Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusters Impressions!

"Don't cross the streams." You might as well sing "Always Coca-Cola" or "Have it your way," it's that memorable. Ghostbusters the movie was never high art, but then we wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Most successful comedy of the 1980s? Check. Best ad libbed lines in a movie ever? Check. Goofiest theme song you can sing without thinking? Check. And despite Columbia Pictures' thoroughly mediocre second try, along with a string of as-thoroughly forgettable earlier era video games, developer Terminal Reality's ballyhooed dust off of the franchise (can you believe it's been 25 years?) manages not to be another bush-league "me too." In fact, as much as I've played so far (the first five hours or so--the game's available today for Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360) it's actually pretty entertaining.

Who, watching the original movie, didn't want to be a Ghostbuster? It's like being a Jedi, only funnier (plus, what's more original--glowing swords and trussed up psychic powers, or curlicued neon streams of particle-accelerated protons fired from portable nuclear accelerators?). Ghostbusters the-2009-video-game lets you finally sign up with the original team, fully proton-packed and rumply beige jump-suited. You've got the neutrona wand, the positron collider, the Cadillac Miller-Meteor Ectomobile, the mechanically absurd Psycho Kinetic Energy (PKE) meter--all you need are some ghosts, which the game's more than happy to spring in phantasmic droves.

How does "ghostbusting" work? Pretty much as you'd expect. Once you've teased a few slimy apparitions out of hiding with your PKE meter, you fire long, warbling strings of electric-orange light to pummel them around and wear them down. They'll retaliate by either winging stuff at you or bull-charging across an area (you can dodge, sort of). Once tamed, you have to lasso them into a floor trap by "slamming" them left or right until the trap's headlight jaws clap shut. Easier said than done when you have squadrons of specters and gargoyles and four or five story tall confectionary behemoths on your tail. Successfully roping and bagging a single ghost can take several minutes, and, needless to say, you'll make exactly the sort of hilarious mess you'd expect to in the process.

Along the way, you'll have the option to sleuth for "artifacts" that raise your financial reserves and, along with monies earned from ghostbusting, allow you to buy equipment upgrades. You'll unlock more of these as you go, but the basic stuff I've seen so far amounts to performance bumps to your proton pack and PKE meter. A spirit lexicon adds a bit of background color by providing stat briefs on each ghost, as well as amusing descriptions of how they died.

Of course you play...well...again with the strong silent type, i.e. the kid who utters no words. I get the design point, but someone somewhere's gotten it stuck in their head that not having the character you play utter a sound enhances your personal connection or identification with the role. Silence becomes you, literally, goes this way of thinking. Except silence doesn't. In fact silence calls attention to itself here in a way that's almost unsettling. Isn't it time we had the option to interact more realistically with other people in these games?

Speaking of interaction, I haven't tried multiplayer yet, but a friendly warning to PC gamers: The Windows version turns out to be the only one that ships without multiplayer. Boo hiss Threewave Software (or whoever's ultimately responsible).

Most of the original cast reprise their roles here, sounding spookily like their jaunty mid-1980s selves. Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd ham it up like two guys in love with the sound of their own voices (because we are, and they certainly deserve to be). Harold Ramis (who co-wrote the story with Ackroyd) delivers solid deadpan geek, Ernie Hudson is his classic incredulous wisenheimer self, Annie Potts does annoying admin assistant like no one else, and even William Atheron (the cantankerous William Peck) is back, mostly to let Bill Murray torture his surname.

As for the writing, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis are perhaps a bit too exuberant about revisiting the last two films' (particularly film number one) greatest hits, trotting out some of its biggest villains in the first hour alone. But then that's what we want from a nostalgic romp like this, isn't it? To play with all the creative gizmos and cackling, super-sized spooks we've only really ever seen in the films until now?

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