Review: Ghostbusters The Video Game (Xbox) [UPDATE June 15th]

If you’re reading this review, just one in a growing sea of online and print reviews that want to tell you all about the pros and the cons of this game, you’re likely interested in the technical and gameplay details only in passing.

Instead, here is the one sentence review, written with a Proton Charging reader in mind; You are a Ghostbusters fan, and if you are also a gamer, buy this game.

There. Done. It really is that simple. Everything you have read thus far is essentially correct – this is not a long game, though I played through the “experienced” campaign (which is the middle, default difficulty setting – tougher than “casual” and not as tough as “professional”) in about 15 hours. That isn’t an amazing amount of play time, but it’s not the worst we’ve ever seen. Multiplayer and the expected lures to play again (collect every cursed artifact hidden throughout the game, scan every type of ghost, etc.) expand this play length out to the point where you feel like you didn’t spend too much money for too little – and that’s before the Ghostbusters flair of the game.

Also well established is that the amount of fan service in this game is extremely high, though for fear of giving anything away (and thus undermining that extra something the developers lovingly added to the game) I can’t say much. Suffice to say fans will have no lack of stuff to look and laugh at. Even better, the story contains enough raw material to keep a fan fictioner busy for years. And I expect it will. It’s a badly kept, but not heavily promoted secret, that Vigo is in the game. More accurately, he’s in your garage. I feel comfortable talking about this, as it’s hard to count him as a surprise, even without word of him getting out online months prior to release – he’s one of the first things you see in the game. No hunting, no nothing. I spent an hour talking to him. And that’s all I’ll say. It is all at once an incredible, throw-away joke, and an improbable excuse to get Max von Sydow to do voices for a game.

All this content is another excellent reason to replay missions – it’s hard to catch it all in just one go-round.

I cannot, and will not offer any opinion on which is the better system to play it on – I grew up on AM radio and my first MP3 player had 32M of memory. I am the least picky person when it comes to these thing. And honestly, I think at a certain level, it comes down to splitting hairs and brand loyalty.

Part of this uncritical approach means I have a few complaints about some things that have come up in some reviews, and I’d like to address them now.

Engine versus Pre-rendered Cinematics

It goes without saying that pre-rendered cinematics, which is most of what we’ve seen in trailers and exclusive promo video, will look better, a bit more detailed, a tad more polished than cinematics done in-game, but it’s nit-picking to hold this against the quality of the game. The in-game cinematics in Bioshock and Mass Effect were just as puppety as in Ghostbusters, but nobody gave them crap for it. And I even noticed a few places in the pre-rendered videos where lip-syncing wasn’t that hot. But that’s neither here nor there – if you’re looking at the game so hard that the difference pulls you out of the experience, then it’s not an issue with the game’s immersiveness, and more an issue with your willingness to be immersed.

I’ll give you an example – as cute and the movies are, some of the most fun in the game happens mid-mission, and that means in-game cut-scenes. For every one time I noticed a character doing an awkward, pathfinding walk in a scene, there are other times I was surprised to find the devs took the time to add a little something extra. Venkman gives a woman the “once-over” during the game, and instead of just a stiff, head movement, he does most of it with his eyes. Not exactly sophisticated stuff, but rather it shows a subtlety the devs took the time to add wherever they could.

And as a small, related aside, this game, much like the film that spawned it, is creepy. Downright freaky in places. I knew I’d be fighting ghosts and monsters, but I did not expect the handful of F.E.A.R.-esque, sack-shriveling (beg your pardon), scary bits. Do yourself a favour – play the game at night, for that extra little kick.

The Controls Are Hard

Yes, if you’re a big baby. Here’s the thing – if a game involves a first of third person view point where you run a character around and shoot something, 75% or more of the controls will be well established standards, and Ghostbusters is no different.

The sticks handle movement and looking around. The triggers fire the proton pack – right for the primary fire mode and left for the secondary. The D-pad switched equipment. The A button interacts with whatever needs interactive attention – opening a door, taking a drink of water, reviving a downed buster teammate. I’ve just described pretty much every shooter on a console system. The rest of the buttons are then used as best as possible to suit the unique features of the game.

In this case, the spare buttons call up the ecto-goggles, vent the pack when it overheats, throw out traps, and wrangle a ghost. These are new and must be learned, but that’s not the designers fault – the button lay-out actually works pretty well – it’s not an issue of design, but just part of the learning curve we have to undertake for every new game. And it’s not a steep one.

Wrangling the ghosts is perhaps the control aspect that is the least like anything else you may have played. You use the right trigger to shoot ghosts, dropping their energy, and when they get low enough, you use the left bumper to contain them in a proton beam. This does mean players have to decide whether to use the left trigger finger, the left index finger, to do this, or to play with the index on the bumper and the middle finger on the trigger, leaving the two weaker fingers to grip the controller. There is no perfect answer here, as different players will have different preferences depending on how their brain maps fingers to buttons.

And here’s the kicker – only the basic proton pack does this. The other equipment doesn’t use the left bumper. And the only time you want to manually wrangle a ghost is if it’s weak, but not entirely depleted or if it’s a corporeal entity, meaning it doesn’t matter what it’s strength is, you can grab it and slam it around. The rest of the time, the pack will automatically contain a ghost once its power is run down.

You’ll Get Tired of the X

There are two things that can’t be helped in a video game, or at least not easily. The voice acting and the music may be repititious by times. Ghostbusters is no different. But when the voices are the original movie cast and the music is an Elmer Bernstein score, at least you’re not listing to crap.

If I were to pick which I had the most problem with, it would be the generic voice events – not the script, story lines, but the lines used over and over to fill general action. Like the handful of lines each Ghostbuster has when they get hurt or are knocked down, or even just their encouragement to you. You will have heard it all relatively quick, but so…? It happens in games – we’re used to it, and since we’ll never notice to praise it when it doesn’t happen, I’m not in a rush to condemn all the times it does. And really, I could listen to the four actors all day.

The music is a different matter – I have no problem with the repetition of the music in the game, only in a couple of places did the music stick out, and that was when they opted to use a piece of the score that seemed a little out of place. And that could just be personal preference.

If you’re curious about the never-before-heard tracks, it’s as we expected – they are more accurately the never-before-heard-tracks-unless-you-own-the-recent-Ghostbusters-filmscore-album. But what’s been on my iPod for a couple of years now will be a nice treat to 99% of the world, right?

One thing I will say is parts of lines, often Bill Murray, who can trail off into a quiet, bass at times, can conflict with the music – the timing doesn’t work out quite right and the music spikes just as a line goes quiet, meaning you missing a word. Maybe I’m just going deaf – it has been a long life of walkman abuse, but I don’t think so – for me, it became very important to turn on the subtitles in the Options menu. If I couldn’t quite make out what they said, I could still read it. Given how important the dialogue is to a fan, you might want to consider turning the subtitles on yourself.

All that said, I do have a couple of complaints – on experienced, there are a handful of times when you will just have re-do the mission from the last checkpoint, perhaps a lot. But I said “perhaps’ because maybe you can learn from my mistakes.

Once you get the hang of the game, you will become a little cavalier about how you play. The game doesn’t have ammo and when hurt, you can just stay out of trouble and you’ll be okay again in short order. Then you run into part of a mission that expects you to play smart, something you might not have been doing. Dodging suddenly becomes critical, and weapon switching becomes important. Whereas you could ignore targets until later, you’ll find yourself having to leave one type of ghost to the team while you keep yourself and them safe by focusing on another.

For the most part, this isn’t bad design, and I’d be hard pressed to claim that I’m representative of the median player, but even if I’m right only a couple of instances, and a crappy player the rest, there are a couple of places that are officially “bitchy” to play through. When you run into those, rethink what you were trying to do, or more likely, not remembering to do, before you restart the battle.

And skirting the spoiler do-not-cross-line, when you run into “those little stone bastards” do not waste time trying to destroy them, aim them at the gate – you’ll know what that means when the time comes.

Another small issue I have with the game is that it’s a shooter perspective with fast targets and 3D movement. To explain it further – when you play a shooter, most of your targets are right in front of you, and those that are behind you or to the sides of you, aren’t fast – they’re just guys like you, running around with guns. Watch your directional damage indicators, find cover, and away you go.

But when your targets are fast, and they fly, and they can move through things, well, you’re going to take a lot of surprise hits. I lost count the number of times something came up behind me, where I could not see, and nailed me. I think PC players that use the mouse will have less problems, as they can adjust the turn sensitivity of the mouse controller… actually, having written that, I wonder if you can set that in the controls here. I will have to check. But suffice to say, the default is typical for a console shooter, which is to say at a speed that makes targeting possible, but not quick enough to allow you to look behind you quickly. You get used to it – the designers added the Ghotbuster team as audio feedback for you, telling you were you should be looking. But even then, they’re not always the quickest. There were a lot of times I’d look behind me, as Egon said, only to have the ghost whip past me and I’d have to turn around again. And I don’t know that a quick 180 button would have helped. Rather, it might have helped, but it wouldn’t have felt right.

In the end, just learn to dodge and not become fixated on a direction – learn to look around as much as you can, and when it doubt, hit the dodge button to hop quickly to one side.

Finally, one last detail, one so minor, I offer it only as a gamer tip and not a critique of the game – depth perception is tricky in a 2D display, which is a bit annoying when you have to move a wrangled ghost to a trap. The trick is to keep moving around – if the ghost is between you an the trap, and you move backwards, you will realize pretty quick that you’re moving away and you need to move forward. What you do NOT want to do is move the ghost up, stop, and then think to youself “why won’t the trap open? I’m right there!” No, you’re not. The game is not being mean to you – the game runs on math, and you’ve not met the requirements of that math. So, don’t stop, you’re obviously not in the area of activation, even if it looks like it to you.

I will be updating this review, and I will mark it as such in the headline, so watch for that. I’ve yet to play multiplayer, for example. And as I sleep on the game, more things will come to mind, but I think I got the high points. And of course I will be looking at the other versions of the game as soon as I can.

I have no score system, rather I go more by recommendation, and recommending this game is easy. If you’re a gamer, this is a solid, if not mind-blowing game you will likely enjoy. If you’re a Ghostbusters fan, there’s a lot here for you to chew on at a typical game price. And if you’re both, you need this game, so much so that you don’t even care what I’m saying right now… you’re going to buy it anyhow.



It’s tough to make a movie story fit into a game. Movies narratives unfold in certain ways and certain speeds, depending on what the creators want to accomplish. Games obviously are always stopping and starting, and while technically you could put in an hour and a half of cinematic story telling, interspersed with gamesplay action, oddly it wouldn’t work – players would revolt. Gamers do not by games to watch a movie, the buy a game to play a frickin’ game.

So, let me just say Ghostbusters does its best to straddle the two, and it enough to delight a Ghostbusters fan, while not dragging on so long, so as to annoy conventional gamers. Just how much the game plays out like a movie is credited to the handful of times the constraints of game development (time and budget) left a small hole that I notice because I expected it to be filled… like it would be in a movie.

A simple example – VERY MINOR SPOILER – we’ve all seen the rooftop fight with Stay-puft, or at least, it’s the one part of the game we saw the earliest and the most. How you get there is that you stumble and fall during a cut-scene, and Ray catches you, and “since you’re down there anyhow…” says Peter, shoot he bad guy. Simple enough. Only the rooftop is one level. The side of the building is a separate, special level. In a movie we’d see ourselves fall, same as the game, and then we’d see a series of shots establishing that I’m wearing a line, that Ray catches it, that I’m caught, maybe a little distressed, back up to Peter who nonchalantly ignores your near-death and puts you back to work, back to us reacting, probably with a frown – our one favorite expression in the game – and then moving into position to fight.

Only the game can’t do all that – it needs to transition between the two, which takes a moment, and transitioning back and forth is not going to happy, at least not without a lot of effort best spent somewhere else in the game. So, the whole thing plays out with Ray and Peter on the roof, yelling down at us and it’s just take for granted where the rope came from.

And who cares? My point is that this moment exists because the game is bumping right up against movie narrative structure and the narrative limitations of a game. This will happen a few times, but not enough to spoil the game.

The only other comment I can make is that the ending is a big ending, but it plays out pretty quick. I don’t know if that’s because like a lot of end game levels, a lot of blood and sweat is put in to the earlier levels, and the wells is running low by the end of production, or if I genuinely wished for more – which is itself another testament to this game’s story. Perhaps the game will do so well that Atari will pay for some more content, even if it’s only dropping new multiplayer missions, with little tiny stories of a single bust, and the voice acting of one, maybe two busters (which is to say, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson.)

It is probably a bit of both, as the end level wasn’t as hard, I found, as some of the earlier fights I’d previously mentioned. But then, once a player makes it that far, do you really want to punish them to see the end of the story? Probably not.

[UPDATE] Multiplayer

I finally got to play a bit of multiplayer today – apparently most of the preview copies are on the East coast, because I had to hop in early in the day to see any games. Wait to long on the West coast, and there’d be nothing.

Anyhow, the short review is that it is pretty fun and I can see this extending the life of the game a great deal. It is best with friends with headset mics, I will say that. Silent strangers aren’t as much fun.

One surprise – I noticed that someone I was playing with, in the final score tally, got an “new uniform unlocked” icon, which suggests that as you play and increase in rank (he had just gone up a rank as well), you unlock new uniforms to play in. What those uniforms are, and if the exclusive uniforms are included in there somewhere, remains to be seen, but the Best Buy exclusive (of a ghoul head and the Mayor) also suggest that you can unlock other characters to play as, as well (perhaps Peck, etc.) Stay tuned – I’m sure we’ll know inside the week, as everybody starts playing like mad.

I have some clarification on Multiplayer leveling and unlocking;

Basically every two levels you go up, you unlock a new uniform. No word yet on how many that is, but the idea is that the more you play, the more options you get to distinguish yourself from the newbs. Also you get to choose your “specialization” weapon before entering MP campaign, and that weapon will “level up” through money earned. All of this is reset when the campaign is over, so your career money and rank do not differentiate your weapons from others. Which is good – it kind of sucks to be the new kid when everyone else has cool toys. Plus, it would make it impossible for new kids to perform better than established players, and win. And no wins, no ranking, etc. etc. So, smart move on TR’s part.

And the difficulty of a campaign is automatically adjusted according to the career performance of the players, which means it should always be a nice challenge, no matter how much you’ve played.

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