From original developer Terminal Reality and for the remastered release by Saber Interactive, Ghostbusters The Video Game is the spiritual ‘third film’ in the franchise bringing together the series original cast almost in its entirety and finally in the digital era bringing a measure of closure and conclusion for those demanding another entry in the series. Casting the player as a recruit and rookie to New York’s most famous paranormal investigators, you can finally find solace and satisfaction in walking beside your childhood heroes, witnessing the comedy and comradery as you face off against a plethora of demons and spirits including Slimer, the Stay Puft marshmallow man, the library spector and even the haunted painting of Vigo. Remastered for the current generation, and with the release of Afterlife in the coming year a chance to return to the world of the supernatural in New York’s Manhattan district and finally put to rest the menace of Gozer once and for all.
Licensed games adapted from existing media have a tendency to veer towards the catastrophic, from thee abysmal Enter the Matrix to the bug riddled mess that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, a template for success ripped down, stamped upon and released in as an unfinished disaster. Unfortunately those that break this trend are inevitably the exception, but the temptation to pursue this strategy and the opportunity to target towards two different audiences, the film and gaming base despite overlap in these two markets gives potential for a profitable return. In recent years, a handful of titles have bucked this trend, created and designed to reflect the aesthetic and spirit of the source material. Arguably, perhaps, you can push further back into the annals of gaming’s past with the release of Goldeneye on the N64 proving to be a seminal title on that format, and during the last generation of hardware, on the divide Alien Isolation and here, Ghostbusters, tweaked in its performance and visualizations despite its remaster status, a testament to the energy and creative focus of the original movies. Dan Aykroyd is oft quoted as the game, up until development of Ghostbusters Afterlife, being the spiritual ‘third’ film in the series given the issues in developing any form of sequel to Ghostbusters 2. Equally, it must be said, it does suffer from many of the same production cost issues and foibles as its onscreen counterparts.
In bringing Ghostbusters back to the forefront of both the gamers and a cinematic universe domain, it does raise the contention, is the property still relevant to a modern sensibility. An issue in itself raised in the second film, and a broader subject highlighted in recent years in cinematic culture of a wider society having tolerances to the practises of these larger than life characters and behaviours. The game captures eloquently the tone and environment of New York City at Thanksgiving in the early 1990s, two years after the release of the second film, a period that a great many of its original audience will wax lyrically towards perhaps but does it gain traction or hold relevance to new gamers experiencing this period of casual chauvinism through one of its central characters and authoritative disobedience remains to be seen. From a subjective standpoint, the central themes and setting of a title such as Alien Isolation avoided many of these issues principally by the use of silence being a key driving factor in your survival. Ghostbusters always felt like a title skirting controversy, unsurprising given its origins in the Saturday Night Live comedy sect, does that translate and hold relevance to an audience today is the main contention.
The game casts you as the rookie, both in purpose and in name and new addition to The Ghostbusters. I appreciated this mechanic as it manages to avoid one of the frustrations of modern gaming in the opening introductory levels when introducing you to the various dynamics and weapons at your disposal. Your instructions and directions are delivered through dialogue with minimal signposting, often resulting in missed directional marks or objectives though with a little exploration and perseverance There was a welcome nostalgia in being guided through the opening moments by the voice of Dan Aykroyd as he takes you through the steps of being a Ghostbuster and the exhilaration of capturing your first spook in the basement of the firehouse was a real treat. From there, the game takes you on a tour through the highlights of the cinematic franchise, returning to the Sedgewick Hotel on multiple occasions, the New York public library and the streets of Manhattan before venturing into new locations which personally felt like a welcome distraction from an overwhelming sense of over familiarity with many of the locations featured. The game is comprised of seven chapters, with multiple stages and conflicts expanding the title though you do begin to notice a certain level of repetition in asset usage and level design which was unfortunate, it felt like a title with a lot of threads to pull on but charting its course with bluster and circumstance to its eventual destination.
One of the main issues I always felt with the first movie was the sense a lot of ideas were thrown together before the final product emerged with no clear semblance of a cohesive movie, through subsequent interviews you do realise Aykroyd had at least through familial history, substantial knowledge in this area. However, certainly I came away no clearer on who or for what purpose the key master or the gatekeeper for instance served other than to further the narrative. The game, absent of time constraint had the potential to explore and expand on some of these areas and though admittedly, tonally that didn’t fit perhaps with the experience of The Ghostbusters, it was refreshing to see the series actually try to present a coherent narrative structure. There are of course a number of small nods and connections made to the movie series however it attempts to bring these together in a meaningful way which was welcome given the somewhat disjointed and unconnected paths of the two movies. It worked to serve the nostalgic aspect of the experience, how could it not with the returning central cast of characters with the exception of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett which whilst not critical to the central plot did feel like a missed opportunity given the importance placed upon her in the cinematic franchise. Equally, by expanding into new locations it allowed the series room to breath and expand some of the mythology, the key events in the library open up a new aspect that was reportedly the direction of the third movie in addition to an island location which was a fun unique challenge. A nice use of familiarity and exploration.
Looks The Part
The game captures the look and feel of The Ghostbusters franchise with merit, with the voice talent of the original cast it does feel and sound like you are working with your childhood heroes. Objectively perhaps you could argue or find fault with no real personal growth or personality of your central protagonist but really your enjoyment will come through hearing the dialogue and discussion between the four main team members not scripted exposition for you to provide. Equally, at various points this played for comedic effect with your character left in stunned silence at the events around him, tonally whether this fits with the comedic nature and heritage of the main cast and their depiction in the series is debatable however as mentioned, I paid my money to hear the main cast members joke amongst and against each other, that’s where the game shined for me. There is a certain level of disconnect from the aged nature of the actors to their onscreen appearance, the game is set only two years after the events of the sequel film, the recording over a decade later. As such, despite their youthful appearance they do sound noticeably older and you can be forgiven for sense of dissonance this causes.
The game has a perplexing issue with music, from a nostalgic perspective it benefits immensely from the original score permeating the entirety of the campaign, the familiar beats work perfectly without ever feeling cyclical or overused. The emotional theme for instance when Venkman rescues the damsel in distress contrasting to the ethereal beats when the team enter the vaults of the city library. I enjoyed that aspect of the game as the musical score was very much part of the fabric of the film, though the game does seem to focus primarily on the score from the first film and the more triumphant themes from the second are absent. In addition absence of licensed music was a noticeable admission for me. Both films used tracks in varying degrees of success, but they were ever present and with the exception of a very curtailed version of the main theme which stuck out badly there was no licensed music at all. This does have a real world cost in licensing issues and rights, however used effectively they add a deep level of resonance to the experience, any entry in the GTA series from Vice City onwards used music effectively to capture the time and setting. I wasn’t expecting the greatest hits of the 90’s but I did enjoy the use of Savin’ The Day by The Alessi Brothers or On Our Own by Bobby Brown in the movies. If there was a financial choice between hiring the cast and paying royalties for tracks, I can see the choice, but it did feel like a missed opportunity.
Graphically, the games biggest issue is the cross generational nature of the title and how certain scenes have been optimised to some extent whilst others have used original cut scenes from the release on the last generation. It creates a very obvious distinctive clash of quality that for whatever reason was not resolved or fixed. In addition, besides graphical glitches and broken scenery blocking progression, on occasion the visual side disappeared entirely, as I vanquished the final ghost the video file disappeared entirely and I was left with the audio of the experience. What was interesting to note each cut scene was available to view as part of the extras, a suspicious mind might wonder whether this was intentional with the known issues affecting video playback. As the majority of exposition was delivered through on-screen dialogue there are moments where the lip sync doesn’t quite work though you do have to be looking towards the characters to notice this and largely I was more focused on the ghosts around me. Meant with the best of intentions, Ghostbusters as a franchise never felt like a mastery of the visual arts, as such, the various issues do feel as ‘part’ of this series, its just a shame where with the story they could expand upon the chaotic nature of the narrative, here it felt rushed and uncared for.
It made me feel good
There’s a certain charm and fascination through games such as these, dipping your toe in the pool of nostalgia and the familiarity that imbues the experience. They speak to the aspect of our character that longs to recapture that first moment of exhilaration with these individuals, hearing their voices, those musical moments and the visual spectacle of unleashing the proton pack on a ghost was a welcome treat. Equally however that familiarity and goodwill is fleeting and you do come to notice certain shortcomings and issues that perhaps were charming or commonplace that today doesn’t sit quite right. I’ll always attempt to hold and debate literature and media to the standards of the day they were created and produced, part of the so called cancel culture in recent years is this idiotic approach of interpreting old material through the prism of current discourse and sensibilities. There is no great transgression to the best of my knowledge depicted in the narrative, only a very minimally developed original secondary character that is used as a framing hook for the basis of the narrative structure, captured and rescued by the team like the cliched woman in distress she is. Whether that’s a fair assessment or not, you never really felt that way towards Dana in the two movies, and given the expanded runtime and potential for development a missed opportunity.
That said, the game captures the world of The Ghostbusters to the same level of authenticity and spirit as Alien Isolation or Goldeneye 007, an accomplishment in itself bringing the original cast of characters back to the recording studio where protracted development cycles in the film industry failed to do so. With the loss of Harold Ramis, this does feel in retrospect like the true third entry in the series and was one of the rare example of a studio producing a title that worked to complement and continue the legacy of the film franchise it was based upon. Is it perfect? no, and some of the graphical issues are difficult to accept in a title released on this generation of consoles where in its title it uses the remastered adjective. Differing video formats, an absence of licensed tracks and broken gaming physics makes this a game that is difficult to love and champion as the epitome of licensed gaming, taken on its merits solely as a video game you do have to wonder whether this was more than a cynical cash grab on the part of the studio using the nostalgia from fans with the announcement and release of the upcoming film. For me, Ghostbusters was never a perfect film, it always felt a little rough around the edges and somewhat stitched together to create a functional, memorable movie of the ages. We might not remember this game with the same level of enthusiasm and appreciation but in that regard, it captures the spirit of The Ghostbusters perfectly.
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