Ghostbusters Returns to Remind Us of the Horror of Tie-in Video Games

You Should Definitely Be Afraid of These Ghosts

Ghostbusters. Activision

In the decade-plus that I have been covering entertainment (and the decades before that in which I just enjoyed it as a consumer), I have played a remarkable number of really bad video games based on movies. Before the LEGO series essentially revolutionized what to expect from products tied to films, video games tied to films were basically no more artistically relevant than the toys you find in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The video game graveyard is filled with dull nonsense like Monsters vs. Aliens, the Up video game and Megamind (all of which I have personally played, and lived to tell the tale). Most of the time, they’re just disposable, annoying if one considers the fact that parents are being asked to pay full price for half-developed games, but relatively harmless. However, every once in a while, a movie tie-in can be so bad that it defies explanation. How did people work on this and not just give up? How did they make so many bad decisions? Is this even a finished game? Mad Max, one of the worst games of 2015 was inspired by and loosely tied into Mad Max: Fury Road.

This year, one of the most controversial films of the summer, Ghostbusters, gets an old-fashioned movie tie-in game from Activision, and it’s a disaster. When the trailer for Ghostbusters landed, people compared its cheesy CGI to that in the abhorred Pixels. Consider this Pixels: The Game.


One of the most disconcerting elements of ​movie to game tie-ins is how often it can be easily discerned that the developers had absolutely no contact with the creative people behind the original property. Billed as something that takes place after the action of Paul Feig’s film, which notoriously stars four women (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones), it’s a bit startling to see the first playable character is a hunky, blonde, white, MALE hero. You can also play a busty white woman, an African-American woman, and a bearded fellow with a machine gun. In other words, none of these people look anything like Kristen Wiig or even Bill Murray, for that matter. One of the hooks of the Ghostbusters films has always been that these are intellectuals, average people in an extraordinary situation. Why on Earth would any developer gut that concept from inception, taking any opportunity for people to connect to the characters out of the mix?


Perhaps people like Kate McKinnon and Dan Aykroyd wouldn’t sell their likenesses to the creators of Ghostbusters. If so, that was a good call on the part of their agents. For once you pick a character (I tried all four just to get the feel of their different weapons), you realize they’ve been given almost nothing to do. Ghostbusters is a top-down action game in the vein of Gauntlet and Diablo, designed to be played co-operatively with three friends in the same room at the same time. In theory, you’re sent on missions to remove a ghost from a specific, cartoonishly-designed location (like a graveyard or an asylum). You progress through said environment, killing the minion ghosts like flaming skulls or flying books (don’t ask, it’s a library), and occasionally run into an enemy that needs to be trapped. You’ll get slimed a few times, and you’ll use a detector to find secrets and the correct path (although that’s almost never in question in a very linear game). That’s literally it. It’s a game that becomes repetitious in the first fifteen minutes.


If not for the streams that trap ghosts, the enemies that look like Slimer and the goofy outfits, there’d be no connection between this game and Ghostbusters at all. It’s evident of the worst kind of video game tie-in—that which makes no effort to really capture what people like about the source material. To the developers of Ghostbusters, their title was literally just a brand, a name to put on the game to get more people to buy it. And that’s gross—taking advantage of a fan based and doing as little creatively as possible. I guess I should just consider myself lucky that the days in which this kind of thing happened more often are over. Consider this the relic of 2016.

Disclaimer: Activision provided a review copy of this game.