Who wouldn’t want to be a Ghostbuster? Anyone who ever donned the plastic proton pack and wielded the foot-activated ghost trap from the ’80s knows that feeling. You’d be buddies with Bill Murray and/or Kate McKinnon, spend your time hunting down paranormal creatures with ridiculously OP weaponry, and your biggest obstacle is a crackdown from a government regulatory agency. And now Sony wants to bring a sliver of that feeling to PS4 users with the latest stab at VR, Ghostbusters VR – Now Hiring. We had the chance to test out the experience at a Sony unveiling event, in addition to sitting down with Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman and Sony SVP of VR Jake Zim to discuss the game and what the evolution of VR means for the future of storytelling.
The PS4 VR technology, for the most part, is still quite new, but slowly but surely getting off the ground. It launched last October and has a handful of titles supporting it. But that’s not to suggest it doesn’t offer much to explore or suggest a potentially revolutionary future. In discussing Ghostbusters VR, Reitman referred to it not as a “game” but as more of an “experiment,” which is much more fitting. Its full title is Ghostbusters VR – Now Hiring, Act 1: Firehouse, so with maybe 15 minutes of gameplay, it’s really more of the start of a fully fleshed out game. But what an immersive start it is.
If you’ve never used VR equipment before, prepare to look a little foolish as you get used to the controls. That’s what I went through, and it’s not any easier in a room full of strangers intently watching you struggle to toss a ghost trap. You know how you always skip the tutorials at the beginning of games, knowing full well you have a rich archive of gaming experience to pull from to guide you? Yeah, you can’t really do that here. VR tech is sophisticated and tries to account for human ignorance and laziness — even allowing users to do everything from the comfort of your couch — but it can only guide you so far. It becomes fairly second-nature after awhile; you just need to remind yourself that while it is VR, there are still some controls you need to stick to. Don’t get too lost in the game that you end up walking into the TV.
The plot itself is fairly straightforward: You show up at the Ghostbusters firehouse to apply for a job and have to catch Slimer, all with the help of a sarcastic, Patton Oswalt-voiced Mooglie (the ghost from the iconic logo). But the experience isn’t really about the plot. It’s more about pulling its audience into this world, opening the door to interact with the intricate set design, peer around corners and through windshields, and get one step closer to that feeling of being a Ghostbuster without having to earn multiple PhDs or accidentally causing total protonic reversal.
But feeling the pressure of throwing a donut into Slimer’s mouth was only one part of the Sony event. Upon my arrival, I saw what originally seemed like actors dressed as Ghostbusters who turned out to be diehard fans that are known as Ghost Corps. These individuals form chapters all over the country, make their own (hopefully non-functional) ghostbusting equipment, and show their love for the franchise after 30+ years. And thanks to VR, they get to experience it through a new brand of storytelling. In this exclusive video, some of them even got an IRL surprise after trying out the VR.
Obviously, there’s a difference in telling a narrative in a Ghostbusters movie vs virtual reality. Reitman and Zim both note that VR is still in the early phases of its evolution, but it offers an enveloping new approach to storytelling.
“We start with a world and say…’Is there another way we can tell a story that is unique and dependent to a certain degree on the technology?'” Zim says.
“We don’t even understand how to tell story in it yet,” Reitman offers. “People have ideas, people are trying things. We really have that first mile of creative evolution. It’s fun to be part of that.”
But if this is just the beginning, where does VR go from here?
As Reitman puts it, “The new rules of storytelling in VR are different than if you’re just telling an objective story…[VR] is a lot better than it was two years ago, but it’s not as good as it will be in a year.”
If Sony is able to bring longtime fans, and Playstation users around the world a slice of that feeling of being a Ghostbuster with this release, who knows where we’ll be just a few years down the line? As technology advances and the games become more immersive in increasingly sandbox-y worlds, storytelling — in video games or otherwise — will continue to evolve, and at the moment some of those trying to figure out where it will go next have proton packs strapped to their backs.