Ghostbusters - a whole bunch of great stuff going on ruined by just butt-terrible level design and gameplay/control decisions.

We get off to a good start with pretty nice-looking graphics and character models. The game appears to have had a pretty high budget, and Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (who wrote the original movies) even came on board to both voice their characters and write the new story and dialogue for this one too. Clearly everyone involved really cared about the franchise and wanted to tailor the game to whatever hardcore fans of the movies are left out there.

You start off at Ghostbusters HQ in a short training mission where Slimer and some other ghost escape and you have to head down into the sewers with Ray to learn the basics of ghost wrangling. Everything here looks really neat and the proton pack action stays pretty true to the movies while still being satisfying. You take potshots at the ghost with your proton beam until its health wears down, at which time you can lock onto it with the beam and "lasso" it around trying to drag it into a trap. Some minor issues begin to creep in here - if you're playing with the Xbox 360 pad, your aim is really too slow to keep up with the zippy little ghosts that dart around erratically constantly. And the game doesn't bother telling you how to dodge ghosts rushing at you until you've been trashed up by them a whole bunch of times. But otherwise we're off to a pretty decent and impressive-looking start.

After this we're off to a much longer and more extended "intro mission" at the Sedgewick Hotel, where Slimer escapes to and somehow riles up a bunch of new ghosts. This starts out decent but gradually deteriorates as gameplay problems build and pile up. At first you're traipsing around with the whole Buster crew (minus Winston), learning the rest of the game's basics. This part is pretty cool, because the clunkiness of aiming and the cheap hits you constantly get from behind and the side aren't that big an issue, since if your health runs out you're only down temporarily until a Ghostbuster partner makes their way to you and pulls you back to your feet. And with 2 to 4 of you at all times, the onslaught of ghosts divide their attention enough to be manageable.

The game totally falls to shit when a scripted event separates you from the rest of the team, and now, if you run out of health you die and go back to an earlier checkpoint. The game is totally linear, so it's hard to get lost, but yet you have to clunk around some dark and murky environment until random things happen at random points. Then these little tiny enemies spawn all around you that do beacoup damage with fireballs that have deadly aim and do splash damage, are hard to track as they get lost under water that is flooding the halls, and are forever appearing behind you and to the sides with no warning so you get gang-raped and killed before you even know what the hell is going on. Then its back to the previous checkpoint from ten minutes before, to clunk your way through yet again. The game also has no "jump" button and your character moves around slow and kludgy as hell, so getting debris out of your way means clumsily wrangling it with the lasso in annoying style. I managed to clunk my way through that part using sheer memorization and dying three times to memorize where everything pops out, and fortunately the other Busters randomly appear to help you out with the boss battle just after that, which is manageable. The game lost me with the next mission, which has you in a melee with a bunch of ghosts in Times Square, followed by a extended rumble with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. You'd think this would be the game's crowning moment of awesome, and the whole set peice and environment is pretty great, but it's a nightmare of the same old cheap hits coming out of nowhere at you that you can't really see or do anything about, and you kind of just have to tank through it and hope for the best.

Anyway, I figured if that was the best the game had to offer it was time to wrap it up early ... but even though I didn't put much more than an hour into the game, apparently that was 1/3 of it completed already, since the game only has 5 or 6 hours of playtime! There was some sort of multiplayer mode in the console versions, but it got axed from the PC port for whatever reason ... so you're not looking at a lot of longevity here, even if you don't mind the annoying cheap-hit-fest Gears of War play style.

One major complaint I've seen with the PC port is that the install procedure for the disc-based version is some kind of a nightmare of bad programming. I got this through Steam (for 2 bucks on the Halloween sale no less), and am happy to report that this was entirely smooth (other than the 11 GB download.) So that's a way to sidestep all that.

This game is like the ultimate of mixed bags. I love so much about it and what it is trying to do. I love that it's a movie license that actually tries hard to be what fans want; delivering the fantasy of '80s kids everywhere of being a Ghostbuster and having amazing battles with huge paranormal entities. I love the level of care and detail they put into everything BUT the gameplay/level design. I love the movie music and all the little jokes and references to obscure bits of the film, and even previous crappy Ghostbusters game. I appreciate that they even got a somewhat cranky-sounding Bill Murray into the studio to voice his character. And yet, in the end, it's a GAME, and the actual game portion of it is mediocre at absolute best. If you can find it for a couple bucks and are a fan of the movies maybe give it a shot anyway, though the uncut Xbox 360 version looks like the way to go.
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