My first opening draft for this piece was about action figures, cartoons and movies. It was scrapped because what I was really trying to say is simple: who isn’t a Ghostbusters fan? The original movie is one of the greatest action-stroke-comedies ever commiteed to celluloid, a grimy and seedy and funny New York shot-through with brilliantly coloured apparitions, wacky science, and stunning one-liners.
This Ghostbusters video game, originally released in 2009, is by some distance the most ambitious and best attempt to ever recapture some of that film’s magic in another medium. This remaster arrives just over ten years later, and doesn’t much touch the original beyond a welcome sprucing-up of the visuals. What it does do is add a shine to an experience that, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see was a one-off.
This is most obvious in the only real addition to the game: a title card at the end of the opening sequence which reads ‘Dedicated to the memory of Harold Ramis.’ Ramis had an amazing comedy career but perhaps his best-known role was Egon Spengler, in addition to which he co-wrote the first two Ghostbusters movies and this video game. Aykroyd and Ramis were the real animating spirit behind Ghostbusters, something reflected in their on-screen chemistry as Ray and Egon: the former all jolly enthusiasm and upbeat, the latter deadpan and mercilessly scientific in his assessments.
That’s far from the whole story, of course, with Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman the sardonic glue holding these two together and the much-underrated Ernie Hudson grounding this whole team of esoteric scientist-stroke-engineers with straight-talking wisecracks: “Ray, when someone asks if you’re a god, you say YES!”
All of which preamble is to make the most obvious point about Ghostbusters. This isn’t a cool movie and series because of the ghosts or the proton packs or Ecto-1 or the amazing vision of New York, even if all of these things matter a great deal. The original movie in particular is a classic because of the team of grubby professionals at its centre, struggling to do the right thing with imagination, humour, and the kind of bonhomie that only facing down waves of the undead can bring. One of my favourite moments in the film is when Winston’s telling Ray that he believes in god. Obviously Ray doesn’t, and it ends up here:
Winston Zeddemore: Judgement day.
Ray Stantz: Every ancient religion has its own myth about the end of the world.
Winston: Myth? Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we’ve been so busy lately is ’cause the dead HAVE been rising from the grave?
Ray: [Pause] How ’bout a little music?
Winston Zeddemore: Yeah.
I’m going to be slightly cruel and say that Ghostbusters Remastered was never quite a 10/10 video game. But what this absolutely got right was its understanding of what makes Ghostbusters itself tick, the interplay between its leads and the quickfire lines they exchange while crazy shit happens. The game is very much a product of its time: you can look at it now and the lip-syncing isn’t great, the way NPCs move is a little stiff, sometimes characters get caught on corners or other faults.
What elevates it beyond these shackles is the scenario, the script, and the busting. The first way Ghostbusters does this is by making the smart decision to make the player part of the team, but not one of the original team. You play an anonymous rookie who’s often seen in the cutscenes, and referred to by the Ghostbusters, but who never speaks. The game gently teases at the way other games use such a protagonist: at the start Ray will ask your name, before Venkman interrupts and swiftly moves things on. “I don’t wanna get too attached to this kid you know, just in case, you remember what happened to the last guy.”
Ghostbusters Remastered has a structure designed to, first and foremost, show off its own Ghostbusters chops. It goes for direct re-runs of some of the movie’s most iconic scenes, bringing back supporting characters like the hotel manager in the process, and wants to show that it’s capable of producing a spectacle like the capture of Slimer. There’s a clip of the scene in the movie below, but essentially: the Ghostbusters get Slimer after causing severe damage around the hotel and completely destroying the ballroom, after which they leave the furious manager with a huge bill. It is a brilliant scene.
The equivalent level in the game, your first real mission after the tutorial, echoes the pace of the original: you move through the hotel’s corridors, there are a few false jump scares, Venkman gets slimed (yes!), and after a few more minor engagements (this is after all a video game) you end up in the ballroom. Here’s how it plays out.
The end of this clip shows another thing the game got right: not only are the proton pack audiovisual effects amazing, as is the destruction they cause, but trapping the ghosts is its own feat of wrangling. One of the great strengths here is that, as well as all the returning stuff, the game is packed with new Ghostbusting equipment, upgrades and mechanics: like the ability to ‘slam’ ghosts into the trap.
The first time I captured Slimer, I was torn between continuing the game and restarting the level. It manages to do what so few ‘movie’ games ever achieve, which is translate a sequence of wonderful VFX and directing into an interactive experience built on the same principles: a moving target, inexperienced hunters, and a whole heap of destructible scenery. If this was the entirety of Ghostbusters Remastered, it would still make it the best Ghostbusters game ever made.
Of course, there’s much more. And what Ghostbusters Remastered goes on to do is every bit as impressive: this first level goes all-out to show the game’s intention, by first recreating the Slimer fight and then building up to a climactic battle against Stay Puft. You end up hanging from the top of a skyscraper, firing down as Stay Puft attempts to clamber up.
As a boss fight? I’ve played better. As a Ghosbusters experience? Nothing else comes close, and the whole reason why is that script. Just listen to the interplay here after the rookie’s taken care of business.
The game is full of asides like this and, as it builds pace, the props and nods and returning characters keep coming. Walter Peck is given a petty bureacratic oversight role over the Ghostbusters! You hunt down the librarian ghost! Gozer’s involved somehow! The plot bounces the Ghostbusters all over New York, somehow incorporates a Lovecraftian manor in the middle of the Hudson river, and naturally ends up with our heroes saving the world from some dimensional god. You know how they do it? I bet you do.
The details in this game show such love for the source material: look around reception in Ghostbusters HQ and you’ll see that giant painting of Vigo the Carpathian. But it’s not on the wall. It’s just propped up against something, next to Janine’s desk, and left there, the implication being that the Ghostbusters don’t really know what to do with it. The HQ is cluttered with junk. Janine’s constantly answering the phone, explaining with exasperation that no she can’t arrange an earlier appointment, and that no the Ghostbusters do not contact dead relatives.
Some games are more than the sum of their parts. You could look at Ghostbusters Remastered, judge it purely on its mechanics, and say this is a decent third-person shooter and little else. The truth is, for certain people, it’s so much more. If you have any love for the original Ghostbusters, and can overlook a few minor flaws, this is the third movie that never happened: and now, with Harold Ramis gone, can never happen. It’s both a love-letter to the original team and the final chapter in their story as a four-piece. And a reminder that, even though decades have passed, bustin’ makes me feel good.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK.