It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Hollywood film in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a videogame tie-in. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that all videogame tie-ins are rubbish. Yes yes GoldenEye and Chronicles of Riddick. That's two and they came out several hundred years ago. Thousands more have been released since and they've all been less fun than eating gravel.
That includes the Aeon Flux tie-in developed by Terminal Reality, and released on PS2 and Xbox in 2006. 4/10. Terminal Reality is also working on the new Ghostbusters game, but I ain't afraid of no poor prior record of creating naff videogame tie-ins. That's because I've seen Ghostbusters, and it's looking good.
It's also because Terminal Reality is getting some top quality help. As you've probably heard, the four main cast members are lending their voices and likenesses to the game. So are supporting actors Annie Potts (Janine Melnitz) and William Atherton (Walter Peck). Only Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver are missing - according to the team, because Moranis is in retirement and Weaver never wants anything to do with videogames.
Many rubbishy movie tie-ins have featured star turns, so none of this guarantees Ghostbusters will be any better. But the fact that franchise creators Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis have had close involvement increases the chances of success. "Dan and Harold in particular have been involved from the very beginning, writing the story and the script," explains executive producer Brendan Goss.
"Dan plays our builds all the time. We get feedback on the naming of the equipment and everything else. He is so passionate and enthusiastic, it's such a motivator for the team. He really is just like Ray, bouncing off the walls with energy, and it's really neat to see."
The involvement of the creators is no guarantee of a quality finished product either - let's not forget the Wachowskis worked on the Matrix games. At least it sounds like Terminal Reality is taking Aykroyd's vision and the expectations of the franchise's millions of fans very seriously. "It was very important for us to preserve the Ghostbusters universe and the Ghostbusters feel. We've always called it the continuation of the films," Goss says. "Dan calls this game the Ghostbusters 3 movie. It's something that's very important and near and dear to them. We want to make sure we do it justice."
The game is certainly a continuation of the series in plot terms. It's set in 1991, two years after the second film ended. The Ghostbusters' popularity has boomed and their workload with it. They've had to take on a fifth team member, which is where you come in. There is an option to take on the role of any of the famous four in the game's multiplayer mode but for the single-player game, the team wanted to include plenty of cinematic scenes, character banter and a proper story arc - and felt the only way to do this was cast the player in the role of rookie.
As the new guy you're considered expendable, and therefore given the Ghostbusters' newest, untested weapons to try out. Some of these weren't featured in the films: "We wanted to make sure we were staying true to the Ghostbusters universe but we certainly wanted to expand on it," says Goss.
They include a dark matter generator designed to freeze and shatter enemies. Then there's the slime tether, which lets you shoot green goo in a variety of ways. You can use it like super-strong silly string to manipulate objects, attach them to ceilings, lift heavy doors and create traps. Each piece of equipment has a secondary function, and in the slime tether's case it's the ability to shoot balls of slime at enemies.
Of course you also get a proton pack. It's highly detailed, all curling wires, coloured buttons and flashing lights. Terminal Reality has tried to keep the HUD minimal and incorporated some of the features you'd expect to see on the screen into the proton pack. There's a tiny meter on one side, for example, which flashes if the pack is at risk of overheating. Because they don't want you staring at the back of the pack all the time, you'll also get a warning in the form of controller vibration when approaching the danger zone.
There are two types of ghosts in the game: corporeal, which can be dealt with using equipment like the dark matter generator, and ethereal, which must be captured. As in the films, capturing ghosts involves firing a stream of protons at them and guiding them into a trap - but it wasn't just the movies TR took inspiration from in this instance.
"We really wanted to get the ghost wrangling and trapping mechanic to look right, and to get the feel right," Goss says. "So we spent a lot of time taking a look at particularly the ballroom scenes - the characters' stance, how they were acting as they were capturing Slimer - and it reminded us of deep sea fishing.
"A light kind of went off. We had a look at some fishing games out there, and how they addressed a fish fighting to get off the line. That carried across to our ghosts, they fought to get out of the capture beam and traps. So that was really the core for our ghost fighting mechanic."
This comes into play just as you'd expect in the Wii version of Ghostbusters - you use the remote and nunchuk to aim the proton stream at ghosts and guide them into the trap. In the Xbox 360 and PS3 games, you're waggling the analogue sticks. "It's almost like a balance game," Goss explains. "You're trying to keep them in the trap cone. If they get outside of it, they'll break free and run off." So what happens if you cross the streams? "Total protonic reversal, the end of all life as you know it," of course.
But back to the balance game concept. Is there any chance of a Wii mode that works with the balance board? "We haven't tried Wii Fit yet, we just ordered some from Nintendo," says Goss. "I don't know if we'll be able to tie it in in any way. But we'll take a look at it. The remote, though, is just perfect; it's ideal for us."
Along with the corporeal and ethereal ghosts there are big bosses to contend with - including the Marshmallow Man. "Yes, he's back," Goss confirms. "He's not the biggest guy you'll fight, in fact he appears quite early in the game. But he's such an iconic figure we really wanted to bring him back." Slimer is in the game too, and in the Wii version you can play as him in the split-screen ghost-versus-ghostbuster mode. New bosses will include creatures formed out of objects in the environment; in the example we were shown, a pile of books in the New York Public Library took the form of a giant monster stomping across the screen.
According to Goss, it was also important to the team that New York City was a character in the film. This meant creating background characters who behave believably as well as realistic environments. We're shown a tech demo where 200 people stream out of a church, some going left and some right. It's not a flocking technology at work here, but herding AI; each character has individual logic and chooses which way to go. Get in their path, and they'll walk around you. Give them a shove, and they'll move out of your way.
Ghostbusters is being built using Terminal Reality's own Infernal Engine, which is also designed to make objects and buildings look realistic. There's impressive depth of field in the New York City streets, and everything in them is self-shadowed. Rooms contain huge amounts of objects, and even more once you've finished blasting your way round them and shattering them to pieces. The game is said to run at the same performance level on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Both of those versions will feature an online multiplayer mode described as being co-operative and competitive at the same time. You play in teams, trying to help your colleagues capture as many ghosts as possible to beat your rivals, but also to build up your personal tally. There's no deathmatch mode: "That's not really what the Ghostbusters were about, so we stayed away from that." The crossing the streams concept will come into play in multiplayer; Goss won't explain how, simply stating, "There will be consequences for crossing them."
The Wii and PS2 versions feature more stylised, cartoony visuals and a truncated storyline. Goss says the DS game is a throwback to the '80s Ghostbusters titles, offering a completely different experience. He goes on to reveal you can link the Wii and DS games and use the handheld as a PK meter to help you track down ghosts.
In none of the versions do you get behind the wheel of the Ecto-1. "You don't drive the car," Goss says, "but it's a big piece of gameplay for us. We're not talking about what we're doing with it yet, but it will be a big part of the game." (You could always just buy the real thing.)
And that's about the most disappointing thing there is to say about Ghostbusters, so far. Without having played it, there can be no assurances it will turn out to be the world's third ever decent movie tie-in. But it's clear this is a labour of love for Terminal Reality, and it's shaping up to be an authentic interpretation of the Ghostbusters universe.
It's not just about the fact it features the cast of the movie (just like Aeon Flux) or is being developed in collaboration with the series creators (just like Enter the Matrix). It's about the fact this is Ghostbusters. It's got proton packs. It's got the Marshmallow Man. It's got that theme song. It's got Bill Murray. Plus, it looks pretty and like it should be fun to play. Let's just keep our fingers, if not proton streams, crossed.