When I imagine the perfect Ghostbusters game, a map-based AR adventure isn’t one of the things that comes to mind. A mysterious third person shooter? You got it. A spookily-funny puzzler? Sure. There isn’t really a reason the classic Bill Murray-fueled franchise would work with the formula dominated by Pokemon GO.
Ghostbusters World failed to change my mind. It’s a mobile adventure that dresses basic elements of the genre, popularized by games like Ingress and Pokemon GO, with a Ghostbusters theme. Pokestops are now dimensional doors, Pokeballs are now ghost traps, and obviously– Pokemon are now the famous ghosts found in all corners of the Ghostbusters franchise.
Everything about Ghostbusters World is done well enough, gameplay is tight and responsive, battle mechanics are somewhat deep, and the story mode does a good job of adding meaning to the collect-a-thon that this genre promotes. The issue is that collecting has never been a big part of Ghostbusters, so World doesn’t push me to care enough to walk around the block to a McDonalds for a group Stay Puft Marshmallow Man raid (and even when I did try the game crashed a few times). This game is proof that the franchise doesn’t fit the genre.
Ghostbusters World has two main elements: the typical map-based AR, free-roam gameplay and a structured story mode consisting of short missions tied together with a comic book styled narrative. The combination of those two features, alongside a long list of ghosts and other modes, makes for a meaty package for a free-to-play game. Although progress-slowing microtransactions rear their ugly heads early on.
There are a couple primary types of gameplay in World, one where you capture ghosts on the map by aiming a proton gun with your finger and turn-based team battles where you use capture ghosts to fight other ghosts.
The capture mechanics are simple, ghosts will try to attack you as you try to capture them with various versions of the proton gun, you can counter their attacks with a carefully timed finger tap but there aren’t a lot of consequences if you mess up. It’s a simple back and forth that gets a bit more complicated as ghosts get stronger and you gain access to different types of equipment later in the game.
The team-based battling has a bit of depth to it that’s surprising for a game like this. Ghosts have levels and ranks that can be upgraded through battle (and that process can be sped up through in-game currencies), ghosts are assigned a rock-paper-scissors type classification to make battles less of a punching match and ghosts have other abilities that are used both passively and actively in battle.
World shines in adding a story mode to the game, tying all the elements and progression systems together. It actually feels like you’re working towards something when you collect ghosts and level up– unlike Pokemon GO where it feels like an endless sea of collecting and going back and forth with PVP battles.
I had a good bit a fun battling with other ghosts in the ghost dimension, where many of the story missions take place. The fighting was quick and streamlined with the option to have the game auto-select your moves for the easier battles and boss battles usually requires a bit of additional strategy. However, this is where the games biggest issue kept popping up– I didn’t care about any of the ghosts I had recruited.
Ghostbusters World relies on the nostalgia of the franchise to drive players to collect every ghost they run into, which is the entire purpose of the game. Battling in story missions and asynchronous PVP matches, creating a custom team, and upgrading equipment all revolve around the urge to collect. Ghosts like the zombie taxi driver, living armor, and cat spirit meant very little to me– as the Slimer, Marshmallow Man, and a few others were the only ghosts I actually recognized. Opening up the game while waiting on a traffic stop rarely led to me seeing a ghost I actually cared about– alas, there were no Bulbasaurs in this world.
That feeling will vary depending on your relationship with the Ghostbusters franchise, if you’ve spent time reading the comics and consuming other Ghostbusters media you might find the expansive number of ghosts inviting. But even then it’s hard to see that passion add enough value to the experience to make the game worthwhile for everyone. Like other mobile games a lot of the upgrades to your equipment and ghosts are time-based if you don’t have the necessary coins and gems to upgrade them instantly, making time and money a factor if you want to see the game’s later chapters.
Ghostbusters World adds a great element to a lackluster AR map-based formula, the story mode would be perfect for a franchise with more recognizable faces. It ties together what would have been a disjointed experience if it were a mere Pokemon GO copy. But I can’t safely recommend this to anyone outside the Ghostbusters fandom.