Why the Ghostbusters game is “essentially the third movie”

Feature Philip Tibbetts 2 Jun 2014 - 06:42

There's still no Ghostbusters 3, but maybe the 2009 videogame adaptation could fill that gap? Philip explains...

30 years since one of the most acclaimed geek comedy films of all time was first released, the power of and love for the franchise can still be seen in one the film industry’s most persistent rumours – the development of a long awaited Ghostbusters 3. Whilst the cinematic series finished 25 years ago with 1989's Ghostbusters 2 there have been developments on a third film for nearly as long.

Fortunately there have been a number of Ghostbusters series in different media over the years to keep fans sated for new content; from the Extreme Ghostbusters cartoon of the 90s to current IDW comic adventures. Indeed both series inspiring their own sub-continuities within the Ghostbusters universe.

However there is one instalment in the franchise that has been billed by co-creator Dan Aykroyd himself as being “essentially the third movie”. This was the 2009 Terminal Reality videogame that was brought out to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the franchise. So in honour of the 30th anniversary of the first Ghostbusters film we look back at the videogame to see whether it is a story worth being part of a trilogy for such a seminal franchise and whether, as a videogame, it can be appreciated as a movie at all.

The plot of the game picks up in 1991, two years after the events of Ghostbusters 2 and the team, now municipal contractors, have just hired a new recruit to help test new equipment. A massive psychokinetic energy spike emanates from a new Gozerian museum exhibit, setting off a fresh wave of hauntings across New York. As events unfold the Ghostbusters realise that Gozer himself may not be finished with this world as Ivo Shandor’s legacy is rooted deep into the fabric of the city.

True to its word, the videogame sets its stall out as a movie straight away with a pre-credits sequence and then start credits that actively ape a cinematic opening. Obviously most games will have an intro cut scene so that maybe isn’t much of a surprise, though here the direction does feel very movie like. The start credits really ram the point home though, feeling every inch like this could be viewed on the big screen.

Obviously then the gameplay starts in earnest but the very construction of the game shows the lengths to which the designers have attempted to reduce the overt videogame elements to provide a more cinematic experience. The videogame elements obviously haven’t been removed, else it wouldn’t be a game, but they have been developed in a very subtle and restrained way to give the feel of the movies.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is how the on-screen information for the player is all incorporated into the character design. This is done by giving meaning to all the lights and displays on the proton pack carried by the player. As such all the information is there for the videogame player yet for the movie watcher there are no extraneous on-screen informatics to distract from being absorbed into the story.

That’s not to say everything is perfect for creating the silver screen experience. There are some limitations that simply cannot be overcome such as graphics. The graphics, though not always perfect, are not bad in any sense and there is nothing inherently wrong with having a computer generated animation for a Ghostbusters instalment – indeed this allows us to see the team in their early 90s prime. Yet most cut scenes have to be rendered through the game engine which perhaps loses out on some of the visual spectacle that might be desired. Though, conversely, this does mean that the cut scenes are not too visually jarring from the gameplay itself.

Another area where active gameplay must force some comprise on the purely passive viewing experience comes with the battling sections of the game. Players still need challenge, content and interactivity, which requires the game to have a play life far in excess of your usual film running time. For a movie viewer the battle sections, which expand the gameplay, don’t always advance the plot so can end up feeling a little overlong. Though in fairness the varied enemy designs and offensive capabilities of the character stop things from becoming too repetitive.

However overall the relatively short length helps to concentrate the plot down and thus it ticks along at a good pace. So whilst the game might feel a bit short for a videogame player it focuses on its goal of telling a story effectively. The movie watcher viewing the game is also helped by some very nice pieces of dialogue sprinkled into the gameplay sections. As with any in-game dialogue some of this can get a tad repetitious at times, but there is a lot of context and situational specific quotes that keep things fresh with the Ghostbusters humour you’d expect.

This reveals one of the major trump cards for the videogame’s claim to its third instalment status – the writing and vocal contributions from the original Ghostbusters themselves. Aykroyd and the late, great Harold Ramis helped work on the script and this gives a genuine Ghostbusters feeling to the whole tone of the game. Not just with the in-game dialogue but the rest of the script and the well worked plot. The plot could be accused of mining elements from the first film, such as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man or the Library Ghost, but it does so in inventive ways that build into a worthwhile and rewarding sequel.

On voice acting Aykroyd and Ramis are joined by Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray to complete the busting team, despite the fact that Murray allegedly wavered before committing. Annie Potts and William Atherton also return as Janine Melnitz and Walter Peck respectively. Even the Mayor from Ghostbusters 2, Brian Doyle-Murray, puts in a return appearance. Whilst it is a shame that Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis were not involved but the presence of so many other original actors, including the entire core team themselves, lends a genuine chemistry to the characters on the screen. Like the Big Finish audios of Doctor Who being the next best thing to the TV show itself, indeed being enshrined in canon, the use of the original actors here for the Ghostbusters is not only a joy to behold but makes it veritably easy to automatically accept this as an official instalment of the franchise.

Given the level of original talent packed into the game it is a masterstroke by the designers to provide the player with a dramatically mute protagonist. Doing so means that both game player and movie watcher can watch the stars and the writing shine. To have given the player’s character a greater voice would have only served to break up the perfectly delivered script. Similarly, whilst necessarily involved in the action, by allowing the original team to take centre stage means you can simply enjoy the story unfolding in front of you rather than the player doing something jarring and ruining the magic. For instance if you could have played as Peter would you have acted as self-assured, smarmy or sarcastic as the original character? Very probably not, so best let the original writers and actor bring Venkman back to life with the player as new character.

Obviously some allowances have to be made by both viewer and player to account for the games hybrid nature, but these are comparatively minor with respect to the positives for each and the broadly seamless way this fusion is achieved. Immediately following its release in 2009, Ghostbusters: The Video Game reviewed pretty positively in the gaming press and tellingly was nominated for awards around its cast and storytelling. Five years later we can look back and confirm that this instalment of Ghostbusters works well, not only as a game but as a movie too.

Importantly for the future Ghostbusters: The Video Game probably does prove, to fans such as your dear author who look forward to a Ghostbusters 3 with almost the same burning desire as we did for Doctor Who in the wilderness years, that there is life in this franchise and that the pessimism surrounding a new cinematic outing is maybe not fully justified. It certainly proves that it is possible to write more enjoyable stories around the team and involvement from the original actors and writers can bring the sparkle deserving of the unique Ghostbusters franchise. However for those who fear the absence of the original writers, cast and even setting of the first two films this game doesn’t offer any solace. Though strictly speaking it doesn’t necessarily prove such fears to be founded either.

However it almost doesn’t matter what it means for Ghostbusters 3, as Ghostbusters: The Video Game is truly an enjoyable addition to the franchise, well worth recognising as a full instalment in its own right and definitely worth seeking out to watch. 30 years on and bustin’, still, make us feel good...

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