An Hour With... Ghostbusters
There's something strange in the PC neighbourhood of this johnny-come-lately movie adaptation, and it don't look good. The surely vital co-op mode the consoles enjoyed has been axed entirely from the PC port, and the European version delayed by nearly half a year. Yes, it's true. These men have no dicks. Nonetheless, I took a very quick look at the US version to get some sense of whether it'll be worth the wait for Euro-folk...
Killed! By candlesticks! I don't remember any Ghostbusters being a) killed b) killed by haunted wax and brass in the movies, but that's where the game most deviates from the celluloid inspirations it otherwise pays so much lip service to.
It's why this was such an odd property to turn into a game, regardless of the 20 year time-gap. While they might regularly bring New York to the brink of apocalypse, Venkman et al didn't get into a whole lot of life-threatening situations themselves. They just stumbled haphazardly between ineptitude and absurd good fortune, and everything worked out okay in the end. In a videogame, though - there has to be death. There has to be game over. There are, it seems, very few ways around that if a developer wants to retain a meaningful level of challenge. It's usually either that or a bloody countdown timer and waypoints.
Game over really doesn't suit Ghostbusters, alas. The whole idea of the films were that these were guys who would always somehow survive failure, that real peril barely even touched them. Imagine if Egon died. Hell, even imagine if Rick Moranis died. It'd upset the whole film entirely.
I must, of course, nod back at the title of this piece. I've only played it for an hour: this isn't a review. There's every chance the hard-stop fails I encountered towards the end of that hour aren't all that regular later on. My hourish did, though, involve a couple such game-overs, and eventually ground to a frustrated halt when I was killed by the same horde of candles six times over, which drained away any inclination I had to lend the game any more of my free time.
Before that, I'd grinned - though not laughed out loud - pretty regularly at the dialogue, a returning Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Ackroyd clearly very comfortable in their old boiler suits, and a companionable blend of wry, silly, bitchy and chummy. Even my character, a pleasingly mute, goon-faced new recruit, seemed to fit in well. I'd admired the look of the thing - not super high-tech, but colourful and characterful, and definitely Ghostbusters. I'd enjoyed the casual carnage I could unleash with the agreeably out-of-control proton packs- trashing sofas, carving flaming graffiti into the walls, atomising priceless porcelain... A ticker top-left of the screen kept count of what I was costing the city in insurance bills, and trying to push this as high as possible proved a gloriously pointless, but hugely satisfying mini-game in itself.
What I hadn't enjoyed, sadly, was the character movement - Gears of War meets milkfloat - or the combat. Proton packs are a good time, but taking down ghosts seemed a bit of a grind - zap 'em a bit, then switch to a kind of physics laser to bash 'em into walls and floors, then throw a trap, then struggle to hold them over that trap until it sucks 'em in. Classic Ghostbusting. Except it felt horrible - intangible and vague, a chore rather than a joy. And you don't even get to triumphantly close the trap yourself; unbelievable.
I would imagine it feels an awful lot better on gamepad or on console, the thing rumbling away crazily and evoking trying to contain an angry, flailing ghost. DIdn't feel satisfying on keyboard and mouse at all, sadly. The ghosts seemed too powerful, too - repeatedly knocking me and my famous fellows off our feet (requiring revival by another 'buster), bombarding us with thrown furniture and ectoplasmic projectiles... Again, I don't know what the alternative is, but being thumped to death just seemed at odds with the cheery, anarchic tone of Ghostbusters. And if it was like this in the early stages, I shuddered to think what later bosses could be like.
I dug the vibe, but not the practicalities. The straw that broke my faltering back was being sent off on my own - no famous-faced chums for moral support, or to revive me if I got knocked down. If I failed, game over.
I failed, repeatedly, at the same scripted fight. Killed by a swarm of candlesticks. Candlesticks! Given more time, maybe I'd have better mastered the apparently imprecise dodge manoeuvre or ill-explained use of cover. But I dunno - and hour into the game and I'm being killed by candlesticks? That's not the kind of busting that makes me feel good. If you're going to kill me, at least kill me with something epic.
It's not that I'm afraid of no game - I'm simply an impatient gamer when it comes to pop, action fare like this. I want instant gratification and Ghostbusterian posturing, not punishing hoop-jumping. I could beat those candles, I have no doubt, but I don't want to have another go at it because I'm not enjoying the experience. And that's an important distinction anyone readying a tiresome "you're just crap at games" comment may fail to grasp. Perhaps, though, I should restart at a low difficulty rather than an intermediate one.
Though I look forward to the inevitable youtube video that chops out all the fighting and running around corridors, leaving us with a semi-official and, going on this, very entertaining Ghostbusters 3, right now I don't want to cross any more streams myself. I am curious to see how it evolves, but I've really had enough of the candlesticks.
And I didn't even get to meet Winston yet.