This review was originally published at Kombo.com on June 23, 2009. Many of the technical issues described below were later fixed with a software update.
Two years after the Ghostbusters dealt with Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II, a new exhibit on Sumerian god Gozer the Gozerian is about to open in New York City's history museum. When a sudden increase in paranormal activity leads to the reappearance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rampaging through downtown, the Ghostbusters become involved in a renewed attempt to summon Gozer to destroy the world. The boys in gray (along with you, the player cast a the fifth member of the team charged with testing the latest in experimental ghostbusting equipment) have to solve the mystery of who is trying to summon Gozer and how they can save the world one more time. Meanwhile, nemesis Walter Peck, who was last seen working for the Environmental Protection Agency, is back to cause trouble for the team, and just who is the alluring woman that seems to constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
It's taken twenty-five years, but this is the Ghostbusters video game for which fans of the franchise have been waiting. With a story written by Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis and voice acting by Aykroyd, Ramis, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton back as Walter Peck, Alyssa Milano joining the team as new character Ilyssa Selwyn, and Brian Doyle-Murray as Jock Mulligan the mayor of New York City, this game provides a detailed story that ties up loose ends from the two films and answers lingering questions you most likely didn't know that you had. Fan service abounds as players are sent to search the hallways of the Sedgewick Hotel in pursuit of the escaped Slimer, run through Times Square as a revived Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attempts to stomp the heroes into paste, consult with Vigo the Carpathian's painting on important matters, learn the backstory of the ghostly librarian that scared the Ghostbusters away at the start of the first film, fight a giant sloar, discover the source of the psychoreactive mood slime from the second film, and — it has to be said — slide down the firehouse's iconic pole.
Licensed games usually drop the ball on story and gameplay, but Ghostbusters manages to break tradition and provide an enjoyable ten hours or so of single-player plot-driven gameplay. Most levels boil down to a routine of using a PKE Meter to track spectral energy before breaking out the proton pack to shoot at ghosts until their energy meters are depleted enough to trap them. The ghostbusting technology works about as it does in the films (don't cross the streams!) with just a few alterations made to fit the video game format. New weapons are gradually added to the proton pack over the course of the game, so be prepared to master the slime blower (now with tethering ability), boson dart, meson collider, and other upgrades & add-ons. For someone like myself who grew up adoring the Ghostbusters franchise, this game is as close as most of us will ever get to strapping on a real working proton pack and busting some heads (in a spiritual sense, of course).
Multiplayer mode involves teaming up online with friends or random players in a cooperative (yet still competitive) selection of game modes. Objectives include capturing more ghosts than the other players, defending a collection of objects from ghostly thieves, surviving wave after wave of paranormal attacks, and more. Some unlockable bonus features round out what the disc has to offer with concept artwork and interviews with the cast offering a little insight on what went into the development of the game. A special segment on the restoration of the classic Ecto-1 (ported over from the recently released Blu-ray version of the first film) is also included, as is the original television commercial that Dana Barrett watches in the original movie ("Our courteous and efficient staff is on call 24 hours a day to serve all your supernatural elimination needs...").
For all that Ghostbusters gets right, it (the PS3 version, at least) has a crippling flaw in how it saves and loads progress data. More often than not, the game will not allow players to resume their single-player progress, insisting that there is not any save data present. Starting a new game erases data that actually does exist on the PS3 hard drive despite the game not seeing it. Quitting the game and then reloading it sometimes fixes this problem, but not always. Moreover, sometimes the game "forgets" all of one's collected cursed artifacts and scanned ghosts, resetting those values all the way back to zero. As if that isn't enough, the game's unlockable extras frequently relock for seemingly no reason at all. It's almost as if the game itself is haunted, but that's much too cute an explanation for what is a broken save/load system. These are fundamental problems that should have been caught and fixed before the game was released, and it doesn't matter how much fun it is to play the game when one's progress cannot be properly handled.
Adding to the technical errors on display, there's another flaw that brings the fun to a halt in the game's library levels. Entering one of the downstairs rooms causes the game's display to freeze and sometimes results in the console locking up entirely. It's possible to push onward by walking through this room backwards, but this sort of thing is unacceptable. Finally, sometimes the game's audio becomes garbled and packed with static for brief periods. I have no idea what has gone wrong over at Terminal Reality for the game to release with these sorts of errors in place, but it's a shame that it happened (and I'm not the only one struggling with them). I asked Terminal Reality to look into these issues, but they were unable to reproduce them. The speculation is that these issues may have something to do with my model of PS3 console (160 GB North American model purchased in November 2008 and running version 2.76 firmware, for the record), so apparently your individual gaming experience may vary, but there's a fantastic experience here for Ghostbusters fans with an unlucky console that have the patience to put up with these problems.
As an aside, you may have heard about an issue with the PS3 version's visuals presented in less than high definition compared to the Xbox 360 version. Personally, I didn't notice any problems with the resolution that hampered my enjoyment of the game. Compressed screenshots don't do the game justice on any platform, and the action looks much better in motion no matter which version you try.
It's difficult for me to assign a single score to the PS3 version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game. When the game handles save data properly, it's an enthralling addition to the Ghostbusters mythos that provides plenty of fantastic gameplay as well as hilarious performances from a talented cast. On the other hand, I cannot overlook its collection of frustrating technical issues. So, in the end, here is my recommendation: devoted fans of the franchise must not miss this game, so while it is possible to play the PS3 version through to the finish if you have the patience (goodness knows I did), if the Xbox 360 or PC versions are available to you (which, from what I understand, are not hideously broken), you would likely be better off with one of those. Short of a patch to fix the technical problems, I just can't stamp a gold seal on this one, and that really is a shame. The level of care that went into the story and gameplay raises the bar on what a movie-based video game can be when the developers actually care about the source material. I only wish that the same level of care had gone into testing the PS3 version for bugs.