly high Q-rating. In fact, a person could take a copy of the DVD pretty much anywhere around the world and the odds are good that someone in Namibia or Uzbekistan would recognize it. Given the subject's enduring popularity, fans have been clamoring for years for another installment, but it's been stated several times that making another movie just wouldn't be feasible. However, with heavy involvement from Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd (the film's writers and two of the core performers) Ghostbusters: The Video Game is positioned as the official sequel to the series, and it's a brilliant move.
Basing its third-person, action-oriented play solidly on the foundation laid by the original Ghostbusters, the game largely ignores the lackluster second film and places the player in the role of a new rookie who's just joined up with the seasoned 'busters: Peter (Bill Murray), Winston (Ernie Hudson), Ray (Aykroyd) and Egon (Ramis.) I mention the actors specifically since they all reprise their screen roles and deliver huge amounts of voice work.
Progressing through the game's specter-infested locations, it's extremely rare that the player will find themselves alone for more than a moment or two. Thanks to the chatty companions, the plentiful dialogue effectively re-creates the camaraderie and team dynamic from the movies. Rather than the player going solo or spearheading progress with mute NPCs trailing behind, Terminal Reality did an exceptionally brilliant thing in honoring the ensemble nature of the source material, and it's a huge reason why Ghostbusters: The Video Game stands out from the crowd.
Reverence for the films aside, the gameplay itself is extremely smooth and enjoyable. Capturing apparitions by blasting them with high-energy proton beams and then sucking them into portable traps is elegant and easy to understand. For players who like a little variety, Terminal Reality has added different functions to the ghost-trapping equipment (a shotgun-type blast, a sticky slime-tether, etc.) to keep things from feeling stale, and the level designs are mindful of keeping the pace moving by maintaining the balance between rapidly blasting small imps out of existence and wrangling larger phantoms into traps.
In fact, it's actually not until the final level that things start to feel even a bit stale. Thankfully, the painfully unimaginative ending section set in a (yawn) cemetery with locked gates is brief, and the game manages to end on a high note before ruining the goodwill built up beforehand. A rare example of focused design and clear vision, it's fair to say that Ghostbusters avoids getting bogged down or tripped up by ill-fitting adds or choices that don't fit.
With extremely solid production values, loads of personality, smartly straightforward design and tons of connections to existing canon, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is well-equipped to please longtime ‘buster fans and newcomers alike. This in itself is no small feat, but when held up against the hundreds of failed license-based games that came before it, its achievements are all the more impressive. My hat is off to Terminal Reality... they may have just created the best movie game of all time.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately seven hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one time. No time was spent in the multiplayer mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, and Mild Language. Although there are a few brief instances of vaguely questionable language, the game is basically safe for the most part, although it's pretty clear to see that the subject matter is aimed at players in their teen years and older. Most of the humor will be missed by the younger ones and it can be a wee bit frightening in some of the darker levels. This is one case where parental guidance would be a good idea.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You shouldn't have any major problems. The copious amounts of dialogue are all accompanied by text, although it should be noted that there are certain times when some sound cues occurred that are not represented visually on-screen. However, these omissions don't present any significant difficulties to the action-oriented play. Given the strong visual presentation in general, I'd say that this one is just fine for players with hearing disabilities.