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Does the 'Ghostbusters' game honor the legend?

Who's afraid of a game adaptation of a film franchise? Well, I am. The "Ghostbusters" movies were formative films during my childhood. So how does "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" — which actors and developers hope to be a kind of third installment in the film series — hold up to the standards set by the movies?
Image: Ghostbusters: The Video Game
The Ghostbusters along with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man get a new lease on life in "Ghostbusters: The Video Game." But can the game — launching on the 25th anniversary of the original film — actually be any good? After all, most video games based on film franchises stink.Atari

You know those formative films from your childhood — the ones that rocked your little world back when you were an impressionable young thing? You know how sometimes you go back to watch those same movies as an adult only to discover that the films you thought were, like, totally awesome, are actually just plain, like, awful?

Perhaps these movies haven’t aged well with time. Or perhaps your ability to critique metaphorical nuances within fictive narrative structure and dissect the emotional gestalt engendered by filmic archetypes just hadn’t fully matured by the time you were 12. Either way, it’s a huge disappointment to discover that those formative films suck major donkey hooves.

Over the weekend, I decided to revisit two of my favorite childhood films — “Ghostbusters” (released in 1984) and “Ghostbusters II” (released in 1989). I popped them in my DVD player and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they’re just as totally awesome as I thought they were two decades ago (back when DVD players didn’t even exist). OK, perhaps “Ghostbusters I” withstood the test of time better than “GB II,” but still, the stories are clever and original, the dialog is hilarious, the characters zing with life, and the entire viewing experience is nothing but good solid cinematic fun.

And so it was with both a sense of anticipation and utter dread that, after revisiting these two films, I shoved into my DVD player what is meant to be the long-awaited third chapter in the “Ghostbusters” film franchise.

It’s worth noting that, these days, my DVD player doubles as a video game machine. And so maybe it’s not surprising that “Ghostbusters: The Video Game” — which launches today on all of the major game machines — is being billed not just as a game, but as a spiritual sequel to the two movies.

Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd starred in the hit movie

With the game’s story and dialog being shepherded by the men who penned the original screenplays (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) and with nearly all the actors returning to voice the beloved characters (Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis being the only major no-shows) — a successful union of film and gaming certainly sounded both possible and promising on paper.

But the fact of the matter is, most video games based on films stink. These games are often speedily slapped together to coincide with the premiere of a movie, their sole purpose being to cash in on a marketing blitz rather than deliver high-quality or original gameplay. They tend to be sloppy and unimaginative, and they almost never live up to the movies that inspired them … with a few exceptions (the “Spider-Man 2” and “GoldenEye 007” games among them).

I’m relieved and thrilled to report that “Ghostbusters: The Video Game” is one of those exceptions. No, it may not be one of the great video games of our times, but it is a really good one … and it’s certainly among the best film-franchise games ever made. More importantly, it’s a really enjoyable “Ghostbusters” experience — one that does not feel slapped together, but instead feels tended to with the kind of love and respect that the films and their longtime fans deserve.

“Ghostbusters: The Video Game” — launching now as the original movie celebrates its 25th anniversary — is  set in 1991, two years after “Ghostbusters II” takes place. As a mysterious blast unleashes a wave of spiritual activity across the city of New York, the Ghostbusters — Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stantz (Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Ramis) and Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) — take on a new recruit (you) and set out to get to the bottom of this newest ghostly catastrophe.

Things get underway with a visit to some favorite haunts from the films — the Sedgewick Hotel and the Public Library. As you get your bearings and learn the ropes you’ll wrangle with memorable ghoulies — Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man among them.

“Ghostbusters: The Video Game” does a superb job immersing you, the player, in a world that you, the movie viewer, previously enjoyed only from a distance. Here you can explore the nooks and crannies of the Ghostbusters’ firehouse headquarters and walk the streets of a specter-infested Manhattan. And as far as the gameplay goes, you get the feeling that this is what it would be like to join the Ghostbusters gang — if such a thing were actually possible (you know, just like you desperately wished it was back when you were sprouting pimples for the first time).

Playing mostly from the third-person perspective, you’ll don a Proton Pack and lasso unruly poltergeists into Containment Traps, just like you saw the real ‘Busters do in the movies. Switching into first-person perspective, you’ll use a PKE Meter to track down unseen spirits and cursed artifacts and to catalogue them in Tobin’s Spirit Guide (also featured in the films). The more capturing and cataloging you do, the more cash you earn for upgrades to your gear.

Speaking of gear, Egon is keen to have you try out some new technology he’s concocted and so in addition to the Proton Stream, you’ll fire Boson Darts, Shock Blasts and a Stasis Stream to take down all manner of paranormal pests, and you’ll blast demons out of possessed innocents with a Slime Blower. When you’re not using your weaponry to wreak havoc on the deliciously destructible environments in the single-player mode, there’s a robust multiplayer mode that adds some serious depth and replayability to the game.

But most importantly, Aykroyd has said in interviews that he wanted the game to feel like something of a third film. And in this, they have succeeded.

The dialog is chock full of the zingy hilarity we all loved in the movies. And just like in the movies, Murray’s Venkman has many of the best lines:

“You’ve destroyed a significant part of a five-star hotel,” his character tells you. “Your mother and I are so proud.”

And while fighting the famed Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Murray quips, “I’m impressed with his agility considering his complete lack of bones.”

In addition to the stellar dialog and the true-to-form story, the CG cut scenes lend the game a genuinely cinematic feel. In these moments, it’s fun to sit back and enjoy the show and imagine what a new movie might actually play out like. (And word on the street is, a third film is in the works).

No, it’s not a perfect game. The in-game graphics — even on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions — are far from the best I’ve seen, with the character animations looking unnatural and awkward at times. Meanwhile, none of the gameplay is particularly groundbreaking and, at times, the ghost wrangling and trapping can start to feel downright repetitive.

But the attention to detail speaks volumes about the love and care that went into this game. With Annie Potts revising her role as reluctant receptionist Janine Melnitz and even William Atherton returning to voice the always obnoxious Walter Peck — you realize that the actors and developers that came together behind this game understand the role the “Ghostbusters” played in many young lives and truly appreciate the audience that helped make these films into beloved classics. They deserve kudos for doing right by the films … and by us.