Friday, August 14, 2009

Things To Do In Manhatten When You're Dead

So I finally got around to playing more recent games. All of two. I'll put up a review of Street Fighter 4 at some point, but right now I'll talk about Ghostbusters.

The story takes place after Ghostbusters 2, but feels more like a direct follow-up to the first movie. In short, Ivo Shandor and his crew of ethereal Gozer worshipers are back from the dead and reeking havoc in New York (which has an oddly post 9/11 skyline for a game taking place in 1991). The script was written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the writers for the original movie, and generally speaking it shows. Ramis and Ernie Hudson give solid performances in the game, but Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd are a bit askew here. Part of what made Murray's performance in the original Ghostbusters so great was that so much of it was improvisational, to the point where they considered giving him a co-writing credit. You can't improv a video game script, and the result is that Bill Murray isn't so much acting as he's acting like he's acting. Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd is having way too much fun for his own good. Maybe it's because he's a Spiritualist and honestly believes this stuff. He's having as much fun here as John Travolta seemed to be having in Battlefield Earth. It's not that Murray's or Aykroyd's performances are bad, it's just not their "A" game.

The mood of the game is certainly reminiscent of the original movie. It's written as a comedy, but much of the atmosphere puts it closer to the horror genre. I got more chills from this game than from what passes for horror games these days (the exception being Silent Hill, which I still don't like to play after sundown). Perhaps this is a result of knowing for a fact that a dangerous entity is in the room, you just don't know where. Also, it can move through walls and you can't.

In terms of gameplay, James Rolfe put it rather succinctly when he said that had this been any other franchise the game would have been average, but as a Ghostbusters game it was brilliant. What is simultaneously the game's greatest strength and weakness is that much of the game mechanics are just like the movie. If you're not a big Ghostbusters fan, the game mechanic where you have to wrangle ghosts into the ghost traps could start to feel like it breaks the flow of an otherwise fast-paced shooter. The game's accuracy to the movies arguably hurts the gameplay. I, on the other hand, spent a good part of my childhood running around the backyard with a plastic "proton pack" strapped to my back. In the case of myself and people like me the fact that gameplay mechanics are "just like the movies" is the whole point of the game mechanics in Ghostbusters. If you're a big Ghostbusters fan then dragging ghosts into your traps with a particle gun isn't a break in the action's pacing, it is the action. I enjoyed hunting down ghostly clues with a PKE meter, but I can see how others might find it tedious.

If you're a fan of the movies (or, to a lesser extent, the cartoon series) then this game is probably a worthwhile purchase. If you didn't like Ghostbusters as much as folks like me or are otherwise unfamiliar with the franchise, you may still have fun with this game. The key word is "may". In the case of non-fans, a weekend rental is highly recommended before you take the plunge and buy it.

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