Today we’re doing something a little different at MCP. A few months ago I reviewed Bumblebee’s Ghost Control Inc, an interesting retro-styled mashup of Ghostbusters and X-COM that was fairly fun but was let down by some unfortunate AI and balancing issues. I gave it 3/5 at the time, but hoped that with work the game would get closer to realizing its not insignificant potential.
Recently Bumblebee contacted us to ask if we wanted to take a look at the Steam version of the game, which was recently released with several tweaks made to its systems. MCP contributor The Rain Dog and myself took a look at this new version and give our thoughts below. While this isn’t a rewrite or rescoring of that initial review, as it is still appropriate for the version looked at at that time, we like to think of this as updated impressions relevant to the current, and more prominent, version of the game.
CG: So, Ghost Control Inc. Seeing as you’re new to the game, RD, I’d be interested to hear your general impressions before I get into comparisons with the previous version. How’re you finding it?
RD: My biggest impression is it feels like I’m playing a game from the early Nineties. Not a game that ‘evokes’ the games of that era, but actually sitting down circa 1991 and playing this game. Like I’ve stumbled onto a game from the era that I missed at the time.
CG: Yeah, I kept thinking how it looks and feels exactly like something I would’ve played on my old 486, or from that wonderful period where PC strategy games were being straight ported onto SNES or Genesis/Megadrive. It’s an actual retro game in form and aesthetics, as opposed to a modern engine with pixel art slapped onto it.
RD: It’s so old school, and wears its influences on its sleeves – both of them and the trousers too. There’s a deceptively deep little game under there too. The mechanics are straightforward and relatively easy to get your head around, but hard to master. The art style has that lovely retro flavour without looking like every other pixelated nostaligia-pitch on the market. Even the voice acting is kind of adorable in its pseudo-roughness!
CG: I do have a soft spot for the voice acting. It’s amateurish but fits very well with the classic ‘schlubs-made-good’ theme of Ghostbusters. I was also glad to see that the repetition of dialogue is massively reduced in this version as well. You still have phrases coming up numerous times, but at a much more tolerable level to the pre-Steam release.
RD: In all honesty I think that this has the potential to be a truly killer iPad or Android game.
CG: Agreed, but it still feels reassuringly old-school played on PC. It’s a shame that they still haven’t implemented alternative resolution options though, because this is the kind of game that’s just perfect for running in a window while you do other stuff. I suspect that the game’s UI prevents this, as it requires the whole screen. Why this is I’m still not sure because there’s a lot of dead space around the maps and information boxes that surely could be eliminated with a more compact design.
RD: That I didn’t mind so much. I felt like I was back on my old PC, switching this out with Monkey Island, Heart of China and the original X-COM – and I can’t give it more props than that. It’s nice to see a game that just is a retro game. The game itself is ass sound as a drum, and there’s obviously a ton of love that’s gone into it.
CG: True, though back then we didn’t have the Internet to be constantly checked either, and I tend to be a bit of a micro-manager when I game on PC. Still, it’s not a game-breaking thing and can be easily gotten around, it’s just an extra dab of polish that would’ve been nice to see.
RD: It has that classic strategy game ‘keep all the plates spinning’ thing down perfectly. It’s balanced nicely to ramp up in difficulty as you advance your base and equipment and you always feel like you’re chasing your own tail, breeding that classic ‘one more mission’ feeling you get from the best timesinks.
CG: That’s definitely the biggest improvement I’ve seen in this new version. The pacing is much better, and hospital bills (Which you have to pay to restore Sanity – the game’s analogue to HP – to your crew) scale up much more gradually which gives you a lot more wiggle room in the early game. To keep your employees active you need to be sending them to the Hospital regularly, and the cost of doing so was so hefty from the start in the original version that it made it extremely difficult to gain any traction. Here the cost increase is much more gradual, and is scaled relative to the introduction of tougher and more dangerous ghosts.
By giving you more space to build your business in the early stages, it also helps the game flow better. You get objectives that usually involve spending money (Buy a new office, a new car etc) and I found that it really pays to hold off and keep doing jobs until you think you have more money than you need for the next objective as completing them seems to trigger difficulty increases. You need emergency money at all times, because one or two bad jobs or a new ghost turns up that you can’t handle, and you can still find yourself in the hole alarmingly quickly.
RD: Totally, and the game even teases you with empty rooms you can upgrade, dangling the temptation to spend money in your face from the start.
CG: Though the lab/training upgrades are worth getting, and it is a good idea to upgrade your stuff more regularly. The trick seems to be to hold off on the big/objective-based expenses until you know you have the resources to stay afloat if problems come about. You basically have to make sure you’e grinding jobs plenty before dealing with the objectives, which isn’t actually a problem as the combat – i.e. the actual busting of ghosts – is also much more fun in this version.
RD: Yep, it’s a brilliant conceit that makes the overall game more accessible. Anyone who’s played stuff like X-COM or Jagged Alliance will pick this game up really quickly, and if you’ve seen Ghostbusters you already know how to catch ghosts here.
CG: Exactly, and the ghost AI is much more focussed and aggressive in this version which makes the catching more strategic. It’s just a shame that the isometric maps still aren’t rotatable, I believe because the game’s engine doesn’t allow it. You can still use shift to clear extraneous detail which helps with spots obscured by walls or tight corners, though I’d forgotten that you could do that and was only reminded four hours in when a pop-up told me!
RD: I never even knew that was an option! Probably something they could make clearer early on.
CG: Totally. It’s a testament to the shape the combat system is in now that it still holds together and is enjoyable regardless, but that little tip does a lot to eliminate visibility issues in aiming and trap placement.
All in all though, this Steam version of the game is a huge improvement over the previous version and definitely comes recommended. I’m still stunned that no-one else before now has thought to make a Ghostbusters-inspired management/tactical game. The closest has been the original David Crane Activision game, of which this is a more in-depth descendent.
RD: Agreed. It gave me an honest-to-goodness nostalgia trip that feels authentic. It doesn’t just feel like a game from 1991, but a good game from 1991.
RD: Yeah, it’s a little underpolished gem, especially if you pick it up in a sale. I’m very interested to see what Bumblebee do next, though I wonder if Xenonauts might steal its thunder a little bit.
CG: I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Xenonauts has remained pretty low-key and remains at the pricier end of the Early Access, maybe less so than in the past but $25 is still a lot for an in-development game that doesn’t seem to have generated much buzz apart from the fact that it exists. This game has a more original take on the X-COM style and at a cheaper price, and I think has a different enough take for the two to co-exist.
So there you have it. While it initially felt strange to reassess a game that had already had a full review, perhaps it’s not so odd seeing how much the nature of videogame releases have changed. You have Early Access setups where the expectations is for the game to change drastically after you buy it, and even AAA releases are seeing significant tweaking and content patches coming out after the fact. The line between ‘in development’ and ‘finished’ is games is becoming seriously blurred, and maybe the review as we know it will become less the be-all-and-end-all word on a game, and while changing review scores after the fact is probably not a wise idea one wonders if we’ll see more games get critical second looks after their release. Anyway, in this case it was a game from a small developer and a concept that feels tailored specifically for the CHUD readership, and the game has certainly justified revisiting.