Okay guys, I’m going to say it. I’m interested in seeing the Ghostbusters remake. I don’t expect it to be as good as the original, I don’t expect it to be the worst thing ever—I just expect it to entertain me for two hours. Strangely enough, I felt the same way going into this game. A $50 co-op twin-stick shooter from Activision, Ghostbusters has some potential. Yet does bustin’ ghosts make me feel good, or should I have called an exterminator instead?
The game starts with the Ghostbusters girls leaving New York City to go busting around the world. New York is left to four new Ghostbusters, and it isn’t long before ghosts need busting. That’s about the extent of the story: there’s new Ghostbusters and they need to do things. Before every new area there’s a quick phone call that gives you an idea about the ghost in that area, but it’s not much. The characters have no names, though the game does let you give them some (After some debate I settled on Rad, Isabella, Maddie, and Jack.) They also all have one-note personalities, half of that note being “obsessed with the other Ghostbusters.”
It starts to get weird; these characters have no experiences of their own. When they take a call from a client and find out what ghost it is, the very first thing they do is compare it to something the girls did. When they accomplish something, they question if the girls felt the same way. They’re not characters, they’re constant reminders that the Ghostbuster girls are awesome. They also have some one-liners that are amazingly awful. Ghostbusters delivers some lines like “see you later ghoul-friend” and “you don’t stand a ghost of a chance” and “look, it’s America’s most haunted.” At one point a character actually shouted “I’m busting!” when they got knocked down and needed help. It was … an experience.
Each of these four characters has a unique weapon and a unique grenade. One carries around a shotgun and an electric grenade, while another has a minigun and a slime grenade. I personally stuck to the guy with the assault rifle and the flashbang as I found he most fit my style, though the four characters are unique enough that they encourage playing around a bit to find a favorite. Each character also has a proton wand, which serves as a backup weapon and allows you to wrangle some of the tougher enemies in the game. Weapons work on heat rather than ammo, and by hitting a button you can have your character vent the heat, while grenades work on cooldown timers. In other words, there’s nothing here that’s any different from any other (cheaper) twin-stick shooter.
The enemy types don’t offer the variety the game needs either. Most stages are full of enemies that go down in one or two hits and have no strategy other than “try to ram a Ghostbuster.” These enemies are made up of floating skulls, floating books, floating candlesticks, and zombies for … some reason. In other words, very little in the way of creative enemy design. The bigger enemies are slightly more interesting, as they have some actual abilities. They’ll come at you with spin attacks, pull you around with throwable harpoons, and teleport around the area. It’s still not enough; each area in the game only has two different kinds of these bigger enemies, but it’s a slight improvement.
Some levels end in a boss fight—these usually being the best part of combat. The bosses are unique and can display some creative patterns. One flying demon-like monster would swoop around the area, occasionally dive-bombing me. Another electric ghost would create patterns of lightning that I needed to dodge. They’re not quite at the level of other twin-stick shooters, but they’re still the best the game has to offer on its own. Every time I defeated a boss, or an elite version of a bigger enemy, I would get out the proton wands to wrestle with them. It’s as simple as pointing the right stick in the direction you’re told and then occasionally hitting a button to slam them on the ground. After that you deploy a trap—every time you have to do a button mashing mini-game to see how much XP you get from it. The first time it’s kinda fun, but after a few levels I had done it 50+ times and it was a mechanic that got old quick.
The biggest problem is that each area lasts way too long. The game is split into ten story levels, most of which are about 30-40 minutes long, and four optional levels. It feels like the game would have done better with more shorter levels, allowing it to be played in short bursts. Instead you get long fights between long bouts of walking. You can do a bit of exploring by using the P.K. Frequency Scanners to look for hidden sigils that can get you XP points or open up doors that lead to collectible items. Of course, you can use the XP to buy upgrades between levels. For some insane reason, only characters being played by an actual player keep the XP they get. It’s not long before my character was a crazy overleveled juggernaut, yet the other three AI characters were all level one.
Not like it’d matter for the AI much. Throughout the game I was constantly watching the AI do some genuinely strange things. Shooting walls because there was an enemy on the other side, throwing grenades away from enemies, running off into corners, or just standing around doing nothing is the order of the day here. The game tries to compensate by making the AI do tons of extra damage, but it only helps so much. Regardless, thanks to extremely generously long down times, the AI had no problem reaching me and keeping me fighting if I got downed. Ghostbusters, even without friends, was a very easy experience.
Ghostbusters at least has its soundtrack sorta going for it, but that’s probably because it mostly consists of reusing the original Ghostbusters theme over and over. Map screen? Cutscenes? Results screen? Upgrade screen? All of these play nothing but the original Ghostbusters theme, and if you didn’t already have the song memorized, then you will when you’re done here. Most of the calls the team gets and the loading screens use some very nice comic book styled art that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. On the other hand, in-game graphics aren’t very interesting and tend to reuse assets and locations over and over. They’re not of particularly high quality and would have looked just as at home in the last generation of consoles.
Ghostbusters isn’t the worst video game I’ve ever played. In fact, if it was $10, I’d even give it a wary “with friends only” recommendation. Yet instead it’s a $50 game that is outmatched by far better and cheaper games. It mostly left me wondering who this game is supposed to appeal to. If you love the old Ghostbusters, then 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game should be your first stop. If you love the new Ghostbusters, then they’re nowhere to be seen in this game so you’d do better just rewatching the movie. Ghostbusters is just a lifeless cash-in that needed to be busted.
Ghostbusters was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Steam and Xbox One.
If you can get it for far cheaper than it's going for, if you can play it with friends, and if you have totally exhausted every other twin-stick shooter on the market, then I can give Ghostbusters a very weary "maybe" recommendation. Yet everything this game does is done far better and far cheaper by so many other games.