In the before-fore time, it was known. You do not greenlight an exorbitant effects budget for a comedy. This was the law. Then along came the summer of 1984 and Ghostbusters became the cinematic seismic shift to rival the Tunguska blast of 1909. Audiences flocked to the theater in droves to watch some scientists kidnap and incarcerate the souls of the dead and subsequently learn what to do if someone asks you if you’re a god. The highly anticipated sequel was ultimately entertaining, if a step down from the original. Then came the much debated reboot, which we’ll not go into here, but did you know that another sequel to the original movie was made? No, seriously, it just happened to be in video game form:
Past attempts at video game adaptations notwithstanding, I’m talking about 2009’s nearly pitch perfect Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which not only continued the story of the first two movies but took it into some new and fun directions while also indulging in some sweet, sweet nostalgia with callbacks and references to those movies.
More importantly, this was the spiritual (see what I did there?) successor to the movies in several ways. First off, the story was partly written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, and nearly the entire cast of the original movie was on board to lend their voices and likenesses to the game (only Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis are absent, furthering my headcanon that the two ran off together after Dana got sick of Venkman’s smarmy wisecracking schtick). The game’s soundtrack is almost entirely cribbed from the first movie, even the old Columbia logo makes an appearance in the game’s intro.
It’s been two years since Vigo the Carpathian tried to redecorate Manhattan in a tacky magenta slime motif, and things seem to have gone well for our favorite paranormal researchers in the off-season. The new mayor of New York has embraced the Ghostbusters and made them into city contractors, fully insuring them (one fun aspect of the game is a counter in the corner of the screen tallying up your damage bill as your proton stream destroys everything in sight). Business is booming, Winston has gotten his doctorate (it’s never mentioned what he got it in, so I’m guessing basket-weaving), and Venkman, dollar signs in his eyes, is looking for some of that juicy franchise coin. The player takes the role of a fifth member of the team, a new hire dubbed only “Rookie” by the guys because, as Peter puts it: “I don’t want to get too attached”.
As the guys are breaking in the new kid, across town in the Museum of Natural History, a blast of psychokinetic energy originates from an exhibit dedicated to, of all things, Gozer, the Sumerian deity of European supermodels.
The guys spring into action and almost immediately run afoul of a certain giant fictional corporate confectionary mascot (if you need to ask, then shame on you. Leave this article immediately and go watch the first two movies, you heathen). This strikes the guys as kind of odd, but the theme continues as you’re taken on a tour of the Ghostbusters’ greatest hits (levels you’ll visit include the Sedgewick Hotel and The New York Public Library). The guys start to realize that this is all tied in to their first case, and start trying to figure out why anybody would want to wake up a cranky destructor as if they wanted a ton of shubs and shuls to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar. Meanwhile, the mayor has appointed a new head of a paranormal oversight committee to curb the Ghostbuster’s damage bill somewhat; none other than reputed genital-lacking former EPA agent Walter Peck himself. As yet another apocalypse looms nigh and the barriers between the realms of the living and the dead start to get thin, the guys will have to up their game, upgrade their equipment, side-step Peck, and use the new guy as a guinea pig in order to save the world again for the three-peat.
The game’s storyline offers up some nice quips, some heretofore unrevealed character backstory (Ray’s revelation that he attended the seminary reframes his religious conversation with Winston somewhat), and a lot of exposition surrounding Ivo Shandor, the Gozer worshipper who tried to end the world but only succeeded in covering Central Park West in marshmallow goo. The graphics are as close to photo-realistic as you could get in 2009 (closer now that there’s been a next-gen remaster). The level design is beautiful and just the right amount of creepy. Normal environments like the library take on an unsettling air, with lighting and shadows and interaction with objects adding to the feeling that something can jump out at you any second. As you traverse into the netherworld itself you’ll find yourself wondering through portals and gothic architecture, trying to wrap your mind around the MC Escher-esque landscape. The creature designs are another thing. In addition to the ghosts of the movie (Slimer, the library ghost, etc.), you have possessed items that come to life and attack you, corrosive black slime, demigod boss characters and a myriad of all-new vapors, apparitions, spectres, spooks, gargoyles and ghouls to bust. The controls are pretty simple to learn and the game frees up a lot of screen space by making all the stuff like health and ammo bars visible on your proton pack. The weapons system is pretty rad too, as later levels have you unlocking new upgrades on your pack like freeze rays, boson darts, muon shotguns, a slime sprayer and slime tethers.
As great as all this is, there are a few gripes, though nothing so bad you’ll consider it a deal-breaker. Playthrough can get frustrating as you can get hit from anywhere, meaning you’ll be knocked down more than once with no clue where it came from. The canned responses from the other Ghostbusters, even voiced as they are by the spectacular cast, are limited and will get repetitive and tedious after a while. And as great and iconic as Ray Parker Jr’s song is, you will get beyond sick of the first 30 seconds playing in a loop on the loading screen every time you die.
Of course none of this will matter the first time you actually lasso a ghost and drag it into a ghost trap, getting as close as you can to the actual experience of busting some heads…
It’s awesome. If you have ever wished you could don the jumpsuit, strap on an unlicensed nuclear accelerator and go to town on some poltergeists, this is the game that lets you do that. That alone would be worth the price of admission but then you actually get to do it alongside the boys in grey themselves! I mean, come on! For fans of the franchise this is the movie sequel they were chomping at the bit for. For the gamers who sat through all the horrible adaptations, this was the actual *good* Ghostbusters game they thought would never happen. For Dan Aykroyd et al, it was a chance to go back to the well and have some fun. For Columbia pictures it was a chance get in a few more licks on that dead horse for another quick payday from the original franchise before taking the reboot for a spin. As I played through the game for the hundredth time in preparation for this article I was again gobsmacked at how well all the various aspects of production came together to create this. If you’re one of those fans who bemoan the lack of a third entry in the series, or just someone who enjoys a good game experience, or land smack in the middle of that venn diagram, this is the Ghostbusters game you’ve been waiting for. Highly recommended.