Xbox 360 Hands-On: Ghostbusters Delivers in Slime

The thrill of stepping into digital Ghostbuster garb stems from firing up a Proton Pack carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator to expulse Protons against unruly specters with a Neutrona Wand. Or in layman’s terms, spew a spastic multicolored beam of energy in a room until every-and-anything is thoroughly fried to a crisp.

But there’s more to the Ghostbusters experience than blasting the slightest on-screen twitch. Encountering the unexpected, revisiting playful yet serious banter and nostalgic audio/video cues ripped right from the movies are ingeniously recreated in this overly short yet viscerally immersive and unexpected (see why) demo of Ghostbusters: The Videogame.

The first nod to the Ghostbusters films sets an appropriate tone before stepping into the playable demo. A simple shot of the Ghostbusters headquarters exterior coupled with the instrumental main title theme is all that’s needed to get the ghostbusting juices flowing through the veins.

The demo begins outside the New York Public Library where a large crowd of onlookers applaud the Ghostbusters’ arrival to deal with some supernatural activity. Though a continuation from the end of Ghostbusters II where the team is back in favor with the citizens of New York, the scene is eerily reminiscent of when Venkman, Egon and Ray encountered their first ghost years before in the same location. There’s plenty of chatter amongst the team serving as the first reunion of the principle cast since the second film was shot.

“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” We’ve all heard Ray Parker Jr. sing that line at least a thousand times. Apparently the team at Terminal Reality took offense to Ray’s boasting when designing Ghostbusters. The specters that inhabit the game aren’t cute and cuddly like Slimer. They’re out for scares and I guarantee at least one will make players flinch before the opening Library level demo is complete on the first run-through.

After an unsettling “event” the team, including myself as a new “cadet” but minus Venkman who is a no-show on this level, move into the library chasing a pair of “double full-torso animators” into the lobby. The chase continues to the second floor where the ghosts disappear. Winston is instructed to guard a ghost-free room which he is more than willing to do while Ray instructs me to return to the lower lobby to find the ghosts.

This first ghost hunt offers an opportunity to break out the P.K.E. Meter and Paragoggles which are always used in tandem via the Y button. Each device looks, sounds and functions exactly as they did in the films. The P.K.E. meter beeps and spikes its arms appropriately when the scent of a ghost is picked up, while the Paragoggles allow following the glowing Ectoplasmic Residue trail a ghost leaves behind.

Spotting a trail of Ectoplasmic Residue after being “slimed” leads me into the library’s main reading room. Ray and Egon are already here and warn they’ve followed their ghost’s trail to the same room. Now the fun begins. While walking down the room center aisle the pews, desks and chairs begin to violently fling into the air towards me. It’s time to break out the Neutrona Wand as the game’s first battle versus the Book Golem is about to commence.

Confronting the Book Golem is a bit different than squaring off against a ghost as seen in the films. I’m not trying to capture the walking tower of books. The object is to topple him and it requires a powered-up firing function of the Neutrona Wand to achieve. The only way to figure out what function is needed is to wrangle the information out of him.

Ghost wrangling is the most important function of either taking out or capturing a ghost. Like in the films, a Capture Stream of energy from the Neutrona Wand holds onto the ghost. Once wrangled, the ghost can be nudged around the room using the right analog stick to wear him down and retrieve key information, such as the attack needed to take out the Book Golem.

The battle with the Book Golem is relatively brief but still destroys most of the main hall from a combination of the Golem’s destruction and the Ghostbusting team’s blasts of Proton which leave permanent smoldering marks wherever they hit. In this process some longtime questions are addressed

  • “Crossing the Streams” has no consequences, though rumors suggest they will in multiplayer.
  • Instead, Proton Packs can overheat requiring automatic or manual venting.
  • On the Playstation 3 there will be SIXAXIS-controlled ghost wrangling.
  • The game tracks damage and earnings in dollars, in real-time while tearing up a room.

In another nod to nostalgia, the librarian from the first Ghostbusters film appears upon defeating the Book Golem. She is none too pleased I made noise in her domain and lets me know about it with “shh” and tossing some objects. Advancing from this point required following her and Ray through a series of hallways and staircases into a tight-quarters research room.

By this point in the demo there have been a couple “jump” moments including the Book Golem’s entrance by flinging furniture into the air. In this room the scripted events take a step towards the “horror” domain with a brief power outage, blocked paths and the possibility of scares lurking around each bookcase. It’s easy to have an itchy trigger finger maneuvering through the lone path to the exit and fun to see the Librarian’s work along the way including familiar high stacks of books which can be knocked over. Also of note in this room is a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man doll on a table, one of many that can be collected throughout the game for as-of-yet identified rewards.

Exiting the research room and traversing a couple hallways lead me to the sorting room where I find Ray tracking some serious paranormal activity. Within seconds, books, chairs and other objects are hurtled at myself and Ray signaling the battle against an animator ghost is underway.

Defeating this ghost requires lessons learned from defeating the Book Golem in conjunction with a containment trap. First the ghost must be wrangled so his energy (not visible via a HUD) depletes. Doing so introduces a new trick: slamming the ghost. Once wrangled you can violently “slam” him from side to side which is a lot of fun. Once the ghost is weakened a trap must be thrown, and finally the ghost must be forcefully moved over the trap so it can be captured.

Sounds easy, right? Think again. While crossing the streams doesn’t inflict damage, hitting Ray with a Proton Stream does. Thankfully you can revive Ray if he’s down and vice-versa, but it’s still easy to accidentally nail one another in the chaos created by objects flying around and two steady Proton Streams making the room look like a volcano eruption plowed through.

Trapping the ghost and following Ray out of the room sadly ends the brief but intense Library demo. If this is the game’s first level then I have a hard time imagining the chaos to come when four Ghostbusters are firing Proton Streams simultaneously at fiercer and larger ghosts.

My only concern exiting the demo is replayability on the single-player mode. The events and scares are strictly scripted so a second run through is not only much easier but lacks the uncertainty and suspense of the first. Here’s hoping multiplayer modes have tricks up their sleeves to keep interest high long after the campaign is completed.

Any doubt I possessed regarding Terminal Reality’s ability to capture the experience of ghostbusting has been definitively torn to pieces by this demo. Everything is presented and executed exactly in line with my expectations, if not beyond. The game plays great, looks great and sounds even better – and this is without the anticipated massive crowd scenes, controllable slime, vehicle-mounted containment unit and other secrets we don’t know about yet.

I personally need no further proof to realize and understand Activision Blizzard made their first big mistake as a combined company by relinquishing publishing rights to Ghostbusters: The Videogame.

– Dan Bradley

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