Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II are my two favorite movies of all time. I will not watch one without the other. Ghostbusters II was the first movie I remember seeing in the movie theater when it was released in 1989. I’ve been a fan of these movies for as long as I can remember… and for as long as the Internet has been around, rumors of Ghostbusters III were present. I’m in the camp of Ghostbusters fans who would have loved to see a third movie starring our favorite scientists, Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, and the layman member of the Ghostbusters, Winston Zeddemore.
I really don’t want to get into the defense of Ghostbusters II here, but just know that I hold it in very high regard. You can’t argue with the fact that the movie has some incredible one liners, and really seems to visually flesh out the lore of the franchise. I have yet to get into the IDW Ghostbusters comic book series, which I hear is really good, by the way. The comic book series further develops the canon of my favorite science fiction/comedy series.
When the talk of a Ghostbusters III picked up steam a few years ago, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait for a new entry. Bill Murray seemed to be holding off on making the movie, but I was confident he would turn it around and agree to make it eventually. Then Harold Ramis died. For the uninformed, Harold Ramis played Egon, and wrote the movies with Dan Aykroyd. This killed any hopes of a new Ghostbusters movie for me. I would have loved to see Dana Barrett’s son Oscar all grown up and busting ghosts, or a new batch of Ghostbusters with the originals as mentors.
At this point, you may be wondering why I’m babbling on about movies at a video game site. You may also not be wondering because the header image likely cued you in on what I’d be getting into in this article. There IS a Ghostbusters III, and it was developed by Terminal Reality and published by Atari. That’s right, the third Ghostbusters movie is actually Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
When I received a Game Informer in the mail from my wife at the tail end of 2007, I about wet my pants. I was newly deployed on my second tour in Iraq, and I was a bit too busy at the time to keep up with video game news. Ghostbusters: The Video Game was going to have ALL OF THE ORIGINAL CAST! Well, except Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, who both declined to be involved. I was SO EXCITED! This was going to be the Ghostbusters III experience I had been waiting for!
When it was finally released in 2009, I bought the game on release day and immediately tore into it. While I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay experience, I felt the story left a lot to be desired. The writing wasn’t great, and the acting felt a bit phoned in. I was disappointed. I didn’t touch the game again until this month. When I picked it up again to research the game for this article, I wasn’t expecting much. Playing through it again, I did enjoy the game, but since I had such low expectations for it, it easily exceeded my perception of the game that I had created 6 years ago.
I’m not going to give a whole rundown of everything that happens in the story here, but I’ll give you the basic plot points. Two years after the events of Ghostbusters II, the family of Ivo Shandor, the Gozer Worshiper who built Dana Barrett’s apartment building, donated heavily to the New York Museum of Natural History to establish a Gozer exhibit. A anthropologist named Ilyssa Selwyn seems to have unknowingly kicked off events to summon Gozer again. The Ghostbusters, with a new recruit only known as the Rookie, do their best to manage the huge new waves of ghosts and discover what is happening to the city. Ivo Shandor is revealed to have come back from the dead to summon the power of Gozer to take it for himself. The Ghostbusters stop him and save the city.
The game heavily throws back to the original Ghostbusters movie, reusing villians, settings, and even jokes. I don’t really have a problem with the chosen plot and setting, even if it does feel like it’s retreading old ground. It really makes sense from a gameplay perspective. You get to fight Slimer AND the Stay Puft Marshmallow man! I mean, that’s really cool in and of itself. You also get to explore the Sedgwick Hotel and the public library, which were pretty major set pieces early in the first Ghostbusters movie. This was obviously done in an effort to let the player experience moments from the first movie, while still providing a new story experience.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game was written by writers at Terminal Reality, with rewrites and major credits going to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Again, while I would have loved to see a completely new story that didn’t revive Gozer and Ivo Shandor, I don’t mind the retread. What absolutely didn’t work were the incredibly forced jokes and gags found throughout the game. There were so many call backs to the incredible one-liners from the original movie that I felt like Dan and Harold were winking, nodding, and nudging me saying, “See what I did there? I totally just referenced the first movie!” It just didn’t work. The new jokes weren’t all that funny, either. I suppose that these guys just didn’t have the same chops they did in the 80’s. If you look at some of Harold Ramis’s movies from around the same time, like the atrocious Year One, you’d know what I mean. As much as I love Ramis’s earlier work (FREAKING GROUNDHOG DAY!), his later stuff just wasn’t as funny, as far as the work I’ve seen.
As far as the characterization of the individual Ghostbusters, Ray and Egon are spot on. It makes sense that the two guys most involved in the creation of the video game played the two characters that seemed to be the most like their counterparts. Ray and Egon are very present throughout the game, and help mentor the player in learning their ghostbusting role.
Winston doesn’t seem like himself anymore. In the movies, he was the layman, and did what he could to make sense of Ray and Egon’s constant technobabble for the non technical characters, as well as the viewer. In the game, he doesn’t really seem to take that role as much, and has even obtained a doctorate degree in the two years time between the second movie and the game. Unless Winston was silently working on his education during the movies and we were never told, that’s a pretty quick time period to obtain an advanced degree.
Of the original four ghostbusters, Peter is the one that has taken the weirdest turn. He still doesn’t take his job seriously, throws in his sarcastic one liners, and chases after a woman throughout the story, but Bill Murray played Peter in such a way that he doesn’t feel like the Dr. Venkman we came to love. Peter Venkman was very deadpan with his sarcasm and humor in the movies, but in the video game, he almost takes a spastic turn and mimics the version of Venkman from the cartoons, The Real Ghostbusters. It’s jarring and just doesn’t come across well. Peter Venkman was always my favorite ghostbuster, and getting to interact with him in the game just wasn’t the experience I was hoping it was. I don’t know whether to attribute this to Bill Murray’s phoned in acting, the director, or the script.
Peter’s “love interest,” Ilyssa Selwyn, is terribly voiced by Alyssa Milano. While it’s cool that she has a background in Sumerian culture, she feels more like a MacGuffin than a character. The ghostbusters are constantly chasing after her to save her, and she doesn’t really add much to the game in terms of interesting or funny dialogue. She just feels incredibly flat. The romance between Venkman and Ilyssa also doesn’t make any sense. Peter hits on her a few times, and just comes off as a creeper. In the movies, Peter still seems creepy, but he has a suave charm to him as well. That charm isn’t shown in game at all. When the two end up kissing, it’s just like…”when the hell did she decide to get involved with Peter?”
Janine and Walter Peck show up and seem pretty true to their movie origins, but the new character, the Mayor, comes straight out of a cartoon. He’s flamboyant, has a cartoon character voice, and genuinely doesn’t fit. He’s played by Bill Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle Murray, who actually showed up briefly in Ghostbusters II as a psychiatrist. He didn’t do a bad job in the movie, despite his limited role, so I’m not sure what he was thinking when he decided to terribly voice the mayor character.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game gets one major thing right, that a lot of cinematic video games fail to do these days: It almost never makes you watch the game, and instead lets you play it. There are a few unplayable cutscenes throughout the game, but you’ll never feel like you’re missing out on the action. This isn’t a Metal Gear Solid or a Final Fantasy, where you’ll wait for 20 minutes just to get the game started. You’re already busting ghosts 5 minutes into the game, and it’s pretty much non-stop action from that point on.
Is it worth playing? Hell yes, even if only to experience Ghostbusting in a video game. It plays almost perfectly, and you can see where the game harkens to a third person shooter. Different proton pack functions are different weapons, like a machine gun, shotgun, etc. proton pack overheating is like reloading ammo. Scanning for valences with the PKE meter is a pretty cool touch as well. Floating and moving furniture, fleeting glimpses of ghosts, slime dripping from the walls, and other subtle haunting make the game surprisingly scary, without resulting to jump scares. There is so much going for this game that the relatively flat dialogue just doesn’t matter.
Do I consider this game Ghostbusters III? No, I really don’t. I loved being able to have the whole Ghostbusters experience, where I strapped on a proton pack and wrangled in a few spooks, but I still don’t like how the dialogue was written, and how flat and underwhelming the story and characters felt. Dan Aykroyd stated that Ghostbusters: The Video Game IS Ghostbusters III. This almost makes me glad that a Ghostbusters III never actually happened, though you have to wonder if he and Ramis would have upped their game for an actual theatrical release.