- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Ghostbusters, The Video Game (from Atari for PlayStation 3, rated T for teen, $59.99).

New York’s finest paranormal investigators star in this third-person adventure. Based on the 1980s movies from Columbia Pictures, the game features solo and online multiplayer action loaded with spectacular specters while answering the musical question, “When there’s something strange in the neighborhood, who ya gonna call?”

What’s the story: It’s 1991, two years after the events that found a river of ectoplasmic slime corrupting the people of New York City. Unfortunately, paranormal activity has reached even greater levels in the Big Apple. A new employee joins the Ghostbusters team as the Experimental Equipment Technician, and that’s not just a fancy title. It means carrying Egon’s newly created (and untested) hardware that, if not handled properly, could blow the user clear into New Jersey. Time to start busting.

Play the role: As the rookie, the player goes out on missions with the legendary team of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Winston Zeddemore, and Egon Spengler to stop every caliber of ethereal menace.

The player’s perspective is split: When in battle, it’s from behind the Proton-Pack-wearing character; when harnessing the power of the PKE (psycho-kinetic energy) meter and the Para-Goggles to find and identify spirit activity, it’s a first-person view.

Fewer on-screen meters makes the game feel more like the flow of film scenes. For example, a health bar and equipment-monitoring meter are displayed on the Proto Pack itself. Fire the pack and a red meter fills. The tool then must be vented to recharge.

Get to the action: The Proton Pack - a particle accelerator backpack - used in tandem with containment units that look like rat traps allow the player to neutralize and capture his prey. It is an exhilarating experience every time.

Practice makes perfect here as the player first shoots a blast stream to weaken the entity, then must lasso and wrangle it toward the container with liberal use of analog sticks and triggers. Once over the container, the technician carefully positions the ghost on a glowing beam and watches as it’s sucked into the unit, a characteristic belch of smoke sealing the deal.

Adding to the welcomed complexity is a series of Egon upgrades to deliver more punch to the poltergeists. They include Boson Darts (bursts of volatile particles; don’t stand too close), a Meson Collider (a vaporizing stream of particles) and the Slime Blower. This baby coats possessed humans and objects and takes care of black slime.

All can be upgraded for cash, acquired after getting rid of monstrosities and finding artifacts at locations including the Sedgwick Hotel, Natural History Museum and Central Park. For example, add a fermion absorption ring to the Proton Pack’s Neutrona Wand for $12,000.

Memorable moments: Here they are in no particular order: the encounter with Slimer, Bill Murray’s ranting about being labeled a “chubby chaser,” stopping book golems in the bowels of the New York Public Library, great encounters with the library’s Grey Lady and marvelous-looking Stay Puft marshmallow man, a wonderfully atmospheric graveyard battle, fighting Shandor’s horde of Gozer worshippers in another dimension, and following the Ectomobile through New York City streets.

Violent encounters: If a Ghostbuster takes too many hits or gets slimed, he crumples to the ground, Proto Pack sparking. Any team member can revive him. If they all fall, however, the player gets the mission-failed screen.

The “T” rating is for some slightly peppery language and the feistier ghosts that love to cause trouble - and pain. The player does not only trap spirits, but also can blow them to smithereens.

Read all about it: IDW Publishing has revitalized the paranormal team in sequential art with a pair of four-issue miniseries. The first, Ghostbusters: The Other Side, already is available in trade paperback ($17.99). The next comic book series, Displaced Aggression, tentatively scheduled for August, is written by Scott Lobdell and features a female Ghostbuster.

Pixel popping scale: 7.5 out of 10. Cut scenes offer the best look at the performers, but the main stars suffer from hair that looks like the portly mascot of Bob’s Big Boy during the action.

The ghosts are top-notch, a uniformly good mixed bag of characters that resemble a collection culled from a scarier version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. They range from floating female Wagnerian opera singers to a Scooby-Doo-style fisherman named Pappy Sargassi to flaming winged gargoyles and book golems.

Extras and unlockables:Take a reading of unexplained phenomena on the PKE and it becomes an entry in the accessible Tobin’s Spirit Guide, an indispensable tome that thoroughly explains frightening fodder such as semi-dimensional rift entities, Azeltor the Destroyer and black slime.

Players also can get a complete rundown of statistics, including ghosts captured, the number of times busters are incapacitated and damage claims versus money earned.

Let’s also add eight galleries of concept art and a look at the refurbished Ectomobile, a featurette exclusive to the PS3 version.

Star power: As a sequel to the second “Ghostbusters” movie, the game stars the voices and likenesses of the famed film cast, including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts. Even the nasty Walter Peck is back, voiced by the original star, William Atherton.

Actress Alyssa Milano plays Dr. Venkman’s love interest and a pompous portrayal of Mayor Jock Mulligan by Brian Doyle Murray rounds out the celebritydom.

Mr. Ramis and Mr. Aykroyd reconvened to write the story and it has plenty of laughs, especially the banter between the busters.

Multiplayer moments: Atari gives up to four Ghostbusters the chance to go online and compete within six types of supernatural shenanigans. Be it surviving 10 waves of ghost attacks, destroying evil relics or keeping ghosts from stealing stuff, the competitive replayability here will keep the player pleased well after the main event.

The bad:I enjoyed the Ray Parker Jr. theme song as much as the next fan, but every time I failed a mission and went back to the load screen, it attacked harder than a class 5 full-roaming vapor devouring a wedding cake. I may never stop humming that ditty.

What’s it worth: Hearing Mr. Aykroyd’s enthusiastic spewing of supernatural jargon alone makes the game a priceless piece of entertainment. Although the convergence of movie and video game is still not quite a reality, the high production values of Ghostbusters: The Video Game keeps the dream alive. The chance to get slimed while wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator should not be missed.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks) or on Twitter .

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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