For over twenty years Ghostbusters fans have been waiting for a third movie and a defining videogame to revive the fun fright-hunting franchise. Finally, with Ghostbusters: The Video Game, they get both...sort of. You see, Atari's haunting new entry not only puts gamers behind the proton back for some sweet ghoul-wrangling gameplay, but also offers what those involved in the project are considering official canon. And “those involved” include none other than the original fright-chasing foursome—Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson. They all reprise their original roles, and Ramis and Aykroyd even penned the script. Additionally, Annie Potts' sarcastic secretary Janine and William Atherton's bureaucratic a-hole Walter Peck bring their own brand of 80's nostalgia to this fan-pleasing project. Despite Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver passing up an easy paycheck, this game is as Ghostbuster-y as it gets. The result is not only a successful throwback to what made the franchise a money-making smash in the first place, but also one of the best licensed titles I've ever played.
The importance of the original creative team being involved cannot be stressed enough; their participation makes this game tick, adding so much authentic flavor you'd swear you've been zapped back to 1984. The game actually takes place a few years after the events of the second film, so the cast looks as though they did in their specter-slaying heyday. Aside from a few wonky lip syncs and awkward animations—typical of bringing real people to life in an interactive world—the likenesses are spot-on. Even better, the voice work is fantastic; no one can be accused of phoning in their performance for a quick payday. There's tons of great lines and banter between the original four, and Murray's lines, especially, hit the mark often. Early on, he informs the manager of the franchise's famed Sedgewick Hotel that he should have purchased an extended warranty when they first rid the place of Slimer, as their re-haunting coverage has expired. One-time jokes like this capture the fun of the original film, but even the repeated lines—a necessary evil in games—sound entertaining coming from these guys. Hearing “Hey, a little help, here!” every time a generic NPC needed to be revived would get old fast, but backed by Bill Murray's delivery it works no matter how many times you hear it.
Of course, much of the credit goes to Ramis and Aykroyd, who ensured the game's script dripped with the ghostbusting goods. They do a fantastic job of revisiting the films' most iconic moments without ever appearing to milk them. Within the first few hours of gameplay you'll take on Slimer at the Sedgewick, Stay Puft in Times Square and the Gray Lady in the New York Public Library—all events any fan would kill to relive in a current-gen game. But rather than rehashing, the script allows these scenarios to be introduced in a fresh way. Bringing these moments back in a film would never work, as it would certainly appear as a desperate attempt to recapture the 25-year-old magic, but by injecting them into the interactive medium they're allowed to reinvent themselves. Players don the jumpsuit of a nameless new recruit, who the cast refer to as cadet, rookie, junior, hoss, and many other anonymous nicknames. This too, is a brilliant move, allowing fans to be unburdened by the introduction of a new character, and instead enjoy the antics of the original crack cast.
Now, despite this essentially being Ghostbusters 3—and mostly succeeding in driving its original frights-and-fun narrative—this is still a game, so how it plays is more important than how many of Venkman's one-liners register. Thankfully, it usually hits this all-important mark as well. As a third-person-controlled haunt-hunter, players are given access to a variety of neat weapons both from the films and new ones created just for the game. The old standby proton pack is outfitted with the expected ghost-thwarting electrical streams, but you'll also have access to powerful boson darts, a black slime-negating (green) slime gun, a ghoul-slowing stasis beam, and a few others that'll send NYC's haunted populace back to the other side. All gear can be upgraded with money you earn from captures, and quick D-pad selections put your various baddie-blasters at your fingertips.
The gear works great, and switching up strategies to take on different threats is loads of fun. Having to blast black slime off the face of particularly nasty haunt or slowing speedy specters with the stasis beam, before unleashing the proton streams, adds some variety to the typical stun, wrangle, trap formula. The only complaint I'd voice is that some of the longer captures get repetitive; it can take several minutes from the time you find a ghost to the time you actually slam that sucker into the trap, so doing this over and over can get a bit tiresome. Thankfully, some of the smaller ghouls can be squashed without trapping, offering an opportunity to take them out as you would enemies in a typical shooter.
In addition to your spook-slaying arsenal, players are given access to one of Egon's greatest inventions, the ghost-tracking PKE meter; equipping it automatically outfits you with night vision-like goggles, allowing you to see things the human eye can't. You'll often need it to find secrets, objectives, and, of course, slime. It also works as the game's info database, tracking your stats, allowing you to upgrade weapons, and listing your objectives. My only real issue with the PKE is that the game often cues you to equip it at inopportune times, like right before you enter a hallway teeming with pissed of poltergeists. There's also some instances where finding what you need with it is not as intuitive or responsive as it should be. Overall, though, this ghost-finding gadget only helps to immerse you in this wildly creative world.
In addition to offering a solid cast-driven story (although, Alyssa Milano's love interest for Venkman maybe should have been left on the cutting room floor) and fast-paced gameplay, Ghostbusters serves up some amazing set pieces and visual tricks. Whether you're scarring the walls of the NYC public library with your proton stream, turning book golems into confetti, destroying every last plate, glass, chair, table and chandelier in the Sedgewick's ballroom, or just giving Stay Puft a boson dart makeover, the effects will continually impress. Epic battles that could have easily been restricted to a single area are nicely stretched to maximize the impressive visuals; for example, you'll begin chasing the menacing marshmallow man through a realistically rendered Time's Square, but eventually face-off against him as you dangle from a skyscraper. But in between these eye candy-coated bookends you'll steal glimpses of his big puffy face through cracked concrete and windows in the building you've taken refuge in. Moments like this easily could have been reserved to pack an end-of-game punch, but Ghostbutsers throws this stuff at you from top to bottom.
It can't be stressed enough how much fans of this franchise will adore this game. Hell, they could probably just spend hours exploring the firehouse and ogling the Ecto-1. And once they've saved New York in the solo game they can jump into co-op and multiplayer modes for additional ghost-hunting action. There's lots of quality content here, but what'll really resonate is the authenticity of this experience. As a third-person action game I'd rank Ghostbusters as above average, but as an interactive event that captures the spirit (pun totally intended) of the franchise, I'd say it's out of this world.