Busting makes me feel good: Hands-on with Terminal Reality’s Ghostbusters

Because I’m nearing the ripe age of 30, it goes without saying that I spent much of my youth in the 80s, so I’m old enough to have seen both Ghostbusters films in the theaters. I also religiously woke up at unheard of hours on Saturday mornings to catch The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and owned the full line-up of Kenner’s action figures. To say that the characters and the franchise appeals to my nostalgic side would be an understatement.

So when a little bird whispered in my ear late last year that they were working on a bona fide follow-up to the original films in the form of a Ghostbusters videogame — with original actors and writers on board — I melted into a seven-year-old boy. Then the news hit: the title, so far along in development, had essentially lost its publisher. The fate of the game was in question, and while it didn’t look like the game would be outright shelved, the 2008 release date was in jeopardy.

Then last week, a package arrived, and hidden inside a jet-black folder were preview builds of the Terminal Reality-developed Ghostbusters: The Video Game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Yes, the game exists, and it’s very playable. Hit the jump for a walkthrough of what it was like my first day on the job as a real Ghostbuster.

Immediately after firing up the preview build, the attention to the spirit of the franchise is evident. The film’s original fun and goofy Elmer Bernstein score bops in the background over the game’s menu screen which depicts the Ghosbusters’ firehouse headquarters in the heart of New York City. Pedestrians walk by and yellow NYC cabs — a lot of yellow NYC cabs — zoom by. My options are limited (multiplayer is listed, but not available in the preview), so I dive right into the single-player game.

The scene is outside the New York City Public Library, and a crowd is gathered around police barricades to catch the action. Four Ghostbusters — Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, Windston Zeddemore, and a rookie (that’s me) — are investigating a reported disturbance. Spengler notes that one of two large lion statues that sits outside the library is missing, and pulls out his ghost detecting P.K.E. meter to “check for valences.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but he notes huge spikes over the statue, and calls me over to check it out.

Instead, I stand around for awhile — not touching the controls — just so I can get a good look at my character. Yup — I’m definitely a Ghostuster, all suited up in brown, wrinked jump-suit. There’s a nicely detailed proton pack sitting on my back, with flashing lights, tubes, wires, and meters that are keeping track of things I don’t understand (I am a rookie, after all). On my hip sits my own P.K.E. meter, also flashing and buzzing, active by my side. Stantz yells at me — voiced by actor Dan Akroyd — to move it, reminding me that “the half-life of a proton pack is only five thousand years.”

I reluctantly move towards the statue, and the reason for my hesitation is confirmed. “Double, full-torso animators” burst from the remaining lion statue, fleeing into the library. Egon, Ray, and Winston (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis at this point) chase the spirit inside. I follow behind, running through a crowd of pigeons that scatter in all directions.

Inside, Egon notes that the “class-two animators” seem really agitated, and with that we follow them upstairs. One sits in a hallway, laughing, and we all “carefully” aim our proton beams in its direction. Not careful enough, we miss, leaving burn marks all over the walls. After Ray instructs me to “take care of that little fellow” myself, I take some time to use my beam to burn my name into the wall. I also take aim at the head of a statue and try to take if off, just to see if I can. I can — it looks like that’s going to cost us, to the tune of $400.

Downstairs, I find a puddle slime on the ground. Pulling out my P.K.E. meter (by pressing Y), I toss on some goggles, and the camera shifts into a first-person view. I follow the meter as it goes wild, scanning the goo on the floor, which I’m told is “Ectoplasmic Residue.” The P.K.E. meter is buzzing out of control, and over our communicators, Egon tells me that the readings are “off the charts.” The screeches of the meter lead me to a glass display cabinet, and a ghoul bursts out of it, knocking me over in the process. He’s slimed me.

After picking myself up off the floor, I use my goggles and P.K.E. meter to follow a purple mist that leads me towards a large opening in the library. It’s calm, but Egon and Ray — shouting from a floor above — tell me they’ve followed a “very strong and very angry” spirit here. Things are quiet … too quiet. Then it happens: a ghost bursts from the ground (Egon calls it a class-V something or other), and begins tearing apart the room, knocking over chairs, books, and tables. The damage I caused to the statue earlier is a joke compared to this; the bill from the city is going to be intense.

From scattered books and a single desk lamp, a Book Golem forms, stomping through the room and tearing apart the environment in an effort to crush me. The three of us fire up our proton packs (pulling the right trigger) and we do our best to take it down; while the streams are blasting, I pull the left trigger to fire a “Boson Dart,” a strong burst of boson particles that helps weaken the golem. My pack overheats — a rookie mistake — and I automatically vent it. I later learn I can manually vent the pack (by pressing the right bumper), kind of like reloading a gun.

After revealing the golems weak spot, it falls to the ground, and we finally make some cash on the kill — $2000. But there’s more busting to be done, and we spot the library spirit, Elenor Twitty, who I recognize as the first ghost hunted in the original 1984 film. We follow her into some books stacks, deeper into the library. We try to stay together, but our path is cut off by the spirits who are pushing shelves in our way, keeping us apart. Smart little buggers.

Alone and in the dark, I run into an irritated spirit who bursts from a stack of books, and I take it out with a combination of my streams and a boson dart. I make the Ghostbusters $4000 for the kill; I’m getting us out of our deep financial hole, slowly but surely. At one point, I run into an innocent citizen trapped in a room, who quickly thanks me before running off. No kiss, no cash. I’m bitter, so out of spite, I start taking things out in the room. I destroy some bowls: $8. A step stool: $18. A metal chair: $32. An entire table: $350.

Satisfied with my destruction, I make my way to another room, where Ray meets up with me after fumbling down a conveyer belt. He’s followed by possessed book bats that are flapping their covers and are unpredictably flying around the room. We take them out together, earning a bunch of cash in the process. Then, one of the “class-two animators” appears and now is our chance to capture it.

“Throw your trap, rook,” Ray yells at me.

I press X and toss a trap into the center of the room. It automatically opens up, a beam of lighting shooting directly up at the ceiling. Ray and I work tirelessly to capture the bastard in our beams, working together to weaken it and hold it in place. When held steady, I’m able to slam it into the walls and floor, further weakening the creature. After much struggling (and destroying most of the room in the process), we pull it over the trap, and a yellow, tornado-like vacuum pulls it down and in. A job well done.

Here the preview ends — the demo fades to black and then returns to the title screen — and I’m a bit disappointed that my ghost busting adventures are coming to a close so soon. It’s such a tease, only offering a taste of what the final game will have to offer. Poking around the in-game pause menus, I can see that there’s so much equipment I haven’t had a chance to use, and everything seems to be upgradable (presumably using the money we made during our bust … maybe I shouldn’t have destroyed that table). Along with the demo I was also sent sheets detailing some of the game’s equipment, including some things that weren’t included in the demo — something called a “Slime Blower, Mark II” and a “Meson Collider,” for instance.

There’s much we’ve yet to see from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, but it looks like Terminal Reality are on the right track. From the little I played, there’s definitely a good sense that the spirit of the films is being capture, including little details and references to the fiction that should please those hardcore Ghostbuster fans that are still making replica proton packs in their basement.

But for gamers and casual fans of the films, there’s plenty of action, and a lot to look forward to whenever Ghostbusters: The Video Game actually makes its way to store shelves. Unfortunately, we can’t confirm it that’ll be this year or next, but one thing’s for sure: the game exists, is very playable, and busting will — as it usually does — make you feel good.

Nick Chester