Ghostbusters - The Tom Hanks of Intellectual Properties

Nobody looks at Tom Hanks and says "He sucks, I hate him and every movie he's ever been in." Similarly, nobody hears "Ghostbusters" and thinks "They suck, I hate them."

So says Ghostbusters: The Video Game developer Terminal Reality. After enduring a long and painful process to get this game published, I suppose they've earned the right to some hyperbole - and it's not really hyperbole if the game turns out to be as awesome as Tom Hanks, right?

I started my first ever hands-on with the PS3 version of Ghostbusters at about halfway through the Library level. I'd already seen previews and clips of the areas before this point; where our heroes are heading into the library to chase down the Grey Lady from the movies. The "levels" in Ghostbusters are extremely long - more like areas with many levels within them. The Library has about eight "levels" total and takes anywhere from one to two hours to complete (depending on your gameplay style - run and gun versus stop and smell the roses).

So, I'd say I was about an hour/hour and a half into the game - long after the everyman "Rookie" character has been introduced and at some point after Winston had separated from Egon, Raymond and the Rookie to do some research on the Grey Lady. The journo before me had inverted the PS3 controls, so when I tried to get the hang of moving, I walked into a trap, pointed my gun at a wall and immediately blew myself up with one of the fire-spraying weapons that had been debugged for my use.

When you go down in Ghostbusters, one of your teammates can revive you if they're still on their feet and nearby. But if all three or four of you go down, it's game over and you load back at the last checkpoint. The checkpoints are pretty generous throughout the Library level - and I'm glad because if the levels are all two hours long, I'm going to need points during each where I can quit out so I can keep feeding my normal life.

The running dialogue (written largely by Dan Aykroyd) between Egon and Raymond (and sometimes Winston from what I saw in the Library level) keeps you up to date on what you're supposed to be doing, where you're supposed to be going and what's going on in the story. This makes for a seamless gameplay experience as well as a hilarious movie/game. When asked to describe Ghostbusters in terms of genre, the Terminal Reality guys said: "Third person action comedy."

Both Egon and Raymond bit it following my ill-fated button press. We immediately spawned back at the checkpoint just before the trap and I had time to change the control scheme to something less bitched. The lack of a HUD in-game was a little hard to get used to, but once I learned which guns made the proton pack change which colours, it was surprisingly easy to switch between rays during boss fights where you need to use combination stun-and-wrangle tactics.

The ghost-capturing was tricky to master at first. You've got to target the ghost, start shooting your proton ray at it and once it's in your grips, mash a button or trigger (depending on whether it's the PS3 or 360) to send a blast its way and stun it. Then you can drag the ghost over to the trap on the floor and move on to the next book-flinging thing from another dimension. This requires both excellent timing and knowing which buttons to press exactly when; Terminal Reality says the controls aren't a hundred percent hammered out yet - but hopefully the number of buttons or triggers you need to press to capture a ghost will stay below three.

After picking up our ghost-filled trap, we headed down deeper into the library. Little blips of static would cue me into turning on my ghost-vision tool (I know it has a real name in the movies - forgive me for being too young to remember what it is). This tool lets you see all kinds of stuff the naked eye would miss; children's handprints on a wall, hidden doorways and clues, and - of course - ghosts.

The Grey Lady led us deeper and deeper into the library where a Necronomicon-looking book appears to have killed/possessed the old woman at some point in the past (y'know, before she became a ghost). Once discovering this, the Grey Lady morphed from harmless-looking librarian into screaming banshee of death. Like all bosses or mini-bosses in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, there's a dominant strategy to beating a foe and hers involved smashing book stands from which she generated her shield.

I died before I managed to figure this out; but mercifully, the game lets you skip the static cut scenes. So instead of watching Egon argue with Raymond about not touching the book, I got to listen to them do it in real time while I positioned myself in the best part of the room for book-stand blasting.

Once her shield was down, it was fairly simple to finish off the Grey Lady. This concluded the Library level and following a series of events, we wound up in the next level - which I'm supposed to talk about. Sufficed to say, there's a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation for why the sky can be both pink and doom at the same time and Peter will explain it to you while the level loads.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game is designed to be easy to learn (straightforward, at least), difficult to master (thanks to weapon upgrades and dominant strategies), and always - always - fun to play because it's Ghostbusters. Really, Acti-Blizzard doesn't know what they're missing.

The game is out this June. There will be about 50 Trophies/Achievements, spread out between multi- and single-player; and you can count on a demo - although nobody seems quite sure when. Expect it to sync up with the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray release of Ghostbusters.


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