The hubbub surrounding the new Ghostbusters movie has been so well documented that even the Internet-deprived people of North Korea have likely heard about it. The response to the first trailer for the 2016 reboot of the supernatural comedy franchise has been nothing short of vitriolic, to the point that it's one of the most hated videos ever put on YouTube. Even Nickelback doesn't have a video with that many dislikes. Perhaps it's selective memory or maybe it's rose tinted glasses, but it seems like a lot of people have forgotten that the "beloved franchise" that Internet warriors are uniting in defence of already had a sequel that everybody moaned about way back in 1989, named Ghostbusters II.
The plot of Ghostbusters II revolved around a river of pink slime flowing under the streets of New York City. The slime would feed off of people's emotions, and the hate, bigotry, anger, and fear in late '80s New York were charging the slime up with negativity. After years of built up emotions, the stuff was basically liquid nastiness, and it would corrupt anyone or anything that touched it with the feelings contained within it.
Presumably, that very same slime has been flowing beneath our cities for the last year or two, and all of the hyperbolic, overblown, and often shocking hatred regarding the new movie has been charging it up. Once the slime was full to the brim with all of the sickness that the Internet could muster, someone at FireForge accidentally dropped a PlayStation 4 disc down a manhole and into the pink goo below. Minutes later, the ground broke, slime rose out of the cracked pavement like a garish, erupting volcano, and hell itself vomited the disc back out.
The disc landed at the feet of a passing Activision executive, who promptly picked it up, wiped away the sludge with a handkerchief, turned to his colleague, and read aloud the inscription emblazoned across the Blu-Ray: "It's Ghostbusters for the PS4. Hey Pauline, do you think we can release this in time for the movie?"
Perhaps it's poor form to spend the first 350 words of a review contemplating an unlikely scenario as to how this game came to be, but it's easily the most fun we've had since starting it. Ghostbusters is the worst kind of cynical movie cash-in. It's dull, repetitive, lifeless, joyless, artless, and bears little of any resemblance to any incarnation of Ghostbusters we've come across before. If you're one of those people that has been furiously down-voting trailers for the Paul Feig Ghostbusters movie on YouTube, then let us give you a fiver's worth of free advice – let it go, because if there's one release this July that's going to drag the Ghostbusters name through the mud, it's not going to be the movie.
Immediately upon starting the game up you'll be greeted by the classic Ray Parker Jr Ghostbusters theme song. I hope you like it because you'll be hearing it over and over again between every single mission. Starting a new game quickly explains that the Ghostbusters are all busy saving the country from ghosts that are trying to assassinate the President, but there's four new recruits ready to clean up the streets. This is all explained in a two minute cut-scene that delivers lines like "There's something strange, right here, in the neighbourhood" with such a spectacular lack of wit that it's unclear as to whether the writers were simply lazy or if they're subversively mocking their own game.
Once the game starts you'll be given the choice of which Ghostbuster you want to play as. There's two men and two women. None of them have names as far as we can tell. Or personalities. They just occasionally shout out one liners so insipid and annoying that by the third time you've heard "Sprite this way" or "I see right through you" you'll pray for a power cut. The first level instructs you in the ways of playing the game. It's a twin-stick shooter. The left stick moves you around in what feels like slow motion and the right stick aims. Pulling the trigger shoots. Each of the Ghostbusters has a different weapon but they're all basically the same. If you're playing alone then the other three Ghostbusters will be controlled by the AI, but there's also an option to play couch co-op with friends.
You'll walk around the level with your PKE Meter out detecting ghostly presences, and then when the ghosts turn up you'll blast them into oblivion. Eventually you'll reach a big ghost that needs to be worn down by concentrated fire, and then you can switch to the classic Ghostbusters proton beam weapon to hold them in place, slam them into the ground for some reason, and catch them by throwing out a trap and hitting X as quickly as you can.
This is probably the first time we've ever reviewed a game in which explaining how the tutorial level works is also a set of spoilers for the rest of the game. You never do anything else the whole time you play. Does this sound boring? It goes beyond boring. This is like the gaming equivalent of Chinese water torture. If 24 were still on TV, you could expect Jack Bauer to forget hooking a car battery up to somebody's nipples to find out where the nuke is – he'd just get them to play this game for a couple of hours and he'd have the terrorist plot foiled in time for lunch. There is literally not a moment of joy to be had playing this game.
As you shoot things you'll earn points that can be used to level up your character and upgrade stats like how much damage you do and how much health you have. Health is important because when you run out of it, you'll fall on the floor and say, "I need help!" and then one of the other Ghostbusters just comes over and picks you up. Yes, the penalty for death in this game is that you're instantly revived and must continue playing the game. We're not even sure if it's possible to get a game over screen. We certainly didn't see one, and we'd remember if we did because it would have been a highlight of our time playing Ghostbusters.
The levelling up system in the game is so poorly designed that it's worth mentioning. You level up for killing ghosts, but your AI buddies don't. They kill ghosts and they get points for it, but they don't level up at all. So by the end of the game you'll be a high level and they'll all still be level one, struggling to deal with the challenge. That's okay. Since it doesn't matter if they die and they can just be revived without penalty, you can just do it all on your own. You could ask a friend to play the game with you to avoid this, but we'd only recommend doing so if you found out that your friend has been stealing from you or has been trying it on with your partner.
Roger Ebert once famously opined that video games are not art, and Ghostbusters is Exhibit A for his case. This is not art. It barely qualifies as a game. Sure, it's not broken like some games are. It's functional. It works. But there's no risk, no ambition, and not a trace of anything resembling the personality of the Ghostbusters movies or cartoons. This is a game that seems like it was made with the specific purpose of tricking parents who don't know any better into buying it for their kids.
Who ya gonna call? The Samaritans, probably.