'…and I’m 5 again.'
That was my reaction upon first sight of Atari’s upcoming Ghostbusters: The Video Game. I took a trip down to Atari’s 5th Avenue headquarters, where Product Marketing Specialist Eric Monacelli showed me the ropes on the Xbox 360 build of their upcoming surefire hit. Check out my entire report after the jump.
My “5 again” feeling stems from the game setting such a pitch-perfect recall of the first two films, that it feels like nothing has changed. Set in 1991, the game casts the player as Rookie, the nameless new Experimental Equipment Technician on the ‘busters team. The game starts with a tutorial set in the firehouse HQ, which shows you the ropes of the game’s controls as well as starting the almost relentless assault of franchise references.
What’s impressive about these references, however, is the incredible level of detail and care that went into them. It’s not enough that Vigo the Carpathian (in painting form) is stored in the basement (though wasn’t it destroyed at the end of Part II?) they had to record 250 different phrases for him to speak when you interact with him. There are plenty of other fan service nods as well, including the Sedgewick Hotel and a Gozer exhibit at the museum and they all feel pretty natural.
The game play itself is set from the Resident Evil 4/ Gears of War perspective, with the camera set behind the character. There is virtually no onscreen HUD, with all information instead being presented to the player by a series of graphical meters set into the proton back (think Dead Space’s HUDless presentation and you’ve got a good idea). The ghost hunting aspect itself is very well fleshed out, with pretty much all of the tools of the trade being employed to hunt down full-roaming vapors. The PKE meter responds to ghosts’ presence, as well as allowing you to scan them into a digital version of Tobin’s Spirit Guide.
Once you track the ghosts down, you capture them using your proton pack in a method that looked almost like fishing: yanking the ghosts in the opposite direction from where they’re travelling, slamming them into walls, and finally dragging them down towards the waiting trap below. However, it’s very rarely that easy, with ghosts dodging your proton beams, leading to mass environmental destruction, which the game’s custom Infernal Engine renders beautifully. Virtually everything in sight is fully destructible, with your proton beams etching lines into the wall and disintegrating furniture into kindling. This destruction is actually a crucial game play element as well, as the more of the environment you destroy, the more insurance money you are paid out in order to upgrade your weapons.
The Wii version of the game, developed by Red Fly Studios (who also has a hand in the Nintendo DS version), is taking a different route from the next-gen versions, playing off of the strengths of Nintendo’s console rather than offering a watered-down version of Terminal Reality’s baby. While both games work off of the same plot and roughly the same level progression, the Wii features a dramatically different cartoon-ish art style that hearkens back to The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, albeit more caricatur-ish, a design decision that both Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis love according to Todd Slepian, producer on the Wii version of the game. Controls are also different, obviously, with the Wiimote aiming your proton gun and the nunchuck handling movement. The game is still riddled with references and sly winks, although the environmental destruction is obviously scaled back in order for the game to work on the Wii’s less powerful hardware. We finished our look at the Wii version with multiplayer, a boss battle against the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with both our characters (nameless Rookies, natch) firing downward at the murderous mascot as he climbed an apartment building. Being an incomplete build, there were a few rough patches in the performance, but hopefully these will be smoothed out by release.
What really can’t be explained in any article or conveyed in any video is just how much like the films Ghostbusters: The Video Game feels. The games are clearly by fans and for fans, and not just some quick cash-in. Terminal Reality and Red Fly are creating experiences that honestly feel just as right in the franchise as the movies. Hopefully the short time I spent being wowed is indicative of the final product from start to finish.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game will be released June 16th for PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, PS2, and Nintendo DS.