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'Ghostbusters' World

Gotta bust 'em all? Reviewing the AR Game After a Month of Play

There have been a lot of games based on Ghostbusters over the years, both the movies and the cartoon spin-offs, and in the last 10 years or so there's been a particular surge in computerized ectoplasmic activity. Some have been well received, such as the multi-platform Ghostbusters The Video Game, a truly great game released in 2009 that basically acts as Ghostbusters III. Others haven't been so popular, such as the wonky 2011 sequel Sanctum of Slime and the enjoyable but limited 2013 Ghostbusters mobile game from Beeline. Games based on the 2016 movie have been especially poorly received, with FireForge Games' Ghostbusters being so bad that it bankrupted the company. Ghostbusters World isn't even the first Augmented Reality game, following the 2012 experiment with Ghostbusters: Paranormal Blast.

As an AR game, Ghostbusters World is a definite improvement on Paranormal Blast, with some fun gameplay and lots of Easter eggs for GB fans, but also its share of frustrations. Of course, between the two GB roamers, Pokemon Go was released, and inevitably this is the game that GBW is going to be compared to and the one it needs to compete with to occupy players' time. In essentials, GBW and Pokemon Go are similar games. Both involve catching various monsters to tick off a collection list, with a battle mode of sorts to add extra challenge. In mechanics, though, the two games are very different.

The “Gotta bust 'em all!” element of GBW is the most obvious similarity, but it doesn't play out the same way as Pokemon Go. There's considerably more to it than just finding a creature and chucking a ball at it. Developer NextAge has created a gameplay mechanic that really has a flavor of busting ghosts. When the ghost is located, you can start the encounter with a number of tools—primary and secondary weapons, a counterattack weapon, and a bundle of traps. Some of the weapons require ammo, while the proton packs drain quickly and require reload time (which can be very annoying in the middle of a bust). Thankfully, the counterattack weapon is infinite, which is handy, since unlike Pokemon, ghosts fight back and it only takes a few attacks to knock you out of the fight. Using the weapons, you wear the ghost's health down to the point where it can be wrangled into the trap with the proton stream, or, if it proves to hard to trap (or you've run out of traps), you can use the ammo-based weapons to destabilize it, 2016 movie style. It's trickier than Pokemon Go, but more fun than other AR games like Jurassic World Alive, which I find annoyingly fiddly.

The roaming busting mode is a lot of fun, although it doesn't actually encourage you to do much roaming. In fact, there's even an instruction not to walk whilst playing, the exact opposite of Pokemon Go's aim. It's easy enough to play this game sitting at home or on your lunch break at work, which is good, because this game eats your battery like Slimer going at the breakfast trolley. There are some elements which are very like Pokemon Go, in place of Pokestops, there are dimensional gates which provide you with handy items. The game uses Google Maps for its locations, and they're pretty randomly assigned gates; handily for me, there's one at the Thai restaurant two doors down from home, which I can reach from my living room. If you're not so lucky, you get one remote gate which you can leave anywhere you want, although moving it costs you.

There are multiple currencies in the game, from coins to crystals, gathered in different ways, which adds needless complications to the transactions. As with most mobile games, you'll either need to wait patiently and play your heart out to get anywhere fast, or spend actual, real life money on in-game currency. This is the sort of thing that sours many mobile games, but it's par for the course. Still, it does limit the gameplay if you're not willing or able to shell out for upgrades. Where Pokemon Go has eggs, GBW has Ecto-Spheres, but rather than walking to hatch them open, you simply have to wait. Easier, but less interesting, although if you're just dipping in and out then a twelve-hour wait doesn't seem so long. The Ecto-Spheres are one of the best ways to catch the rarer ghosts, although you have to get lucky. Alternatively, there are boss battles, akin to Pokemon Go's raids, some of which will take a whole bunch of players to defeat, so if you're not in an area with a lot of players, your progress will be limited.

Outside of the main catching mode, there are two battle areas: Story Mode and the Ghost Dimension. Both involve you pitting your captured spectres against enemy ghosts in a straightforward turn-based battle, leveling up as you go along to match against stronger enemies. Story Mode is the more fun, with a simple storyline livened up with appearances from the original Ghostbusters, illustrated in the style of the IDW comics series (Erik Burnham and his comics team have been involved in the game's development and are responsible for character and ghost designs). The Ghost Dimension is simpler and includes daily tasks which are fun to dip into. The two battle modes have multiple difficulty levels which will all need to be completed to progress fully; defeated boss ghosts here give “shards” which eventually add up to complete ghosts for your collection. When you reach level 20, the game also introduces runes, which can be used to increase the abilities of your ghosts, but they're complicated and so far, I haven't found they've added much to the gameplay.

Having played this game for a month, without wanting to commit too much time or money, I've found a lot to enjoy but the novelty is starting to wear off. The gameplay is by nature repetitive and it's easy to see why players would get bored with the game quite quickly. Where GBW is going to fly is with existing Ghostbusters fans. To start with, there are 150 ghosts to catch, although you'll need to pay to expand your containment unit to keep them all, and they're taken from every source imaginable. Ghosts are taken from all three movies, the 2009 video game, The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters cartoons, the IDW comics, even the old RGB comics by NOW and the Kenner toy line. It's a glorious exercise in nostalgia—everything from Fearsome flush, the toilet terror, to the ghost that blew Ray in the original film. Added to this are a bunch of spirits from folklore and popular imagination, with fun new designs. In keeping with the Ghostbusters universe, ghosts are classified from Class I to Class VII, and are also assigned elements—earth, fire, water, light or dark – which affects their abilities in battle. There will doubtless be later expansions, and as a fan, I'm dying to fill in every entry in Tobin's Spirit Guide. That said, the repetitive nature of the game is starting to make it less fun; combined with numerous hours-long drop-outs for maintenance, I find I'm drifting back to Pokemon Go as my monster-catching game of choice already.

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