While I have to admit that I didn't know exactly what to expect when Activision provided us with a copy of Ghostbusters for review, I was at least expecting to find the quartet of heroines from the latest Ghostbusters movie. Instead, I found a party of four trash-talking, showboating paranormal eliminators that I had never seen before, but with obvious attempts made to stay true to the Ghostbusters universe/canon, taking care to emulate or reference the existing works.
The look and feel is cartoonish, in a style very reminiscent of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. While Egon had the strange and floppy hairdo in that cartoon, one of the females in this new Ghostbusters game features an afro with a good bit of bounce to it. The general makeup of the crew seems to indicate an attempt to add new characters without disturbing the previously determined demographics too much. If you consider the Ghostbusters crews from both the original movies and the 2016 movie, you'll find that the male/female balance is 50/50 and that one fourth of the Ghostbusters are black. The characters, here, consist of two males and two females, one of which is black. The only noticeable departure from these demographics is that all of the Ghostbusters characters to date have had fairly average builds, while one of the males in this game's crew is massively built, reminding me of "the heavy" from Team Fortress.
As for the gear and costumes, Ghostbusters follows the 2016 movie, thematically, with secondary weapons based on the characters' "Class," which, interestingly enough, isn't ever named. Instead, the four characters (who are also never specifically named) includes various types of paranormally techie grenades and weapons, similar to those featured in the 2016 movie. Since the characters are never identified by name, but are consistently color-coded, I will nickname them based on their player color. Cyan ("The Heavy") carries a Proton Minigun and has Slime Grenades, which causes enemies to be greatly slowed while the "slimed" effect is still active. Red, the other male Ghostbuster in the game (and my favorite character/class) has a Proton Rifle and Flashbang Grenades - great for dazing opponents caught in its blast. Pink (the blonde girl) carries two Proton Pistols (much like Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in Ghostbusters 2016) and features Dark Matter Grenades. Orange (the girl with the afro) has a Proton Shotgun and Electro-Shock Grenades. Why the colors weren't something more easily identifiable, I don't know, but one of the problems we had while playing the game was keeping track of who is who.
The voice acting is a bit over-the-top, in a cartoony fashion, and the dialogue frequently references characters and events from the 2106 movie, as the team from that movie are, evidently, in Washington DC stopping a ghostly assassination attempt, leaving your team to protect New York. Apparently the capture of the various ghosts from the movie didn't "take" so well, as they are loose again in New York and you have to go round them up. Again.
Fans of the Ghostbusters will, at least, be pleased to hear the original Ghostbusters theme used, at times. I know it stirred up some nostalgia for me and had me humming the theme song, even long after I had stopped playing the game.
Most people will have a pretty good idea what Ghostbusters do, but in this case, as in the recent movie, a team of four are armed with Proton Throwers (a la the original Ghostbusters), which can weaken a ghost and can be used to assist in trapping it, as well as secondary weapons and grenades, which were both introduced in Ghostbusters 2016. Grenades generally debilitate (or debuff) ghosts, making them temporarily easier to successfully attack, but their effect has a short duration and the "cooldown" on using them again seems a bit long, in my opinion. Both your Proton Thrower and your secondary weapon are powered by the unlicensed nuclear accelerator you have strapped to your back: the Proton Pack. Continual use of these weapons causes your Proton Pack to heat up. This can be managed by interrupting your fire to cool it off naturally, or cooled much faster using the (R1) button, but if not properly managed, this heat buildup will result in your Proton Pack overheating, which gives you a forced cooldown (literally) before you can do anything.
With the inclusion of secondary weapons, each with their own balance of damage, range and firing speed, it can be beneficial to select a character that fits your preferred gameplay style. Cyan's minigun does a good bit of damage, but has a relatively short range and takes a bit of sustained firing before it spools up to its full firing rate. Red's secondary weapon fires more slowly, but has a good range, allowing you to fire from a reasonable distance, which also allows you to use your Flashbang Grenade a bit more strategically, putting it to work when spectral baddies manage to cluster in a single spot. Choose carefully, however, and talk through your choice with any other players in your group, as each "class" can only be used once on the team. (In my book, this makes them "characters" not "classes," but that's just me.)
Smaller ghosties are easily dispatched by shooting them with your Proton-powered arsenal. Larger baddies have to be worn down a bit, then you have to capture them old-school style, by using your Proton Throwers to control the ghost's movements and wear him down further, then throw out a trap, by hitting (X) at the prompt. The process of capturing the ghost then involves a really simple mini-game, whereby everyone spams the (X) button as fast as they can, determining the score multiplier earned. Fill the bar completely and you'll get a 10x multiplier, which amounts to more experience, which means more leveling up your character and quicker access to upgrades to things such as filling the ghost-catching-multiplier bar. That might sound like a funny use of upgrade points, but if you find that you're not as fast on spamming the (X) button and you're holding your team back, upgrading this could allow everyone to gain experience a bit faster.
So, yeah... there are upgrades. Spend your upgrade points to increase your health, lessen your Proton Pack's heat-up rate, increase your grenade's effect duration, speed up your movement, lengthen your firing range... well, a variety of upgrades are available. Watch how you do (in relation to the other players) and see what you need to improve. In the meantime, probably increase your movement speed, since the default is dreadfully slow.
I feel like the biggest problem with the gameplay is pacing. With long levels and the default movement rate being so slow, gameplay seems to drag on. This is worse when any of the players are "completists" looking to find everything in the level. Forays into the dark corners are often rewarded with health or even collectables, but in the instances that you find nothing, players tended to apologize for suggesting the detour, since it just feels like you're slowing things down even further. If you want to make a speedrun of it (or run to the end of the level if you find you need to do something else and don't want to lose your progress), holding down the (Circle) button will show the main path through the level. This can be a useful tool, even when you do want to find every little thing. Completists can use this feature to avoid taking the main branch until they've fully searched the other rooms nearby.
So, if one was to gauge the difficulty in completing levels, the main consideration would have to be how difficult it is to stay alive. As long as you can manage to stay alive, you simply keep playing until you've reached the end of a level. Now, regardless of whether you're playing alone or with three other players, there are always fourGhostbusters playing through the level. Any that aren't actively played by a player are manned by the game's A.I. This helps your survivability quite a bit, as players can revive other players. Additionally, there are health packs to be found in various nooks and crannies. Any player touching one of these health packs will cause all players to regain all of their health. This includes any players that are incapacitated and waiting to be revived.
Of course, how well you select your character or character upgrades will affect how effective a player you are. That and getting familiar with the controls and avoiding overheating are probably my best suggestions for improving performance in the game.
Other than these, making sure you don't run out of charge on your controller and avoiding pausing the game would be my best tips...
Ghostbusters is designed to allow for players to drop in and drop out of play at any time, which seems like a good idea. However, the XP that is earned during gameplay gets wiped when a player drops out. That, again, might sound okay, but the levels are also quite long. Together, this sets you up for a big annoyance if you manage to let your battery run out on a controller before you finish a level. This happened to J.R. Nip during the animation at the end of a level. An entire, looooong level worth of experience... lost. Not cool.
Another issue that plagues the game is a bug when using Pause. Anytime a player paused the game and then unpaused it, we found the other players couldn't move when returning from Pause Menu. Not sure what gets them free, but having others pause it and then the original player pausing again seems to be involved in getting back from it. This is the sort of frustration that should never have made it past PlayStation's vetting process. Did they never pause the game with more than one player playing?
The controls, themselves, are quite a handful. (R2) is used to fire your weapon, (R1) is used to cool off the weapon. (L1) is used to switch weapons between Primary and Secondary weapons, but it seems that you can't switch while you're firing (at least usually). This means that you need to let go of (R2), then hit (L1), then hit (R2) again to use the other weapon. If it didn't change, for some reason, then let go of (R2), try (L1) again, then get back on (R2), the whole time being mindful of your heat levels, so you can let go of (R2) and hold (R1) for a second so your heat will drop. As it probably sounds, this button dance tends to lead to mistakes. If your weapon overheats, you can move, but you can't fire your weapons or even throw a grenade, because... no idea. You just can't. Also, while you can do a roll to move quickly out of the way of something (or simply to move quickly, as the default pace is slow and you're even slower when using the PKE meter), use them wisely, because they have a cooldown. Yes, your ability to roll has a cooldown. No, I don't know why. There's no meter for it or anything, but don't expect to spam the roll button, because, just no.
While I can overlook the fact that the characters are all new, the many detractors and the outright bugs make Ghostbusters a difficult game to love, regardless of love for the Ghostbusters license. The fact that it retails for $50 USD is, quite frankly, inexcusable. If the game were free as a promotional item, it would be something to play around with a bit, perhaps. As a full-priced release, however, I can't recommend shelling out your cash to play a controversial game based on references to a controversial movie.