Itchy Thumbs

Completing games then reviewing them

Archive for September, 2009

Ghostbusting

Posted by D on September 8, 2009

This was going to be a short piece but I seem to have got carried away putting all my thoughts down. Ghostbusters really is the game for which the word average was invented. Never before have so many individual components of the modern multi-media experience been brought together in one place to produce something so studiously middle-of-the-road. I’d swear it can reflect headlights and keep you safe at night. That’s how middle-of-the-road this is.

Now I like the whole Ghostbusters thing (milieu if you will), in fact I like the whole set up sufficiently that I’ll gladly sit through the second film and enjoy it. Yet, somehow the fact that a big budget game was being made had completely passed me by up until it was released, not that it’s release made a big splash. But I went out and bought it as I hadn’t played anything all the way through in a while and Overlord II was boring me to tears (more on that some other day).

So the game looks nice and the voice acting is good and the choice of music is pretty good too. The use of the film’s title theme (which I love) and Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters sets the tone for what’s to come; although I am disappointed to note that they didn’t use The Bus Boys’ ‘Cleanin’ up the Town’ (why do I know these details?). And when the game started it really was as though all my childhood dreams had been realised, finally and at last I was a Ghostbuster and I had assumed my rightful place in the universe. When it was all you dreamed of when you were 7 it’s hard not to be charmed by a game the looks right, sounds right and lets you blast the Stay Puft marshmallow man IN THE FACE. That feeling alone was enough to carry me through to the end of the game and I can’t help feeling that was best they were hoping for when they signed it off.

So, notionally this a game about catching ghosts in ghost traps. And when you eventually get to your first ghost hunt you discover that they have perfectly captured the anarchy and chaotic feeling of ghost wrangling that the first film portrays. All good. Except it never changes, it never gets smoother or easier, hidden within the chaos of your first attempts there is no smooth, clever and flowing ghost capturing game. It starts off flabby and imprecise and by the end it remains flabby and imprecise. Latter on the whole thing is compounded by the fact that the visual effects, impressive and well realised as they are, actually make it impossible to see what that ghosts are doing as you fight them and that’s just irritating. But I’m not sure what you do about that. Dial it back and it’s no longer Ghostbusters, leave it as it is and it’s a chaotic visual mess. Additionally irritating is the lack of any functional radar during the fight. While trying to tackle one ghost you will be taken out innumerable times by ghosts you’ll never see floating around behind you. It doesn’t take long before it surpasses irritating, sails right past infuriating and settles comfortably on “I must smash the developers in the face with fury of a young god”.

The whole process is made no easier by your character’s movement. In trying to make it realistic they have instead made it clunky, slow awkward. You can tell that the game is caught somewhere between trying to make a real world ghost trapping simulation and a Ghostbusting game. Strangely though the ghost wrangling gets easier and easier as the game progresses. As a rule the further into the game you get the less often you meet multiple ghosts in big open spaces. Later on when you need to capture ghosts there is usually plenty of cover so as long as you’re careful you’re less likely to be taken out by ghosts swarming behind you. So the later fights are sugnificantly easier. But weirder still many of the later ghosts don’t need capturing, you just blast them until they die (dead ghosts?). And once you get about 50% of the way through hardly any of the ghosts need to be trapped and the game just descends into “Generic 3rd Person Shooter XIV”. Go figure.

All in all it means that the Game part of the game is one of the more average games I’ve played in a while (still better than Overlord II). Which is not to say it’s a bad game, merely that there is nothing that stands out or has been implemented well. A renter not a buyer lets say.

But it’s lack of sparkle on the game side is compounded by missteps that are the plotting, story and acting. The game desperately wants to be a canon 3rd episode of the franchise. It’s written by Harold Ramis, all the original cast are providing the voices. It’s trying so hard and that makes it’s failures all the more bitter. The voice acting routinely sounds like they were phoning it in that day. There’s no verve and sparkle in the dialogue or it’s delivery. The story itself, revisiting Gozer, tries far too hard to tie together everything happening to everything that happened in the previous films, it’s so neat and completist, every single thing and every single person are all linked together. It comes across as ridiculous and far-fetched and it swiftly and without mercy shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Additionally the pacing of the plot is all wrong. Plot points and dialogue are handed out in excessively frequent cutscenes that contain never ending screeds of barely amusing dialogue. When it comes to intelligently integrated story telling, it’s clear that Harold Ramis and the game’s producers weren’t taking any leaves out of the Half Life 2 or Bioshock books. But it is better than most games but when you’re clearly aiming to be the accepted 3rd episode of the series then you really need to step up your game. Mostly though you’d put up with it were it not for the fact several of the pieces of dialogue are on the wrong side of a checkpoint so you end up waiting through them over and over.

A further misstep is the in the pacing. The game quickly gets far too fantastic far too soon. By the time you’re through the first chapter you’ve captured slimer, destroyed a hotel, killed the marshmallow man and reprised the entire first film. By the second chapter you’ve crossed the void into a haunted alternate reality. Much of the charm and immersion of the films is that the ghostbusting is mostly a little work a-day and layered on top of an everyday, real New York. You can just about believe that you’d need an additional emergency service to hoover up errant spirits. In the films it’s not until the closing acts, as they reach their climax, that the very fabric of reality is rent assunder. The game on the other hand blows it’s load far too soon, and in trying so hard and it quickly breaks the spell.

If there’s something strange,
In your neighborhood,
Who you gonna call…

…Acceptably animated, poorly lipsynced wasted opportunity.

(hmm, catchy)

e2a: I missed a bit. The “romance” between Dr Venkman and the female lead. What the fuck was that about? You see her for a grand total of 30 seconds, there are no significant scenes setting up a believable romance but by the closing sequence of the game we’re supposed to believe that a romance has blossomed between her (I can’t even recall her name) and Dr Venkman. I just can’t describe how pathetic it is. Shoehorned in to tick the boxes just like everything else about the plot in the game. I mean really. Really? Is this what it’s come to?

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