Back in 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game established itself as a rare exception. It was a movie tie-in of uncommon quality; an earnest and affectionately assembled love letter to fans of the legendary film series instead of a low-effort license slap. A decade on, Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered is still a wonderfully authentic trip back to early ’90s New York and the haunted heyday of these professional paranormal eliminators, but the list of improvements really begins and ends with a few visual tweaks and a resolution bump. The flaws of the original still cursed my playthrough, which meant that while it’s a joy to let its authentic slime wash over me again this remaster feels like a missed opportunity.
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Ghostbusters (the game) takes place during Thanksgiving 1991, two years after the events of Ghostbusters II (the film). Prior to confirmation in January this year that a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II would be released in 2020, Dan Aykroyd had previously referred to the game as essentially being the third movie, and it’s easy to see why. It features the likenesses and voices of Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, and the late Harold Ramis, and the script was massaged by Aykroyd and Ramis themselves to ensure the dialogue matched the tone of the films. With a fun story linked to the previous exploits of the Ghostbusters – and set in the increasingly distant early ’90s – in terms of story, at least, I’m actually struggling to think of ways this upcoming, long-gestating third film could actually be a better follow-up than the game ultimately was (especially with the painful absence of Ramis).
I’m actually struggling to think of ways this upcoming, long-gestating third film could actually be a better follow-up than the game ultimately was.
I think it’s very clever that Ghostbusters casts us a rookie recruit, burdened with spending his Thanksgiving weekend learning on the job as he helps Egon, Ray, Winston, and Peter investigate a recent rise in paranormal activity in the city. The on-the-job tutorials and exposition feel much more natural when they’re being imparted upon a junior ’buster; I don’t think learning the basics would’ve quite worked as well playing through as one of the existing pros.
Original developer Terminal Reality’s utmost commitment to detail is still vividly evident in the remaster and I enjoyed spotting many of the small touches I appreciated back in 2009 all over again. From opting to kick off proceedings with the old-school Columbia Pictures logo from the ’80s to really seat the game in its time period, to the way Venkman has a distinct, laid-back walking animation that sets him apart from the rest of the team (one that matches the kind of swagger I associate with Murray’s portrayal of the character), Terminal Reality made it abundantly clear that this game was made with genuine passion and respect for Ghostbusters, not by folks who skimmed through a synopsis on Wikipedia.
The Ghostbusters firehouse, in particular, is absolutely filled with fan service – from a huge and apparently still-haunted talking portrait of the previously vanquished Vigo the Carpathian, to a cute explanation regarding Tully’s absence from the story. The library level is also still excellent mix of ghost combat and ooky environmental shenanigans, though I won’t spoil any of the particulars here for those of you who haven’t played the 2009 original. I do wish some of the budget for this remaster had been allocated to securing more than a stingy 30 seconds of Ray Parker Jr.’s infectious theme song, though.
I’m a big fan of the clean HUD approach, with everything we need to know – health, weapon heat level – displayed on the Rookie’s Proton Pack, à la Dead Space. Occasionally objectives appear as text at the top of the screen but most instructions are verbal, so sometimes I found myself guessing our next move if I missed a piece of dialogue. This was a criticism I had of the original release and it hasn’t been rectified in the remaster.
Similarly, Ghostbusters feels a little creaky by modern standards but trapping ghosts is still a highlight, and there hasn’t been anything like it since. After sapping a ghost’s energy with your proton stream you’ll need to wrangle them towards your trap, close enough so it can suck them in. The spectacle of sizzling red proton streams and the cone of intense light drawing in ghosts – which distort and stretch as they’re slurped into the trap – is a brilliant recreation of how it appears in the film. There are other modes to the Proton Pack which emulate more traditional third-person shooter weapons (and they have imaginative, egghead explanations for the energy-based versions of what essentially equates to a shotgun or an LMG) but I really do still love the classic, crackling proton stream. For mine, it’s the part of the game that has dated the least; it’s still a glorious cocktail of impressive lighting and sound effects.
What has aged poorly is the occasional cutscene the remaster crew clearly couldn’t find the source material for and had to go with the original version. Aside from the pre-rendered clips, which are a little grainy but decent enough, most of the cutscenes are in-engine ones displayed at up to 4K, so they match the moment-to-moment gameplay. There are a bunch that aren’t, however, so occasionally everything takes a dive for a minute or so as everything reverts to its previous-generation appearance. The result is a bit of a fractured aesthetic overall, which is a shame. The shoddy lip syncing that was a regular occurrence in the 2009 original is again an issue, also.
It’s a bit of a warts-and-all remaster, in that regard. I hugely enjoyed Ghostbusters back in 2009 but if you can think of something that bugged you, it’s probably going to bug you again. At about eight hours it’s not exactly a marathon, and it probably could’ve done with slightly shorter levels and more of them, but there’s not a great deal a remaster can do about that. However, the loading times still seem long, getting impeded by half-broken objects is still a moderate annoyance, and the frustrating difficulty spike involving those stone cherubs towards the climax is still present. The original’s multiplayer component hasn’t been included at all, but I don’t recall it being enormously memorable.
Make no mistake, Ghostbusters: The Video Game is a personal favourite purely for its loving attention to detail and will always rank amongst gaming’s most faithful and memorable movie adaptations – more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as The Warriors, Alien: Isolation, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay in that regard. But this marginally prettier and inconsistent remaster doesn’t really make for a profoundly different or improved experience over the 2009 original, and there was a lot of room for improvements that could’ve made it more enjoyable to play through and appreciate all of that fan service.