Aren't you glad you're not in charge of developing the new Ghostbusters game? (Unless you are, in which case: Hi, and Good Luck.) Imagine the pressure of producing the tie-in for such an iconic movie. Everything from the theme tune to the one-liners to the cast to the car is fondly remembered by millions. Get it wrong, and the entire internet will accuse you of curling one out in the mouth of its childhood. But that's nothing when your biggest potential critic is the Hollywood megastar who thought up the whole thing in the first place.
"Dan Aykroyd really is Ray Stantz in real life," says executive producer Brendan Goss. "You start talking about Ghostbusters and his eyes light up. He's talking a thousand miles an hour, going into the equipment and the story and everything else... It's infectious, and it makes all of us want to make the game better. Not just because you want to impress Dan, but because you don't want to disappoint him."
One of the game's major selling points is that Aykroyd has been involved from the start. He even wrote the script and storyline, which is set in 1991 - two years after all the nonsense with the painting and the baby in the second film. Although the main cast members have provided voiceovers and likenesses, you play a previously unknown character who's been hired to try out experimental new equipment.
During Eurogamer's playtest at Atari's London HQ, it becomes clear that story is a huge part of the Ghostbusters game experience. Cut-scenes are lengthy and numerous, but most importantly, they're funny. The lines aren't wacky quips written by the man whose main job is to draw hands but who once did a hilarious stand-up routine at the office party about the boss's cat; they're proper jokes, and they suit the characters we all know and love from the films.
The one-liners come thick and fast in-game, too. Often, before you can move on to the next area, there's a pause while the Ghostbusters have a chat, doing a bit of plot exposition and exchanging witty banter. The script is good enough to make these instances a treat if you're a fan of the movies. More impatient types or people who don't think Bill Murray is all that hilarious might find them a bit frustrating, but they should probably be playing something else anyway.
The game is visually impressive, especially when it comes to character design. The Ghostbusters don't just look and sound like their real-life counterparts, they move around and gesticulate like them; Murray's casual swagger, for example, is instantly recognisable.
There's a huge amount of detail to the characters' outfits, and particularly to the proton packs. These intricate messes of blinking lights and curling wires act as the HUD, indicating your character's health and the like. Each time you fire a boson dart there's a quick animation as it's loaded out of the base of the pack, the kind of detail that's more commonly seen in high-quality shooters than your average movie tie-in.
In fact, at its core, Ghostbusters is a shooter without guns. There's a Gears of War feel to the controls even though your main weapon fires a proton stream. Ammo is unlimited, but if your proton pack overheats an alarm sounds, the control pad starts to vibrate and you won't be able to fire. This means you have to press one of the shoulder buttons regularly to vent it, just as you would reload in a regular shooter.
In the build I played the pack started overheating every single time I fired a boson dart, setting off the alarm and requiring a button press. It proved a bit annoying, particularly when under attack from multiple enemies at once. Here's hoping you'll be able to fire at least a couple of darts in a row in the finished game.
The darts are handy for destroying baddies like Stay-Puft's marshmallow minions - hellhounds made out of sticky white goo. They explode satisfyingly, coating everything and anything nearby, including you. But for the most part enemies can't be blasted - you have to capture and trap them.
This means targeting them with your proton stream, first of all, using the analogue sticks and right trigger. The stream is easy to aim and control, and you can earn upgrades to make it even more precise. Once you've got a lock-on you can press the left trigger to slam the ghost around the environment, thereby tiring them out and making them easier to handle.
Press X and your character will chuck out a trap, clearly visible by a beam of light that extends upwards. Drag the ghost into the beam and it will open up into a cone of light. Then it's a matter of wrangling the spook downwards, using the sticks to make sure it doesn't escape out of the cone along the way.
The mechanic will be familiar if you've ever played a fishing game, and capturing ghosts is just as satisfying as hauling a great big bass onto the deck. The controls are sensitive and refined, so you really do feel like you're struggling to keep the ghosts in position. The traps shut with a nice loud snap, which is your signal to walk over and pick them up, still smoking. Your character carries three or four traps at a time, so it doesn't matter too much if you lose track of one or just can't be bothered to go and collect it.
The other key piece of equipment is the PKE meter. Activating it gives you night-vision goggles, essentially, which are capable of detecting ghostly energy. The PKE is also used to scan spooks; this adds information about them to your database for reading later. Again, it's a feature that's really only for the fans, but it's a nice addition - particularly as the enemies, designed with input from Aykroyd, are varied and inventive.
Of particular note are the monsters in the library level, who are constructed from dozens of books and also use them as makeshift shields. Their movement animations and the physics involved in battling them are highly impressive. Then there are the valkyrie ghosts outside the opera house, big fat Brünnhildes who swoop and shriek all around you. But the real star of the show, of course, is Mr Stay Puft.
He appears in the best of the levels I got to play, which begins in Times Square. It's beautifully rendered, the bright billboards flashing and blinking with tons of detail. Cars and marshmallow goo are piled up in the street, blocking the path of Ecto-1. You don't get to drive the car at any point (they've got to save something for the sequel), but you walk alongside, guiding it to safety.
And then Stay Puft comes looming out from between the skyscrapers. It's a great moment, especially when he starts stomping towards you. There's a real sense of his huge scale, and of fear that you'll get crushed underfoot or swept away by a giant hand at any moment.
Naturally Stay Puft can't be taken down by a few quick proton blasts, and the next part of the level sees him swiping at you through windows as you run round an office building. Again, it's a real thrill the first time his huge staring eyes appear at the window, and when his giant arm bursts through the wall.
The final section of the level sees you suspended over the edge of a skyscraper, blasting furiously away as Stay Puft clambers up towards you. As boss battles go it's not the toughest challenge you'll ever face, but it's fun. Besides, I'm playing on the normal default difficulty level - there are options to make the game harder, or easier for more casual players.
Alternatively, you could try out the Wii version. Unlike the Xbox 360 and PS3 games, which are being developed by Terminal Reality, it's being worked on by Redfly Studios, and has quite a different look. It's much more cartoony, though in more of a Pixar than a Real Ghostbusters way, thankfully (no blonde Egons here).
The remote is used to control your proton beam - yanking it around slams ghosts to the floor, for example. The nunchuk is or things like throwing traps out and de-sliming yourself by shaking it about. The Wii game has clearly been designed with family fun in mind, and there's a split-screen, drop-in drop-out mode for co-operative play.
The Xbox 360 and PS3 titles also have a co-op mode, one that allows you to play online and communicate via headsets. You can play as one of the Ghostbusters or the rookie, and choose from six job types - your character might specialise in capturing the most ghosts, for example, or eliminating spawn points, stopping spooks from stealing key items and so on. I didn't get the chance to play this, but in the video shown during the game presentation it was looking good.
Which applies to Ghostbusters: The Videogame. The character designs are great and the environments are detailed, realistic and well lit, with huge scope for smashing them to bits. Scorch marks appear with one sweep of your proton stream, flames lick carpets and walls, chairs splinter, tables topple and books fall off shelves just like you'd expect them to. You can also use your proton stream to pick things up and fling them around, which is mostly pointless but enjoyable all the same.
That said, there are also some serious bugs in the game which need to be sorted out. Characters get stuck behind scenery or in animation loops now and again. Sometimes they take ages to open the door or finish the conversation which opens up the next part of the level. Those one-liners can repeat themselves, and they aren't so funny the fourth time around. And some of the cut-scene visuals need serious work.
However, both Atari and Terminal Reality are confident these issues can be resolved in time for the game's June release date. "We've just finished content completion and we're going through the initial pass of bug fixing," explains Goss. "Obviously with such a dynamic set, it takes a lot to get all of that perfect, and we're in those final phases now."
Assuming those bugs are fixed, Ghostbusters could break the curse of the rubbish movie tie-in. Most games like this fail because they don't capture the spirit of the film or aren't authentic enough, which is certainly not the case here, or because the gameplay is just plain rotten. But what I've played of Ghostbusters so far is great fun. It's clear that Terminal Reality has thought carefully about what fans of the film really want - not just to "be" a Ghostbuster, but to enjoy the same humour, excitement and strong narrative thread they love the film for. For that reason alone, this game is more likely to succeed than all those other tie-ins. But what does its most important critic think?
"Of all of the movie's stars, Dan probably plays the game the most. He's had the most exposure because it's such a huge passion for him," says Goss. So what does he reckon Aykroyd would give the game out of ten? "Ten, definitely."
"Nah," chips in creative director Drew Hayworth, "Eleven."
Ghostbusters: The Videogame is released for DS, PC, PS2, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 on 19th June.