Monday, February 2, 2015

VGR Ghostbusters The Video Game (Realistic Versions)

In anticipation to that recently-confirmed new Ghostbusters movie - whatever it is Sony Picture's doing with it - here's a review of "Ghostbusters The Video Game"!

This is the closest we're ever going to an actual Ghostbusters III!

VGR: Ghostbusters: The Video Game also known as simply Ghostbusters (2006)
From Terminal Reality (PC/PS3/Xbox)/Red Fly Studio (Wii)/War Drum Studios (PS2)/Zen Studios (DS)/Threewave Software (Multiplayer)/Sierra/Atari/Columbia Pictures
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3, PC, Wii, PS2, PSP and Nintendo DS
Type Third-person shooter/story-driven action game
Year 2009

Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Have you experienced feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or any of your family ever seen a spook, specter or ghost? If the answer is yes then don't wait another minute, pick up the phone and call the professionals...

Ghostbusters: The Video Game is one pretty particular game.

Long stuck in development - just like the would be-third Ghostbusters film - and then declined into several unique separate versions.

After huge delays, going through various publishers and development cycles, the project evolved a lot behind the scenes and even changed hands during production. But after some delays the game finally released on time for the series' 25th Anniversary when it would finally found home at publisher Atari (strangely only through Sony for the Playstations version in Europe only, probably due to some licensing issues between the branches of Sony Picture and Columbia Pictures no doubt).

The game originally started development at this Slovenian developer ZootFly. They had been working on a Ghostbusters-inspired game since at least 2006, and had even been showing a lot of test footage on youtube, what appeared to be a much more action-oriented shooter. But it turns out they hadn't actually secured the rights to use the license from Sony! That is when Sierra and Terminal Reality decided to bring the possibility of a Ghostbusters game to Sony in 2007. If  anything you gotta recognize ZootFly helped Terminal Reality sell the concept. An interest for the series was certainly still out there and the executives quickly saw that. (For the little story, ZootFly continued working on different games, and they were even able to turn their Ghostbusters game into a separate title TimeO, which is still in development at this time.)

Terminal Reality decide to use the PS3 as the lead system (since the film was a Sony/Columbia motion picture). For a first test to impress the investors, they created this huge Thanksgiving Day parade level showing off how things would work (using a great crowd-system, sadly this and several other movie-influenced stages ended up actually cut from the final game). But they ran into some trouble when Sierra was folded into Vivendi Universal, which stopped the development of the game. And then Activision acquired most of Vivendi Universal's studios, proprieties and games in development, but for some reason this Ghostbusters game was nowhere to be found. Fan were afraid it might have been completely shelved... Thankfully this was a huge Hollywood propriety and some producers were surely going to keep this project alive and keeping. Finally in 2008 Infogrames announced Atari would be the sole publisher of the game! (Infogrames was the owner of Atari by that time, since then they are somehow now defunct and merged back with Atari - such a long and confusing backstory for the game I just wanted to get out here.)

This is far from the first Ghostbusters videogame, there's been several titles over the year, most infamously bad but there's also been a couple of genuinely pretty good games.

Several versions of the game were developed separately, all based on the principal version of the game, each ported to a few different set of systems. I hadn't seen something on such a scale since the good ol' days of the 8/16-bit era personally. The main game going for a more photo-realistic aesthetic while all the others used a more stylized cartoon style. Terminal Reality developed the main "Realistic version" for PS3 which was ported on Xbox 360 and PC. Red Fly Studio were responsible for the Wii version, the "Stylized version", itself ported to PSP and PS2. And finally there was one last version of the game by Zen Studios developed exclusively for the Nintendo DS, a third altogether different version using the same stylized look. Each version its own different experience, with the principal title described as a "Gears of War Light". 

Until they were sadly recently closed down in 2013, Terminal Reality has always been known to develop their own technology and engine for their games. And this Ghostbusters videogame is no different. The game runs on their own proprietary Infernal Engine, an easy-to-use cross-platform engine made to help build games from the ground up, taking care of the rendering/physics and AI. All which comes to play greatly in this Ghostbusters game. It was mostly created to work with a complex collision dynamic system, allowing to play with environments and objects physics (which is put to great use in this game).

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Where the game mostly impressed at the time was in the fact they were able to buy some credibility by getting the original creators on board. Following all the trouble Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had been getting into launching a proposed Ghostbusters III sequel of the ground (usually due to Bill Murray countlessly delaying scripts and refusing to get involved with the series anymore), the production behind the game was able to actually get most of the main actors from the films! Not only did they get Aykroyd and Ramis back, but also Ernie Hudson and even the always-oh so reluctant Bill Muray since this was a videogame instead of a film! All providing their voice as well as their likeness in-game! The other returning actors count William Atherton, Brian Doyle-Murray and Annie Potts, as well as Max von Sydow who also reprised his role of Vigo the Carpathian from the second film in a glorified (and hilarious) cameo! The only real notable absences are of Rick Moranis (who's been retired from the industry for good) and Sigourney Weaver (who never seems to let anyone use her likeness outside films, just have a look at any Alien games or action figures) who both declined.

The script of the game mostly revolves around the ideas thrown in the numerous scripts Aykroyd and Ramis made over the years for their possible proposed GB3 film (like the infamous "Ghostbusters 3: Hellbent" one). It was written by Terminal Reality with support and rewrites by Dan Aykroyd and Harold.

The story follows the point of view of this in-game player avatar, this new recruit simply known as "Rookie" through the game (also referred to as "Rook" and "Newbie" by the other characters). The story is set about two years after Ghostbusters II, around Thanksgiving in 1991. It's told via pre-rendered cutscenes making you believe this is in fact the third and never released Ghostbusters movie.

Following the events of the second film, the guys are back in their jobs, facing a few paranormal activities every now and then. They're now officially contracted by the city. Walter Peck is also back, now assigned as head of the Paranormal Contracts Oversight Commission (PCOC for short) by Mayor Jock Mulligan who the Ghostbusters basically helped boost his campaign by saving the city under his orders. Peck is basically their "boss" from now on. They're also forced to limit their damages due to capturing ghosts as much possible.

The story begins as this new recruit just arrived. Dr. Peter Venkman insists on simply calling him the "Rookie" (from the nametag on the new jumpsuit), they shouldn't get too attached to him in case something bad happens to him.. This new cadet was hired by Dr. Egon Spengler to test the new experimental equipment built by Dr. Ray Stantz. Speaking of Winston Zeddemore has been working on getting a PhD doctorate as well.

When suddenly a huge paranormal shockwave hits the entire New York City! Janine Melnitz gets several calls from all over the city. And our heroes are back on the jump 24/7 as all these new ghosts start popping up...

And it's only beginning - as somehow the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man avatar from Gozer the Destructor (from the first film) gets resurrected and is now seen running through city! It all appears to be seemingly happening from this new Ivo Shandor exhibit at the city museum. Yes, an exhibit dedicated to the evil architect who designed 55 Central Park West from where Gozer was summoned in the film, due to a renewed interest from the public following the events of the films. Our heroes split up and they meet this museum curator Dr. Ilyssa Selwyn (played by no other than actress Alyssa Milano!).

They find out all these tunnels with ectoplasmic slim running beneath the ground (glimpsed in GB2) were built there by Shandor as well. Speaking of Vigo the Carpathian who used those rivers of slim to empower himself, he's still very much present, it seems the painting reverted back to his original form. He's also a much less powerful ghoul, trapped in the painting at the Ghostbusters' Headquarters, taunting you whenever you catch a look at him. The objective behind these rivers of slime Shandor personally oversaw was to connect these different points and help merge the real world with the spirit world! All this in order to bring yet another much more dangerous destructor this time!

Our heroes set out to locate and destroy these different "nodes". They face all kinds of different guardians - one at the Sedgewick Hotel, another in the New York Public Library, and the next one in the Museum of Natural History. The but then the last one appears to be in the middle of the Hudson River.. A strange mansion set on some mysterious island arise form the water!

Meanwhile Shandor starts building enough juice to cross back! Turns out Ilyssa was not so innocent after all. She's actually his descendant and he's been using her as an unwilling pawn!

The Busters escape the island from where the slime was being pumped into the tunnels, just in time... Only to find out the containment unit was just shut down. Again! There's a new flux of ghosts all over the city! Every ghoul and ghost seems to be heading towards Central Park! This huge structure arose from the ground. They find there both a possessed Peck, Ilyssa and the Mayor used as a host body by Shandor himself! Shandor's now trying to come back as a God in place of Gozer! They have to put a stop to this sacrifice to save Ilyssa! But it's too late, our Architect, Shandor, gets a Destructor form for himself...

Will our heroes save the day one more time against all odds? They might just have to dangerously cross their proton streams once more to live to see another day...

The game's mechanics are pretty simple and straightforward enough. After numerous Ghostbusters platformers in the past, the team opted for a pretty basic and universally-proven formula - the game is a third person shooter where instead of shooting guns like so many games, here you're equipped with a proton pack serving as your main weapon, of course. And it's all about weakening enough ghosts to be able to capture and then trap them.

With the controls you aim to fire your proton stream and then once the ghost's slown down enough you can capture it. A fun feature instead of reloading your gun is that you need to vent your pack every once in a while, it's a nice way to shorten out such an overpowered weapon against most of these defenseless ghouls.  When the ghosts are weak enough the stream will be able to directly capture them. Where it gets pretty fun is the sheer destructive forces the proton pack packs (pun probably subconsciously intended). You also have to "slam" the ghosts around to weaken them, and the same goes to better aim them at the traps directly.

The game introduces its fair share of new equipment for the series. There are various proton pack upgrades through the story as well as additional firing modes for each "weapon". There's the Slime Blower (from GB2!) used to clean possessed people, a Shock Blast and finally Meson Collider, each having its own alternate firing mode such as Boson Darts, a Stasis Stream, the really fun Slime Tether and an Overload Pulse.

Not all of the game is played on a third person, the game also uses a first person view whenever you're using the PKE Meter and googles to locate paranormal activities. It's used to locate ghosts and other hidden haunted artifacts (collectibles), it helps whenever you seek to highlight ghostly activities.

For a better immersion, there's no actual traditional HUD display. Instead to display health and your "weapon status" they're represented directly on what you see on screen. Red filters represent the damages you take (which regenerates - yep it's one of those games). The condition of the proton pack indicates whenever you need to vent it. If you get hit too much you will get knocked down, and then need the help of a teammate to stand back up. And only if  they fail to revive you and the entire team's down only then you will get an actual "game over", rinse and repeat from the last checkpoint.

The game also uses in-game money as a reward. It's a sort of scoring system for fun (and Achievements if you're into that - all them titled after quotes from the films). Based on the total monetary destruction you cause. The money is then used to purchase weapon upgrades. Captured ghosts and cursed artifacts can also be found in a database.

After a long convulsed development, Ghostbusters The Video Game was released on time to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the franchise. For that reason it packs as much nostalgia as possible. It's the dream game all of us 80s kids dreamed off since our childhood.

And it also helps the game simply looks great.  They really captured everyone's face, the voices certainly help. Pretty good recreation of everything you wished to check out on a closer look, from the Ecto-1 (not driveable in the game though! did anyone really want that? play a GTA mod instead!) to the HQs and all the little details in the tech and whatnot. Sure it could have been a bit better on some aspects, and the character animations could have done with more polish, but it really shows great work and a lot of effort put in the different sceneries and everything regarding the ghosts (and their various classes, bosses, etc.).

The Xbox 360 port received slightly better and more polished textures, where the PS3 and PC suffer some slightly minor framerate issues.

The use of the generic voiceless Rookie in this game works great, it keeps the focus on the story and the characters of the film. The Rookie's just a blank slate, something to ignore and better insert yourself right alongside the team, it's not a proper character.

Our "Fifth Ghostbuster" was modeled after the Sierra producer Ryan French, just because it was simpler and cheaper than getting an actual model. It also avoids getting the cliché guest Hollywood actor which would have taken way too much focus on this character that should remain in the background, a player avatar. At first they were going to use a Terminal Reality designer, Eric Schatz, (which can still be seen in some early trailer footage) but they found he looked way too much like Gordon Freeman. Anyway, it's fun having a mute protagonists on such an dialogue-heavy story, there's a couple of fun jokes as the Rookie is seen about to speak and ends up always cut off...

All versions of the game follow the same general story, although they do contain a few contractions with each other and regarding the films. (It's all pretty forgettable.) The game contains so many references to the films, only hardcore fans will be able to pick all of those up! It shows the great work that was put into creating this game. They wanted to put so much content, they actually had to cut down a lot of it!

The AI's pretty decent, always ready to do its own fair share of fighting ghosts. Always ready to save the player.

Using the PKE meter makes up for much of the exploration. 

It's really worth your while! A lot of effort was put into making this a fun experience with varied segments. It's fun and just feels authentic.

There's a lot of good ideas in the game, such as having to improve your own equipment. The slime tether is such a fun and unique gameplay element, once you get it later on in the game, solving these puzzles by using this elastic slime. There are a few pretty weird and perfectly creepy classic Ghostbusters moments as the story progresses.

The game is not without a few flaws though. There are several more annoying elements. Tons of loading screens you will get stuck with, with only Ray Parker Jr's classic theme song to either help you or get you even more frustrate depending what kind of fan you are. And while it start off pretty easy, the difficulty curve get rapidly really hard past the mid-point, there are some really hard sequences later on. 

The story is also not super long, but pretty decent. Long and short enough to just feel like a big epic longer film, which is enough as it is in my opinion. It makes replaying some of your favorite levels easier.

There is a form of multiplayer, developed separately by Threewave Software (which is completely absent in the PC port). It's only online (yep, no local splutscreen, which was a big disappointing for me...). A Survival, Containment and Destruction mode. Sort of coop modes, up to three players, missions based on the story, but outside the main storyline. They're basically challenge modes where you have to get many ghosts as possible on a time limit for example, etc. I honestly didn't try this much at time and by now everyone basically left the game. If only it didn't lack a local multiplayer, it's kinda they missed the opportunity if you ask me...

All in all it's such a great loving tribute to the fans. Visibly made by fans for fans. The game is full of fun easter eggs and trivia bits. I also love how it kept things open for an eventual sequel or not (which IDW Publishing would follow upon in their own on-going comic book series, but that is for another time...). The guys think five Ghostbusters is a bit much, four is more than enough. They decide to get the Rookie an offer he won't refuse, a position to open a new Ghostbusters franchise in another city, during the end credits...

The choice of the gameplay was a good one, it's really easy to get your hands on the game, which better suit and serve the purpose of this would be-"Ghostbusters 3" in all but name only. There's a couple of forgettable sequences and puzzles, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it with its chaotic ghost-trapping fights! So much fun! Sure the game's not that long to be honest, but if offers lots of fun and varied moments it's really easy to replay any of your favorite campaign chapters! All around fantastic voice acting (with only Bill Murray not as much"into it" as the rest of the gang I think). Loads of fun dialogues, well written and witty. A musical aspect simply outstanding! A great story! And the story seems to perfectly tie-in both the plot elements of both Ghostbusters films and conclude the original story of the first film in this perfect third and final chapter in a way.

A special mention to the music used in the game, which comes from the original soundtrack of the first Ghostbusters film composed by the late Elmer Bernstein! It works a great part in recreating the atmosphere of the film, like you are actually put into the universe of the films as this newly-recruited Ghostbusters.

Overall, I haven't seen such a fun, original and highly replayable licensed gaming adaptation since the old SNES/Megadrive days! It's filled with 1980s nostalgia and perfectly recaptures the spirit of the films! It's fun, dynamic and filled with a lot of chaotic action!

The game received a huge positive reception at the time. It even won several awards for Best Game Adaptation to Best Performances (which comes to no surprise). It's a love letter to the fans of Ghostbusters! Some really great CGi cutscene really help sell the story.

It could certainly have been much better, but I'm already surprised we got it as clean as that in the first place. The game is not without some minor flaws. The Rookie could have been used as a better character, but this kind of mute protagonist with no personality or dialogue is kind of a standard for a lot of immersive story-driven games, and they usually don't get any critic just look Link or Gordon Freeman! And it's better to keep the focus on the original characters and keep this "Rookie" to a minimum. It lets the rest of the focus on the Ghostbusters cast to shine.

If I would have only one complaint regarding this game is since the Rookie's not really that incidental on the plot so to speak, why not even use this "blank slate" to allow a better immersion for the players and allow us to create our own Rookie character from scratch? I mean, this could have been pretty easy since he doesn't get any lines! Why not even let gamers play as a female Ghostbusters character for example? I'm just saying!

Ghostbusters The Video Game, as Dan Aykroyd puts it, "[...] is essentially the third movie."

While all versions of the game basically cover the same story, there are some notable differences between systems. The singe player campaign from the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 version was used as a template for the other versions. On the Wii/PS2/PSP Red Fly Studio went with different shorter levels broken down from the main version. This "Stylized version" follows the same story but it was entirely made from the ground up with different cartoony graphics. The gameplay has also significantly changed and they're much simpler to get your hands on. The proton pack upgrades work kinda different. This version also uses a classic HUD instead, plus along a different-looking Rookie character it lets you play with both a male and female Rookie. The Wii version can also claim to have the best multiplayer feature in the form of allowing actual local co-op, two players are able to on splitscreen thanks to a drop-in system during the single player campaign (a vs. mode was also originally announced for this version, but it seems they ended up scratching it). The questionable PS2 port of the Wii game is known for its numerous freezes and glitches, the PSP version is much better though and was a bit simplified down but at least it's decent. The DS version is completely different from both of these Stylized and Realistic versions. It was actually based on the old school Activision Ghostbusters game designed by David Crane. It uses an isometric-view and features driving sequences and a big management aspect. It's really something else altogether, that's why I will review both of these in their own separate blog posts at some later point.

It's Highly Recommended for any fan of Ghostbusters. It's also a great way to get back into the franchise. The game is considered the sole responsible for renewing the interest in the license for most people. In fact a new comic book series was launched by IDW thanks to the success of the game, and Columbia Pictures' been interested again in getting the franchise back on theaters ever since. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had been trying to get a long in development Hell-sequel off the ground (prior to Ramis' death). And there's finally be now confirmed news to an actual new movie getting a real proper release date (which will be a reboot instead, though..). Anyways, it's such a fun game packed with references and meta-allusions, recapture a childhood dream of being able to join the team, a pretty decent and fun nostalgic trip with a lot of heart.

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good!

I give it:
3 / 3 Quacks!

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