X3F Impressions: Ghostbusters

How long has it been since the original Ghostbusters hit theaters? It was over two decades ago you say? Well then, it sounds like the perfect time to revive the franchise, capitalize on nostalgia, and of course churn out some crappy video game tie-ins. What's that you say there? Ghostbusters the game actually looks good? Really? Really. It does. With a fresh approach to the license based around manipulating the environment, and with an entirely in-house engine, Terminal Reality and Sierra could be looking at the best licensed game since Riddick.

As a third person action-adventure, you're the newbie on the team in a story written by some of the property's original writers. The gameplay is mostly based around the backpack (Proton Pack), and the game uses it and the many colored lights and meters on it as the equivalent of your HUD. We weren't able to see much gameplay (just a section of a single level), but we were shown some impressive tech demos which showcased some very impressive physics. After the advent of middleware and Havok, impressive physics aren't something you see much anymore, but when witnessing over a thousand Gamecube sized blocks moving and bouncing independently a la those crazy videos of Crysis, all you can possibly think is impressive physics.

The in-house tech was shown off even more when the presenter loaded up a room that resembled an enormous library. The room was filled with books, chairs, tables, and more, laid out as one would expect of a library. Then our presenter started destroying it, using the Proton Pack to rip apart (akin to DMM) literally hundreds of chairs, dozens of desks and a ridiculous number of books, all without any performance hit. Then came the cars. Using the dev kit, the presenter spawned some cars into the library and showed us some of the other functions of the Proton Pack.

The other function we saw was called the "Slime Tether" and allowed for even more fun with physics. Shooting a chair first, then the ceiling, would cause the chair to shoot skyward until it was hanging from the ceiling by what resembled a large booger. The effect was cumulative, as connecting a car bumper to the ceiling would only cause that end to lift, with more tethers slowly raising the heavy car into the air. These weren't the only neat physics-related moments though, as we saw during a display of volumetric water with a bunch of books floating in it. Then the books were possessed by a ghost, flew together to form a giant book-monster, and attacked. Which was of course, awesome. Imagine walking through an environment and having all the objects within it fly together and suddenly form your enemy!

The possession aspect of your ghostly enemies plays a large part in the gameplay, allowing ethereal ghosts to posses a variety of objects in all sorts of different ways. During our demonstration, we were only able to see two ways, but we were told that there might be more awaiting implementation. The two types we saw included the aforementioned "the environment-forms-an-enemy" type, which was imposing, surprising, and offered good potential variety. Then there was the more basic and common "the environment-is-the-enemy" type, in which a ghost will inhabit a specific object and cause it to fly at you and impact you. Following physics, ghosts that possess heavier objects will hurt you more when they toss themselves at you, and lighter objects will hurt you less.

Not all your enemies will be able to possess objects however, as all the ghosts are split between ethereal and corporeal. The corporeal ones are solid, less human-looking, and are quite simply destroyed. The ethereal ones are immaterial, generally more human-looking, and are usually captured via a ghost trap. The gameplay surrounding the ghosts is similar to that of the environments, in that you can destroy the environs to prevent ghostly possession, and you can of course destroy the corporeal ghost outright. However, the environmental interaction gameplay will only take you so far in ethereal ghost fights. Because of the need to be captured, ethereal ghosts have to be forced into ghost traps.

Using a mechanic that feels ripped right from a fishing game, the Proton Pack can attach to an ethereal ghost and the player then uses the right analog stick to smash the ghost into the ground to weaken them. Then, again using the right analog stick, the player moves the weakened ghost to a previously laid ghost trap, where they're sucked into its depths. While that sounds easy, the actual use of the analog stick feels a bit foreign and silly, and from what we saw the ghosts are going to be fighting your stick motions every step of the way, requiring much too much time spent smashing them into the ground. While it did seem a bit unbalanced, it might simply have been that it's tuned for co-op, or simply not at all.

The game features cooperative play, but not all the way through, with only specific missions available for co-op (no definite word at the moment, but it's likely to have online co-op). In gameplay, having another ally (computer or human) "fishing" the ghost into the trap with you will make the entire task easier. The only real problem with the trap-style gameplay that we observed was the necessity to capture all the ghosts in an area before leaving, which was a bit tedious, as some ghosts ended up hiding in out of the way locales. When we asked about it, we were told that there was balancing and design left to do to prevent a lot of those "where's the last f@#$*! ghost!" situations.

From our first impressions, if the team at Terminal Reality can stick to the things that the game's got going right so far (not taking itself too seriously, physics-based puzzles, limited fishing-stlye ghost capture, and just shooting destructible things with the Proton Pack) then they'll have a great game on their hands. If they go too far over the top, it could end up nothing more than a glorified tech demo. However, that doesn't look too likely at the moment, and this might end up being not only a great licensed game, but also a possible sleeper hit.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.