The people previously responsible for the decidedly infamous Smurfs’ Village, which should be your first warning sign, are now setting their sights on tackling the beloved Ghostbusters franchise. I’m going to get this out of the way and say right now that the dark side of the IAP is indeed strong with this one, not that any product from developer Beeline has generally ever been otherwise. What makes this review difficult is that unlike most of the exploitative IAP hungry games released on the iOS platform, Capcom and Beeline’s Ghostbusters (out now, free) actually would be a brilliant use of the license if they toned the all the consuming greed down some notches.
Plot wise it all begins a ways back – during the early portions of the first film – when Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) was running an experiment to test for ESP ability, allegedly at least. Fans of the movie might remember how Venkman kept shocking the man actually getting the answers to some of the questions correct, and in the opening to the game we find out that the test subject – fully realizing the doctor was only interested in hitting on the other volunteer – is none-too-happy when the experiment is finally over. It is then in the midst of his angered stewing that a mysterious force suddenly contacts the man telepathically, telling him that he can help him get back at Venkman if they work together.
Sometime later – after the museum incident of the second film – the plan is finally coming together, and the Ghostbusters must now race to a tower’s 50th floor in order to stop the jilted test subject before a disaster befalls New York city.
Of course, it won’t be as simple as just hoofing it up fifty flights of stairs – without any sort of impediment occurring along the way – in order to reach Venkman’s now very jilted test subject. At the end of each floor of the tower – blocking the entrance to the stairs to the next level – will be a giant solid wall of curiously charged slime, which could be neutralized if only a similarly charged research material were obtained. Thankfully for the Ghostbusters, much paranormal activity has sprung up of late – bearing a similar electrical charge as the material inside the tower – all over the streets of New York.
So, of course, with the phone on Janine’s desk now practically ringing off the hook – and the purple swirling vortex above the tower steadily growing – it’s time for the team to once more rush about the Big Apple doing what they do best.
It is here where the game – taking a page from MMORPGs, as well as the Pencil and Paper RPGs that preceded them – easily shines most brightly, ultimately leaving players wishing that there were less IAPs present. Each individual Ghostbuster will fall into one of three categories: wranglers, whom are essentially your Tanks; beam-wielders, whom are essentially your DPS; and scientists, whom are essentially your Healers. What follows next will be a slightly more in depth explanation of how that all works for the benefit of readers out there who didn’t much understand the multiplayer RPG terminology just used.
The aforementioned wranglers – decked out in their heavy armor – are carrying the slime blowers seen in the second film, these guns – while not doing the most damage – can be used to force ghosts to ignore everyone else and attack the wrangler instead. The scientists carry a special electromagnetic slime dispersal wand that can be used to safely remove ectoplasm from teammates – basically, a healing device – or to do a small amount of damage to ghosts, they also have almost no armor. The beam-wielders carry the signature Proton Packs on their back, which do the most damage out of all the weapons at your disposal, and are furthermore equipped with a medium level of armor.
By tapping a Ghostbuster – and then your dragging your finger – you can either select their target or tell them where to move, based on whether or not something is occupying the space where you release the screen. The basic strategy is to have the wrangler distract the ghosts – the healer tend to all the damage the wrangler is occurring by being ‘it’ – and then having beam-wielder dish out damage while everyone is ignoring him, although things quickly get more complicated when multiple ghosts are present. A timer will appear over the top of any ghost whose energy is depleted, tapping this icon – before the timer runs out – will cause the ghost to be placed inside a trap and summarily defeated.
Beyond the basic Tank/Healer/DPS strategy, there are also special abilities that each Ghostbuster has that will be unlocked over time as they increase their level with each mission they return from not completely covered in slime. Whenever you tap on a Ghostbuster – and then immediately release – a list of all the special skills they know will appear in the upper left corner of the unit’s screen, with the icon for a skill being fully lit when its presently cooled down and ready to go. These include things such as an ability for wranglers to get the attention of every single ghost in the room at the same time, the ability for scientists to use a tool that will heal everyone at the same time, and many other such abilities.
For the most part these controls do precisely what they are supposed to, but a problem does arrive where the game sometimes has problems telling who you are pointing at when lots of ghosts/Ghostbusters all get bunched up close together.
Not only does successfully completing a bust yield research material for destroying the slime walls in the tower, but they furthermore deliver money for conducting research on – and the subsequent purchasing of – better gear. By running experiments on the ghosts they capture, as well as the construction plans found lying about the tower, the Ghostbusters can discover the existence of – and then purchase – better equipment. The fact that I am finally talking about how gear is researched means that I must now unfortunately shift gears and start talking exclusively about how IAPs have ruined this game.
The first problem that most players will probably run into with Ghostbusters’ IAPs will most likely involve how long it takes a research station to complete any given task, during which time the terminal is completely tied up and no other research can be started. While the first tier of research upon a particular piece of gear/ghost only takes a mere 30 minutes to complete, the second tier of research takes a whopping twelve hours to go through (and presumably only climbs dramatically from there). Of course these can be skipped by using Power Cores – which can only be practically acquired through the use of real money – at a rate of one Power Core per hour of time skipped, obviously at those rates a five dollar bag of 50 cores won’t exactly last the player very long.
Another place where the developer went hog wild with trying to push Power Cores is the actual act of answering calls for help, with each team run to a location costing the player twenty of the their potential 100 units of energy. After only five scant runs the player will either have to sit and wait for their energy to slowly return, or spend a stack of Power Cores in order to get the energy to keep on bustin’ ghosts. This is especially problematic when the amount of slimes needed to break the wall guarding the tower’s next level increases exponentially; starting at a lowly one research slime needed for the first floor wall, but already requiring a staggering 90 slimes by the time the player hits the fourth floor’s slime wall.
Of course they also found room to include the classic freemium difficulty spike where the game becomes almost impossible to successfully complete phone calls after you pass the third floor, and then they start offering to sell you a one-time winning supplement before each mission for the price of – you guessed it – Power Cores. Next – to make matters worse – you can’t even grind in order to level up enough that you might be able to deal with this difficulty spike, since your Ghostbusters are carefully level-capped – to ensure you need these Power Cores – until they find a level-cap removing training manual on a later level of the tower. So – to reiterate – the developer wants you to pay money both to be able to play a mission, as well as to be given the permission of actually having a chance of winning said house call.
They also seem to have the audacity to demand 50 Power Cores – five whole dollars – to unlock the actual Ghostbusters you know and love from the movies, and that price is specifically for each of them separately. Until then you’re stuck with a team of random generic characters that you could probably care less about, something they certainly don’t show in any of the screenshots on the game’s iTunes page. WARNING: All reports indicate that the movie characters aren’t actually any more powerful than your initial generic team, and after being purchased – no matter how far you are into the game – start out at the almighty level of one.
iFanzine Verdict: While bustin’ might make you feel good, I can guarantee that nothing about the IAPs present in this game will ever feel like anything remotely approaching good or natural. This Ghostbusters product has successfully used IAPs in such a way to make it even less playable than what generally passes for normal in the realm of shiftily produced ‘money slots’ that try to pass themselves off as games on iTunes. This is a real crying shame since there’s actually a great game engine at the core here, that furthermore makes a fantastic use of the license, something I generally can’t say about almost any of the title’s competition in freemium land.