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Ghostbusters Day#1 – Who You Gonna Call?

My first day with Ghostbusters. It’s not what I expected in a lot of ways. The narrative is better than I expected, and I am not really groaning at all. On the other hand, the difficulty curve is way off for a normal level, and there are serious feedback and savepoint problems. Jury’s still out. Spoilers within.

Ghostbusters starts the way licensed games do. It’s a movie intro with the big  Paramount and Sony Pictures splashes. It ends quickly enough that it’s fine. Is this still a useful technique for making games feel like movies? I feel like it stopped being cool shortly after Everything or Nothing.

Intro cut scene has a museum exhibit of Gozer, a little back story about the crazed architect, and a mysterious woman running from the scene of a haunting. This bit is very similar to the intro to the first movie. It’s clearly the same writers, and they are unabashed in going back to that formula. Graphics generally live up to 360 expectations.

Game proper starts at the HQ. There are three difficulty settings; I pick the middle one, looking for a challenge but acknowledging my probable suckitude. I’m introduced to the other team members. They are looking up at me from deep in the uncanny valley, but I’ll give the game a pass on that since they are trying to represent iconic real people. Having the voice talent is doing miles for the game, and the writing — while it’s not making me laugh out loud — has more highs than I expected, and the lows aren’t that groan-making.

I’m a white pudgy guy. I had no choice in that. It’s in the spirit of the game, and I appreciate it, but I’m surprised that there wasn’t a female or non-white option. Funny how my expectations have changed with the flexibility of modern games in terms of my avatar. This would never have occurred to me eight years ago. Amazingly, they also don’t let me have a name, although they have a clever explanation of that. (paraphrasing Venkman: “We don’t want to get attached. Remember what happened to the last guy?”)

The action begins right away. Slimer escapes and you have to catch him in the HQ. Three steps involved in catching a ghost: blasting (FPS shoot them), slamming (imagine a fishing game; you drain the ghost’s stamina by tugging against its movement), and trapping (like slamming, but you have to keep the ghost in the cone of the trap). It’s fun, I think, although slamming can get old if it takes too long. There’s a really annoying part where Slimer sits in front of the containment unit and you have to shoot him, “accidentally” breaking the unit and releasing another ghost. I hate that kind of fake agency — don’t give me control in your game and then force me do something that I know is stupid just so that you make me feel responsible and involved.  Games are mature enough that we can use false agency more elegantly.

After that, it’s right into the next level: back to the hotel to get slimer. There you’re introduced to the other mechanic: PKE scanning, which is basically like scanning from Metroid Prime, but you use it in a scavenger-hunt, hot-or-cold kind of gameplay. The game alternates between scanning and busting. I think that works pretty elegantly.

The level itself is not bad. There’s a lot of content here, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Slimer, bellhop minions, fisherman ghost, kitchen-utensil golem — that’s a lot to absorb in an early level.

The surprising thing is that the combat is shockingly hard. First, when you fighting with more than one other buster, the screen is pure chaos. Now the chaos itself is actually kind of fun — it feels like being part of an untrained bunch of incompetents running around with unlicensed nuclear accelerators. But then there’s the crossing the streams thing. It’s impossible to avoid. I did it in every fight in this first hour, every fight. I actually got a cheap (in terms of GamerScore) achievement for Total Protonic Reversal, but damned if I know how I did it or what that meant in terms of gameplay. I better not be getting penalized for this.

Also, I have no idea how much health I have at any moment. I never knew how close I was to dying except by loose instinct, and I was constantly shocked by Mission Failure messages. Whatever the health display is, it is not obvious. Sorry, that’s just bad design.

But the biggest concern I have is with the way savepoints are used. This is one of those go-back-to-the-last-savepoint games, even if that was before a cutscene. Example: There’s a part in the hotel when you chase a fisherman boss ghost down a hallway. You scan which unleashes a flood into the hallway (a short cinematic transition) followed by a quick exchange between Ray and Egon. The problem in that if you fail anywhere in the next five or so minutes of play (which is not an unlikely occurence — see health note above), you go back to before the flood and have to see the cinematic and hear the dialogue again. It is exactly this kind of poor savepoint design that has kept me from finishing any GTA game, and if they don’t get better at this, I worry I won’t finish this game either.

Narrative throughout is pretty good. They have a good take on the old movies, and have some nice details about what’s happened over the last five years. (For example, the city now covers all busting costs, and all insurance on the damage you cause. “A ghost-free city is a tourist-friendly city.”) The level ends with the reintroduction of the Marshmallow Man in the street outside. They are stuffing a lot of old movie references in this game, but the dialogue around it is good, and I guess it’s better to get it out of the way early.

I gave up for the night after dying twice at the beginning of the Stay-Puft level. Overall, the narrative is better than I expected, but the game is harder than it should be, and the jury’s out for me until I see if this savepoint thing is going to make me throw my controller.

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  1. Eric Collado says

    That save mechanic you described annoys me as well. There were three missions in GTA4 that were problematic for me on my first playthrough. Also the notorious missile base level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare where you had to run a lethal gauntlet of narrow corridors filled with machine gun fire and grenades, any death sending you all the way back to a midway point.

  2. admin says

    GTA is the greatest offender on the savepoint massacre front I have ever seen. I got three hours into GTA4 before I quit, exclusively because I could not stand sitting through a cutscene and then minute-long journey across the map only fail at that f***ing race one more time and see it all again. I know there are some technical reasons for this save methodology, but that’s why we innovate on tech — to solve these problems.

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