The Sequel to the Supernatural Spectacular Slimes Its Way onto the Switch
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Saber Interactive and Mad Dog Games, who bring us a remastered version of the Terminal Reality developed, Atari published Ghostbusters video game that originally released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles a little more than 10 years ago. (Cartoonishly stylized versions, developed by Red Fly Studio, were released on the PlayStation 2, Wii, and PSP, and the DS had its own unique version from Zen Studios, but only the “realistic” Terminal Reality version is presented here.) With the franchise celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer, a long-awaited sequel in the works, and following the controversy of the (better-than-the-fanboys-want-you-to-believe) 2016 reboot, the release of this lost third official chapter of the story seems well timed.
I enjoyed Ghostbusters: The Video Game a lot in 2009. The game looks like the Ghostbusters movie, with realistic (albeit rubbery, over-exaggerated) models of the original cast as they would have looked about 25-30 years ago. All the Ghostbusters’ equipment is faithfully recreated from the original movie props, and all returning characters are voiced by their original actors. The script was written by Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis (writers of both movies, and the actors who portray Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler respectively), and the majority of the background music is taken directly from Elmer Bernstein’s score from the first film.
You control the nameless, voiceless “Rookie,” a new recruit to the Ghostbusters whose purpose in the story is to test out the new experimental equipment Egon has invented, and to free up the other Ghostbusters so they can move the plot along. The story takes place in November of 1991, just before Thanksgiving, and two years after the defeat of Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II (though, strangely, there are very few references to any entries in the franchise outside of the first movie). A Gozer exhibit has opened in the Museum of Natural History, and a psychokinetic shockwave bursts across Manhattan. It releases Slimer from his containment case, forcing the Ghostbusters to chase him back to the Sedgewick Hotel, his happy haunting grounds from the first film. Once you arrive, it becomes apparent that Slimer is not the only ghost wreaking havoc. What’s worse, the spirit dimension seems to be crossing over into ours!
Action and capturing is presented in a third person, over-the-shoulder view. Busting ghosts is a three step process that involves weakening the ghost with one of your four different beams, capturing it in another, and leading it into the Ghost Trap. In between bustings, you’ll use your PKE Meter to search for spirits, clues, and cursed artifacts. Everything you bust, break, or collect earns you cash, which is used to purchase upgrades for your equipment, which can be done at any time in the pause menu. Aside from busting ghosts, you’ll also solve puzzles, most of which are pretty straightforward — eventually your fellow Ghostbusters will give you tips, should you get stuck — but some can be pretty obtuse.
The quality of the Switch port is hit-or-miss. While the gameplay and in-game graphics look as good as ever, the pre-rendered cutscenes have clearly been heavily compressed, presumably to save storage space (although the entire game is only 3.3GB, so this hardly seems necessary). The result is an occasionally jarring juxtaposition between the sharp HD visuals and immersive surround sound design of the game and in-game cutscenes, and the blurry, pixilated, monaural presentation of the CGI-rendered videos. What’s more, the original release’s videos had distracting lip-sync issues that have not been fixed in this remaster. Fortunately, only about 10-15 minutes of the game is pre-rendered, so it’s rarely a bother.
Voice acting is generally good, though occasionally a bit on the hammy side. That’s to be expected, as you have actors used to on-screen performances with props, sets, and costars who are now delivering lines into a mic with no visual input or interaction. Most of the original cast of the two films return, minus Sigourney Weaver (Dana Barrett), Rick Moranis (Louis Tully), and David Margulies, whose recurring character of Mayor Lenny Clotch has been replaced by a new mayor, Jock Mulligan, voiced by character actor (and brother of Bill) Brian Doyle Murray.
A lot has been said about Bill Murray’s “phoned-in” performance, and the character of Dr. Peter Venkman has clearly been scaled back to accommodate Murray’s perceived reluctance to participate. To that, I propose an alternative explanation: Much of Murray’s humor from the Ghostbusters movies comes from his snarky ad-libs and deadpan responses to the action, two things that are not really feasible when doing voice work for an interactive medium. Aykroyd and Ramis likely knew this and wrote around it. Murray gave the best delivery he could with the lack of interaction with other performers, and the vague descriptions of what would be happening on-screen. The dialogue is still quite funny, but the humor is much more scripted than improvised.
I do wish the game was a bit longer. It took me about 7-7½ hours to complete on the casual difficulty. I think one more level would have helped fill out the experience. I would have liked to see a level set in Fort Detmerring from the first movie’s famous deleted scene, and maybe some more references to the second movie. (An interactive Vigo painting stands conspicuously in the firehouse, and the Ghostbusters II logo sign and Ecto-1A doors are hidden in a storage room. You can play the game wearing the blue-grey suit from Ghostbusters II promos, but this only affects gameplay, not cutscenes, and only the Rookie player model.)
One feature of the original game that’s sorely missing here is multiplayer, a feature I never got to experience 10 years ago and was hoping to try out with the remaster. In the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, four players could team up in an online match where they had to work together to bust ghosts and accomplish objectives unrelated to the story. Saber Interactive and Mad Dog Games announced earlier this year that an all new multiplayer is planned for a future update, but we haven’t heard anything about it since, so we may end up never seeing it realized. I’m trying to remain hopeful.
The game as a whole is very enjoyable, but without the Ghostbusters license, and Dan and Harold’s sharp writing, I don’t know if the gameplay would offer enough variety to warrant a full-price purchase. If you’re a Ghostbusters fan, there’s plenty to love here, and if you’re like me, you will find yourself returning to this game whenever you have the urge to revisit the movies. The Switch port comes with minor compromises, but nothing that ruins the overall experience. All things considered, I give Ghostbusters: The Video Game – Remastered a 4 out of 5. (If you’re not a Ghostbusters fan, however, you will probably be better off skipping this game, or at least waiting for a good sale.)