Paul Feig, director of the divisive new Ghostbusters film, has admitted that the maelstrom of negativity that preceded its launch may well have done it a favour in the long run, drawing attention it might not otherwise have received. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as they say – at least where multi-million-dollar movie franchises are concerned.
The film’s tie-in game would be so lucky to provoke any kind of strong feelings. This twin-stick shooter, developed by relatively unknown studio Fireforge and hastily published by Activision, is just competent enough to avoid being completely unplayable, but it lacks any kind of substance or originality that might make it worth recommending to absolutely anyone. As the complete lack of promotion might have indicated, it’s the worst kind of shovelware: inoffensive, soulless, ultimately forgettable filler that has no respect for either its players or its source material.
But then you probably could have guessed that before you clicked on this review. Film tie-in games rarely receive the due diligence their respective big-budget franchises demand. They’re just another marketing exercise for studio executives to tick off, in between the branded yogurts, Happy Meal toys and Primark pyjamas. At their very worst, we’re at least granted a laugh or two at the game’s expense – at how cheaply they’re produced, or how woefully ineffective they are at capturing the magic of their source. Ghostbusters is certainly cheap, but by and large it’s just too bland to muster any kind of feeling towards, lukewarm, tepid, or otherwise. A small part of me wishes I hated it more, just to have something more spicy to write about.
Most likely for licensing or financial reasons rather than anything more pernicious, you don’t play as the four heroines of the actual 2016 film. Instead, you take on the role of one of four newbies, who I don’t think are ever named, so I’ve just been calling them Ginger Bear, Plucky Twink, Sassy McEdgePants and The Clever One. If you’re playing the game alone (which I suspect most people will be, unless you have a particularly patient friend group willing to sit and endure this in local multiplayer, or drop 31.99 on a fleeting hour’s worth of dubious entertainment), then the other characters will be very loosely controlled by AI, shouting lazy puns and copy/paste banter in each other’s general direction at regular intervals. If you persevere through the tutorial, you’ll probably want to turn the dialogue off completely, since every time you catch a ghost – every single time, mind – the Ghostbusters will yell one of four instructions about how you should slam them or trap them or not let them get away, as though the tenacious on-screen button prompts weren’t clue enough.
Each of the main characters wields a different primary weapon – Sassy has dual pistols, Twink a rifle, Bear lugs around a big ol’ Gatling gun and The Clever One has a shotgun – but all these really amount to are slightly varied rates of fire. Each character also sports their own unique grenade with an AOE status effect – slime that slows down enemies, for example, or a flashing that temporarily stuns them – but again, these effects do little to change the fact that most of the action is just you pointing your weapon in the general direction of a crowd of zombies or a flock of demon books and lazily firing until they all go away.
At intervals so regular and predictable you could set your watch by them, a trappable ghost will turn up. The only difference in battling these is that once their health is whittled down, you’ll be prompted to switch to your proton wand and hold down a button while pulling in a certain direction to rein them in. Another secondary bar will appear and when you’re wrangling the ghost in the right direction, it’ll fill, allowing you to ‘slam’ them. In three slams, another prompt will appear, telling you to throw down a trap. Once that’s done, you’ll have to repeatedly tap a button to increase the amount of XP earned from the catch. If all that sounds dull and unnecessarily drawn out, it is. And it’s 80% of what you actually do in this game.
Aside from shooting and catching ghosts, you’ll also have a scanner that can reveal hidden caches of XP or health, but using this slows your walking pace to a crawl, so it’s unlikely you’ll want go far out of your way to uncover any secrets past the first level. Not that you’ll need them, anyway – the game is laughably easy and you’ll never come close to wiping. If you do, checkpoints are regular enough that there’s no sense of agency anyway. Level maps are long, meandering muddles of repeating assets that are so samey you’ll often wonder if you’ve somehow gone back on yourself.
And that’s it, really. A fleeting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference aside, there’s no soul here. The game knows it, too; you can practically feel the devs panicking when nothing different has happened in half an hour, and they do all they can do, really – crank out that theme tune for the umpteenth time. Wandering down the 50th identical corridor I wondered – after contemplating what musical instrument we’d use as a shorthand for spooky goings-on if the theremin hadn’t been invented – if the game was made specifically with a much younger audience in mind. They’re the only demographic I can imagine getting any real enjoyment out of this, but since it’s rated 12, you can’t even blame Ghostbusters’ lack of bite on that.
The game plays fine, it has all the settings you’d expect, it has the proton packs and the car and the cartoonish undead. But otherwise it’s just… empty. Bustin’ doesn’t make me feel good, or bad, or anything at all really. Tomorrow, this game will be a spectre itself; we’ll have forgotten it was ever here at all.