Forget ghouls, specters and ghosts—what really haunts gamers are the memories of hundreds of terrible video games based on cherished movies. Fortunately Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox 360/PS3 $60, Wii $40, Windows $30) isn't one of them.
In the game, you're the fifth Ghostbuster, a nameless recruit who's been tasked with testing out Egon's latest inventions. The other Ghostbusters don't bother to learn your name, knowing that you probably won't be around long enough for it to matter. You prove them wrong by mastering the game's ghostbusting weapons and its third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective.
The former can be a bit tough; the opening tutorials blast by, and you're out in the field fumbling with your particle thrower and trying not to get slimed before you know it. Once you conquer ghost wrangling, things move along much more smoothly.
Visually, the game is a faithful replica of the Ghostbusters we know and love. The developers, Terminal Reality, wisely set the game in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters 2, which means they didn't need to explain what the boys in gray have been doing all this time. They also didn't need to update their vintage 1980s technology to the new millennium (while Egon does introduce a bunch of new gadgets, secretary Janine Melnitz is still using a beige PC with a CRT monitor). These are little things, but combined with spot-on character renderings of Ray, Egon, Winston, Peter and the voices of Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, it makes for a game that feels like Ghostbusters.
While the opening scenes may seem overly derivative—Slimer escapes back to the Sedgewick Hotel, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man returns to terrorize Times Square—the game manages to do something that even Ghostbusters' own sequel could not: build on and expand the film's mythology in a meaningful way. It does this by revisiting familiar locations while at the same time introducing creepy-but-fun extra-dimensional twists. Particularly effective areas include a haunted children's playroom, an offworld library haunted by books, and a ghost-powered Civil War re-enactment.
The single-player game is short, lasting 8-10 hours, but there are enough multiplayer options—including the ability to hunt down unique ghosts that only show up in multiplayer—to keep you playing the game. Unfortunately, there is no co-op mode (unless you're playing the Wii), which is a shame given how much the game relies on teamwork. Multiplayer provides some team-based ghostbusting opportunities, but it's not the same. The boss fights are also problematic; they're challenging enough, but they tend to follow the same "identify a weakness, exploit a weakness" formula.
Some might fixate on these problems, but overall the game works and delivers what fans want: the missing third chapter for the Ghostbusters franchise, and the promise that the real Ghostbusters 3 just might be worth watching.