Ghostbusters: I ain’t afraid of no cash-ins.
I’d like to take a moment and apologize to my partner for going through one of the worst date nights we’ve ever had. There was…admittedly, a lot of negativity flying around, and some arguing, and we even threw up our hands as we wondered whether we should keep going or just wash the dishes and go to sleep for the night.
Baby, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just didn’t know that Ghostbusters was going to be this bad.
Between the forgettable voice acting, awkward writing, glitchy sound, and barren level design that would have been laughed off of Steam Greenlight, I think I can see the seams where the code was patched together.
Okay, first, let’s talk about what Ghostbusters is, and what it isn’t. I’m sure this will shock everyone, but it’s not a Diablo-style RPG, complete with loadout customization, powerups, gear, and new abilities. In fact, there are no powerups to speak of, no new equipment, and any and all customization is bog-standard at best. Instead, it’s a stripped-down third person shooter more akin to Hunter: The Reckoning on the original Xbox, Baldur’s Gate on the PS2, or Loaded on the PSOne. There isn’t even any online multiplayer — too lazy to host servers, were you? — so the game expects you to drag three friends, bolt them to a couch, and have them complete the levels with you just like the old days. There’s a touch of the old-school to it, which would make a good game feel nostalgic and tickle that sweet spot that most mid-to-late twenty somethings have in the corner of their jaded obsidian hearts, but in a game like this, it only emphasizes how dated it actually is.
Well, okay. It can’t be that dated; only this current generation can make the bright and colorful obnoxious, to the point where the particle effects fill the screen during firefights, making it hard to figure out where you are and what you’re even supposed to be doing. There isn’t a moment where your thick-headed AI partners aren’t ineffectually throwing grenades at walls and air, a ghost is exploding, or something isn’t glowing on-screen; it’s almost like the developers didn’t want players to pay attention to the cheap UI and borderline palette swap character models and decided to jangle their keys in our faces in hopes that we wouldn’t notice.
Sorry guys, but it’s hard not to notice. All of the glowy effects in the world can’t distract me from assets that I’d expect on an iOS title rather than a console and PC release. Actually, considering the way the game plays, I think I might be on to something. The controls are awkwardly placed, emphasizing tapping buttons at the right time rather than precise aiming, hit detection is extremely dodgy, and capturing ghosts requires a screen prompt QTE followed by a button-mashing QTE to complete. There’s even an overheating mechanic, where if you shoot your gun too many times, you have to ‘vent it’, or else you can’t shoot it for a few seconds. Oh, and do you want to know what happens when one of your partners dies? You revive them to full health. With the tap of a button. These controls feel awkward and spread out on a controller, but they’d be right at home on a touch-screen.
Hell, some of the face-buttons aren’t even used, so FireForge could have taken one of them and used it to pull up a map, or anything other than the giant “Go here you idiot” arrow that you can summon with a touch of the circle button. It isn’t even helpful once you start exploring, and using your PKE tracker to find “hidden” health packs, experience caches, and monster spawns. If you’re too far away from where you’re supposed to go, the arrow won’t even show up, since it’s only visible on a pre-determined path, and you have to backtrack until you see it again.
And you don’t want to backtrack. Trust me.
Going off the beaten path just adds ten to fifteen minutes to the twenty minute long levels, and the generic ~S p O o K y~ Halloween party music will force you to slam on the mute button before the characters’ repetitive ‘witty’ quips do. Even if the usually stellar Grant Kirkhope wrote Ghostbusters‘s score, he was clearly writing it in the bathroom between working on Yooka-Laylee compositions. Seriously, it boggles the mind that he was involved in this, and his talent strains against the obvious mandates given by the developers. Play some Banjo-Kazooie. You’ll get a far better experience, I promise.
Though I have to wonder if Grant was put under some really tight deadlines, because the main menu, “story” segments, or, well…anything outside of the levels themselves have no original music. Instead, the original Ghostbusters theme song bleats through the speakers, and I never thought I’d say this, but it made me start to get sick of it after a while.
The story…what story? There is no story. The game is separated into different levels broken up in one or two parts, with a short “funny” conversation between the characters describing each one. The dialogue reads like it was written by someone trying to cater to both millennials and feminists without knowing thing one about either (who says the word “Herstory” in actual conversation?), the characters don’t have names (at least, they don’t mention their names in-game), and their personalities are stock cutouts from just about every 90’s Saturday morning cartoon ever made. Even the “class-based gameplay” is a joke, since one or two skilled players can take out all the enemies while your AI shoots and throws grenades at walls and extremely threatening couches. Ghostbusters gives little to no incentive to keep playing the game, since you’re just a group of four randos in Ghostbuster uniforms, who are taking care of random calls while the protagonists of the movie are out doing far more interesting things.
Then again, this game could have had the most fascinating story in the world, rivaling Shakespeare in its account of wit and woe, and I still would have wanted my life back, because the levels are a bland, formulaic slog with samey encounters, layouts, and a depressing lack of enemy variety. That’s when you don’t factor in the fritzy sound, the unresponsive controls, the inconsistent aiming, the random frame drops, or the random sound effect drops. It makes me wonder if this thing was playtested at all.
Also, protip: if you make a movie licensed game, don’t release it several days before the movie is even in theaters. That way, when your protagonists reference the movie, day one players will know what they’re talking about.
Ghostbusters is that sort of experience that makes you feel like someone’s stealing your lunch money, punching you in the stomach, and trying to imitate Peter Parker all at the same time. If this was a twenty dollar budget title, I might have been kinder to it, but as a game that you have to pay 50 dollars to play?
Avoid this heap. If you want to get closer to your friends and loved ones through shared boredom and frustration-induced trauma, or if you really want to get back at someone, there are few better punishments than this.
Final Verdict: 1 / 5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC ; Publisher: Activision ; Developer: FireForge ; Players: 1 – 4 ; Released: July 12, 2016 ; MSRP: $49.99
Full Disclosure: This Review was made possible with a review copy provided by the publisher, Activision.