Ghostbusters: The Video Game is one of my favorite games, currently. I'm not sure if nostalgia has blinded me, but that's very likely. This game does not seek to change the face of gaming -- it was created to appease Ghostbusters fans, and it does so very well. The big question here at Co-Optimus is: does it give us the stellar co-op that a Ghostbusters game of this generation should provide?
The answer: almost.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is as fun to watch as it is to play. My wife sat on the couch with me until the wee hours of the morning while I searched the public library for the Grey Lady. When your eyes are fixated on your target, it's hard to appreciate the effects from your proton pack as they arc and twist first as an offensive weapon, and then into a glowing lasso. Spectators, however, can attest that this game is pretty, mostly thanks to the particle and lighting effects.
While the cutscene animations leave a bit to be desired (What is the fascination these days with full-body gestures? Bill Murray is not a Muppet!), the in-game banter, the environments, and the tech are very faithful to the films. The new equipment fits right in, and the ECTO-1 has been renamed the ECTO-1B which at one point is used as a large mobile trap. It's still the exact same vehicle we all know and love. Tearing up the ballroom at the Sedgewick Hotel feels exactly like it should. I got a chuckle from my friend when I vaporized a tablecloth and exclaimed, "The flowers...are still standing!"
The physics in Ghostbusters seem to be a double edged sword, as certain props in the game seem way too light. Personally, I believe this lack of weight was intentional, because in both single player mode and co-op I find myself grateful that the various debris scattered by my nuclear accelerator doesn't hinder me too badly when I'm running for my life or rushing to revive a team member. This is especially prevalent for the later waves of Survival mode, when the creatures are chasing you...and they're not small. If everything behaved the way it was supposed to, you would be constantly weaving and turning, and moving while trying to trap a ghost would be a complete nightmare.
Online co-op changes some of the single player gameplay elements, but the basics are still there. Ghostbusters co-op is drop-in/drop-out in unranked games, so if you find a match that is already in progress, then you can choose your character (the four Ghostbusters and the new rookie are at your disposal) and your preferred weapon type before jumping in. You can revive your teammates just like in the single player campaign, and Terminal Reality really made a nice move when they used crazy spark effects to show your pack shorting out; it doubles as an easy way to locate a downed player. The PKE meter is also available online, and is in fact required in order to enter every enemy into your Tobin's Spirit Guide, as multiplayer features some unique ghosts not shown in the campaign.
The four styles of proton pack emission available are: standard Blast Stream, Dark Matter Generator, Slime Blower, or Meson Collider. This provides a small semblance of tactical strength, if players choose wisely; of course, most just pick their favorite and blast away. Enemies will randomly drop power-ups that give you limited capacity to use the other weapon styles, and there's also other bonuses like a personal Etheral Shield, the Ghost Stunner, and a couple of other small timed perks that shake things up without really providing much of an impact on the gameplay.
Each proton pack style has a secondary fire mode: the Blast Stream doubles as a Capture Stream for wrangling and trapping weakened ghosts, unfortunately the Bosun Dart blast from single player is not available in co-op. The Dark Matter Generator's primary fire mode is a shotgun-like blast that works well against smaller ghosts that don't need to be trapped; its secondary mode is a Stasis Stream, which slows most ghosts down to a crawl. The Slime Blower is just that: a slime blower that can reverse the effects of a puddle of damaging black goo; but it also features the Slime Tether, which can be used to move objects, tether ghosts, and even trap them. Finally, you have the Meson Collider, which provides two types of single blasts of different strengths (and different effects on your pack's heat level). Choosing a primary weapon style grants you limited access to that feature at the start of each co-op round; aside from that, you're still going to use your Blast Stream a lot. Whichever weapon style you choose is the one that gets damage upgrades the more you use it.
Contrary to fears of gimped co-op maps, the multiplayer areas are not pulled directly from the single player campaign; each is reminiscent of its campaign counterpart, but completely original. Some have a variety of individual spaces in which to run amuck, like the high-rise office with its connected rooms. Some are built around a central spot, like Central Park West, centered around a crater in the intersection. In either single-player or co-op, your character cannot fall off of edges; while that makes things a little too linear, it also eliminates the fear of falling off of an edge while trapping a more difficult ghost. The maps are anything but bland, full of props and scenery that can be destroyed. No environment is left the way it was when the match started.
There is one glaring problem with the online multiplayer that local co-op would have helped to alleviate, and that is a sometimes nasty case of lag. While players and ghosts hold real-time positions without a hitch, ghosts that are lassoed often pop around, making it difficult to pitch in with your Capture Stream. The one competitive mode, Slime Dunk, is the most affected by this, because players can "steal" Slimers with the Capture Streams if you take too long to dunk 'em. Since there is no particular ghost that requires more than one Capture Stream in order to successfully trap them, this isn't as much of an issue in co-op...but it can be annoying, especially when you're trying to help trap one ghost while four more are still attacking. Wrestling a difficult ghost can become quite a chore when three people are slamming it all over and trying to pull it in three directions. In my opinion, traps should be one-time-use in co-op, so that each player must pick up their trap in order to throw a new one; as it stands, throwing your trap in a new location just makes the previous one disappear.
Because your team is split up at the end of a match, co-op campaigns are the best way to play with a group, unfortunately, playing a co-op campaign isn't exactly how it sounds. While we were under the impression that we would be subject to four progressive and streamlined campaigns, in actuality each is just a series of related maps with randomly generated Instant gameplay types. The only real benefits to playing co-op campaigns are that: #1 - you get to play straight through without returning to the options menu, and #2 - there are two Achievements/Trophies specific to co-op campaigns. Private game for you and your friends is to create an Unranked room, which does not allow you to keep your cash earned, and still boots everyone back to the menu when the match is over. It's a pain to re-invite everyone each time; Xbox Live users will be thankful for Live Party, but I'm afraid that the Playstation 3 version gets another short-ended stick in Ghostbusters.
The co-op modes include Destruction, Containment, Survival, Thief, Protection, and the aforementioned Slime Dunk. Slime Dunk has been discussed, and the rest are pretty straightforward: Containment is a timed match that has your team capturing a certain amount of ghosts as quickly as possible; Thief is a capture-the-flag of sorts, wherein ghosts will try to make off with four artifacts that you must protect -- returning them is a matter of using your capture stream; in Protection you must activate three PKE stations, one at a time...meanwhile, waves of ghosts attack you and the station; and Destruction sets paranormal artifacts in various areas of a map, each of which spawn baddies until you destroy the artifacts. Survival is the mode we've been excited the most for, probably, and it doesn't disappoint; players work together to trap and blast waves of ghosts and creatures, each wave more difficult than the last. After ten waves, you've successfully survived the onslaught, and you can breathe once again.
You can level up by earning cash, rising to the rank cap of 20 eventually. Along the way, you'll unlock new uniforms, which are automatically displayed on your character. Sadly, there are no other persistent upgrades, meaning that you'll start off each match with your basic proton pack and work up its effectiveness as you play. Aside from a good number of Achievements and Trophies available online, there is also an impressive list of Most Wanted ghosts that will appear randomly in certain maps and game types; when one arrives, the game will give you a heads-up, and once the Most Wanted ghost is captured, everyone present can check them off. It's a neat way to provide some extra incentive to keep playing, even after reaching level 20.
Overall, I'm very happy with the game. It's not revolutionary, but I don't think it ever tries to be. Much in the way that Indiana Jones games reclaim the Tomb Raider premise through lore alone, Ghostbusters crashes the action game genre by reminding us why we love games that try to recreate our favorite classic action moments, be it on the big screen or in our backyards. Much in the same way that Richard Petty would draw interest at a Dale Earnhardt Jr. victory bash, Ghostbusters will turn plenty of heads for the time being. That said, I don't think that the online-only co-op modes are going to be enough to steal co-op fans from our current favorites in any long-term sense; Ghostbusters will help us to appreciate the roots of entertainment, and then will be fondly remembered as more original games inevitably trump it. Most gamers will get $60 worth out of it; the single player experience is top notch. There's really no excuse for not having that campaign available to player cooperatively. Perhaps it was a design decision to keep things a bit spooky, but we're advocates of players choice.