I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts: Hands-On With Ghostbusters

If you're of a certain age--you know, over 30 or so--the first few notes of Ray Parker Jr.'s theme to Ghostbusters invariably will bring up warm memories of the classic 80s comedy film starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis. Atari is looking to stoke those nostalgic fires with...


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If you're of a certain age--you know, over 30 or so--the first few notes of Ray Parker Jr.'s theme to Ghostbusters invariably will bring up warm memories of the classic 80s comedy film starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis. Atari is looking to stoke those nostalgic fires with the upcoming Ghostbusters: The Videogame, a sequel of sorts tothe films,starring all of the original cast of the film. The game has had a long strange trip--including being bounced from one publisher to the next. It appears that we're now in the final stretch, however, as we creep closer to its release and (not coincidentally) the 25th anniversary of the first Ghostbusters film. Having last seen the game in November, I had a chance to try out both the Wii and 360 versions of the game last week.

Though the Wii version follows the same narrative as the other versions of Ghostbusters its controls, as you might expect, are substantially different. When I last saw the game in November, I was pretty much convinced that was a bad thing. Back then, wrangling ghosts into traps using your proton beams was an absolute exercise in frustration; involving slamming ghosts to the ground to stun them, following arrows indicated on screen to keep your beam attached to them, and generally inexact controls that made the whole process entirely frustrating.

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While the system for capturing ghosts was still intact in the newer build--you still need to grab them with your beam, slam them to the ground, and then pull them into the trap (which you can toss with a press of the Z button). The improvement here is the controls themselves--it seems easier not just to wrangle a ghost into a trap once you've latched on, it's also simply easier to grab a ghost with your proton beam.

Of course, not all ghosts need to be caught; some just need to be zapped. Your proton beam, after all, is a powerful weapon, one that cause massive amounts of damage to walls and objects around you… which is exactly the point. The game keeps track of all the damage you cause during your missions which, once the ghosts start flying, can be quite extensive.

The Wii version will feature two player split screen co-operative play, where you and a buddy can take on ghosts together. There are points where the split-screen play turns into a single screen, especially when taking on big enemies. Of course, enemies don't get much bigger than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, which I had a chance to take on during my hands-on time with the Wii version. Here you and your buddy are hanging off the side of a building as Stay Puft scales the side of the building towards you. Most of the fight is spent zapping Stay Puft in the grill with proton beams. Occasionally he'll toss a huge chunk of building at you which you can then grab with your proton pack (by pressing the B button) and then blast back at him by pressing A. Do that enough times--and manage to dodge other debris by moving left or right on-screen--and you'll eventually take the big gooey guy down.

While the Wii developers took a wise route of making their version of Ghostbusters with a cartoonish visual style, the Xbox 360 version of the game is going the more realistic route. From theexaggerated yet realisticreproductions of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler to a slime ghost that looks better than the original film monster, the visuals in the 360 version of the game are coming together just fine. There's also plenty of little touches--the little lights and detailed mechanical whizbangs that make up the Ghostbusters' proton pack; the deep black scars you leave on hotel walls as you blast your proton beams.

In my last look at the game, I described a fight with the elderly librarian, deep in the bowels of the New York City Library. Immediately after that fight, a portal to another dimension opens up. In a level known as the Hall of Mirrors, you'll fight an enemy ghost who appears and disappears periodically. Using your proton pack you can zap him as he appears--and cause absolute mayhem to the mirrors that line the halls you're exploring.

There's also other types of weapons you'll earn as you go: the slime blower which, as its name implies, sprays green, sticky goop at enemies, as well as a slime tether, which can be attached to objects. At first slime tethers, seem more like toys than weapons--you attach one end to a wall and another end to a piece of furniture, and the tether will yank the object up in the air and suspend it from wherever you first placed it. As producers told us, the tether is more than just a toy; you can tether ghosts to it and use these tethers to help lead them into the ghost containment traps. There's also the PKE meter, which is handy not just for locating hidden ghosts in the area but also as a method for discovering how enemies can be defeated. Indeed, the length of a scan will give you a different level of information--partial scans will only show you so much about a ghost, while scanning it fully will often offer you hints on how to defeat it.

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Throughout both versions of the game, the personalities of all of the Ghostbusters shine through--from the egghead ramblings of Dan Akroyd's Ray Stantz, to the wisescracks of Bill Murray's Peter Venkman. The work-in-progress cutsceneswe saw are effective as well--with subtle facial animations, a good-natured sense of humor, and videogame recreations of the film's famous locales that all bring back the feel of the originalmovie. And, of course, that ever-present Ray Parker Jr. theme song doesn't hurt either. Look for more on Ghostbusters: The Videogamein the coming weeks.

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