When I first heard about the new Ghostbusters video game, the idea almost seemed quaint. It’s been so long since I played a video game based on a movie that I’d forgotten they used to be a thing, but game publishers once churned out so many of them (and they were of such uniformly terrible quality) that it became one of the accepted truisms of the early 2000s. The PlayStation 2 had the best library of games and video games based on movies are always bad.
Unfortunately, the new game – which exists and is developed by FireForge Games and published by Activision – does nothing to dispel those assumptions. Ghostbusters is a hastily made mess that doesn’t have anything to do with the movie that inspired it, offering a different plot and an entirely new team of Ghostbusters that the studio didn’t even bother to name.
Yet as bad as the game is – and it is bad – the price tag is the one thing that’s truly revolting. At $65CAD (or $50USD), Ghostbusters is insulting to its audience, a game that manages to put a number on the arrogant, unbridled greed of game publishers, the single factor that sours what would otherwise be a forgettable experience and turns it into something painful (check out Wednesday’s live stream if you want to know how bad it gets).
Normally that wouldn’t matter, but at $65, Ghostbusters is deliberately inviting comparisons to games with much larger budgets and greater ambitions. Since most triple-A games clock in at around 50GB, Ghostbusters feels like its cutting corners, as if all of the expensive art and video assets are simply missing. Ghostbusters is a dungeon crawler. An unheralded indie game like Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon (500MB for $4.99CAD) offers a gameplay experience with much greater depth for a fraction of the price, which is why I was genuinely flabbergasted to learn that Activision was selling Ghostbusters at a price point comparable to Doom.
Of course, Ghostbusters would be bad regardless of the cost. The point is that economic considerations matter. As much as I’d rather focus on aesthetics, price can have a direct impact on the way audiences receive a game, and I wouldn’t have nearly as much vitriol had the game been more reasonably marketed. You shouldn’t buy Ghostbusters because it would be a colossal waste of money, and it would be irresponsible not to pass on that information to consumers.
What’s strange is that it all seems so unnecessary. At $15, Ghostbusters wouldn’t be a better game, but I would be grading it on a gentler curve. While I wouldn’t recommend it, neither would I tell you to avoid it if knockoff Ghostbusters is your jam.
Sadly, Activision has made it impossible for me to give even that tepid recommendation, which is disappointing because for a brief moment I thought Ghostbusters had the potential to make movie tie-ins fun. After seeing the trailers, I assumed that the game was a harmless, inexpensive download dumped onto online marketplaces to make a quick buck off the back of a popular movie franchise. The content is on par with other $10-20 arcade shooters, and $15 doesn’t seem unreasonable for that kind of experience.
At the very least, I hoped it was a sign that game publishers had learned their lesson. With movie tie-ins, there were tangible reasons for the generally poor output. A game publisher wouldn’t get the license to a big movie franchise until the movie in question was well into production. Since that license also came with a hard release date – the game would always be released in tandem with the movie – tie-ins rarely had the development time afforded to other titles.
Given those disadvantages, games that were based on movies just couldn’t compete with games that spent years in development. Studios tried to mimic the gameplay and graphical conventions of the era in order to justify selling games at the highest possible price point, but audiences weren’t willing to spend top dollar for subpar games. As technology improved and game development became more expensive, it made less sense to try to keep up with the latest trends in search of diminishing returns.
Yet despite those impossible circumstances, developers usually made an effort, which occasionally led to games that were passable (X2: Wolverine’s Revenge) or legitimately good (Spider-Man 2). Ghostbusters doesn’t even have that much integrity. It’s mimicking the output of small indie developers instead of large triple-A studios, yet Activision still has the audacity to charge triple-A prices even though the imitation is just as poor as ever.
That’s why Ghostbusters is so disappointing. The gaming market has become far more diverse in the past ten years, and audiences no longer expect every game to be a blockbuster. There’s a greater appetite for affordable, smaller-scale gaming experiences, and the reduced turnaround time would seem to offer the perfect opportunity for studios looking to piggyback on major film release. Making a fun yet unspectacular video game could be a good way to engage with fans who want to spend a bit more time with their favorite franchise, especially when you don’t need to spend a fortune to make that kind of game.
Instead, Activision used the Ghostbusters brand like a Trojan horse to shuttle an inferior product into people’s homes in an effort to steal as much money as possible before anyone noticed that the experience was hollow. The blatant cash grab reminds audiences that there is never a good reason to buy a video game based on a movie, and squanders any goodwill that might have been generated for the format. The next movie tie-in will be just as reviled as the last one, and with good cause given Activision’s disgraceful treatment of its customers.
It’s a shame, really. There’s been so much energy wasted on the ridiculous backlash to the Ghostbusters film that we don’t have any scorn left for a miserable Ghostbusters video game actually deserves it.