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Joystiq impressions: Ghostbusters (360/PS3/Wii)

Zack Stern

Ghostbusters is one of those nerdy properties that when reissued, will never please all of its fans. Even in a brief demo with a few other writers, questions -- and follow-ups -- circled around "crossing the streams" and even geekier topics. I'm not at that level of spirit-stopping enthusiast, but I'm cautious about the new version, probably because it shows so much promise. I hate to get behind something, especially a beloved property, only to see it crumble.

The Ghostbusters animation, graphics, settings, and physics look great. The original cast has reassembled to record for this game. It's even being written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. But the biggest thing I didn't see was that story, and that narrative is an important part of Ghostbusters. We'll find out how well the script and setting hold up with its October, 2008 release.

Gallery: Ghostbusters (360/PS3/PC) | 23 Photos

In 1991, set two years after the second Ghostbusters movie, those demons are causing problems in New York again. Your character answers the call to become the fifth Ghostbuster, working with the original team of paranormal investigators.

The gameplay unfolds in a third-person perspective, and it seems like your character will be deliberately generic, with the focus on the old team. (You can't even adjust his appearance.) Instead, the demo led us through a moody office building, with Peter Venkman tossing back exposition and one-liners.

The lighting and shadow effects were subtly detailed, setting the tone. We walked near the top of the tower, along a row of windows. Gloomy beams of light streamed in, with the building's internal lighting mostly off. Stay Puft smiled down from outside as we rounded a corner.

The proton pack effects looked powerful. We blasted Stay Puft a few times in the chin, with the wild, bright beams oscillating all over the screen. His face turned hot-red, then scarred black like a toasted marshmallow.

The demo then jumped to a point up on the roof, where we needed to trap the ghosts of dead construction workers. The single-player story relies on AI teammate help; two characters can wrangle ghosts easier than one. The scene was chaotic, with the Ghostbusters causing incidental damage to all of their surroundings, essentially destroying the setting in the process of trapping the ghosts.

The game's proprietary physics and graphics engines were designed for this sort of demolition. In another demonstration, I saw how piles of books interacted with a flooded basement. The character walked through the bobbing objects, leaving a realistic wake that scattered them apart. Both the water and the animation looked impressive, but the books became overwhelming when they levitated and swirled into a hunched-over golem. Ghostbusters will have in-game moments where the items you destroy can reassemble into new foes.

In another physics demo, I saw one of the new ghost hunting weapons. Gamers rely on the proton pack, but the new slime gun looked both entertaining and useful. Each trajectory requires two points. We shot one at the ceiling first, leaving a long cable of slime back to the gun. Then I saw the effect of shooting items with the other end. After hitting a car with the other end, the slime contracted, straining and hoisting the car near the ceiling. Smaller objects flew straight up.

Object chains added more creativity. After a car was stuck, I saw how new slime tethers could connect even more automobiles, all swinging and bobbing with each addition. After about thirty seconds, the slime wore apart, releasing the items. I'm not sure how those tethers will be useful in the game, but developers talked about creating mines by shooting two ends of the slime together. Ghosts will get trapped when floating nearby.

The demonstration stuck with single-player modes, but Ghostbusters will include a few multiplayer games. For the PS3 and 360, up to four gamers will work together on missions specially designed for a group and unrelated to the main story. Additionally, another scenerio will let two people play ghosts and two play ghostbusters, although I couldn't get any more details. These multiplayer games will connect online and not support split-screen.

Wii gamers will be able to play with four-player split-screen. And they'll control the proton beam with the Wii Remote. (The PS3 game will let players stun ghosts by slamming them into a wall with a quick shake, but further motion controls weren't disclosed.)

I'm cautious in my Ghostbusters assessment because the story will be a central component, and I have no sense of it after this sort of demo. If this were a generic ghost-catching game, I'd already be won over by the excellent physics and setting. But this is a revered franchise.

After focus-testing new Ghostbusters songs, the team has committed to using the Ray Parker Jr. original. So it sounds like the key decisions are being made correctly.

Prototype, 50 Cent, Ghostubsters and more -- check out all our coverage of Sierra's Spring Event 2008!

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