Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime
I've loved the Ghostbusters for more than a couple decades. As a child, I spent my Saturday mornings eating Frosted Flakes and watching reruns of The Real Ghostbusters animated series, before I even knew about the films. I even enjoy most of Ghostbusters 2, a film that often brings a bit of criticism to the plate. Heck, I'll be first in line for Ghostbusters 3 if it ever gets made. I enjoyed Atari's Ghostbusters: The Video Game immensely as well, which probably had a more entertaining story than G3 will. I loved that they got the voice cast to return and it really kicked up the presentation quality of the game a few notches. Needless to say, I was excited to hear that Atari and Behaviour Santiago was taking the franchise to the Xbox Live Arcade (as well as the PC & PSN) and I downloaded it immediately upon release. Sadly, my fevered enthusiasm only lasted as long as the beloved opening theme song.
The story in Sanctum of Slime feels extremely familiar, but you won't be playing as the original Ghostbusters. Instead, you are given control of the D-team, a group of rookies that are sent off with fancy new Proton packs to take down a major player in the world of ghosts known as Dumazu the Destroyer. He's causing some trouble and whipping up all the city's ghosts into a frenzy. Personality wise, the rookies seems to be a carbon copy of the original team, but the stilted presentation doesn't allow that to shine through. The crew will run into our gullible friend Janosz Poha, the museum curator from Ghostbusters 2. He still craves the companionship of Dana Barret and his actions help out the evil Dumazu. Much of the story feels like a retread of Ghostbusters 2 and doesn't really expand the Ghostbusters universe. The presentation doesn't build up the characters very well and it doesn't make a lick of sense that you don't trap all the ghosts.
The new proton packs have now different color settings, effectively changing the type / color of the beam and making that color effective to kill ghosts. If you have played Marvel: UC, you will get the feel for the camera angles immediately. You basically move from room to room clearing out all the ghosts. Ghosts assault you from all directions and quick changes in movement / shooting direction are required with the thumbsticks. It's the same concept as the now ancient Geometry Wars. As you spray wildly with your proton pack, you will eventually get smacked down by a ghost. Teammates can revive each other, but the level has to be restarted if everyone falls. You also gain points by finding collectible and generally destroying the environments.
This general setup for a game could be entertaining, but is immediately hamstringed by incompetent AI, a wildly fluctuating difficulty curve and repetitive gameplay. When I say the AI is idiotic, that's an understatement. It's nearly impossible to complete the most difficult levels when the AI is shooting the wrong color from the proton pack and get trapped in the worst positions. The only reprieve from their stupidity is that enemy ghosts will get stuck in objects leaving easy pickings for my teammates. A benefit to friendly AI is that they seem to have the ability to revive you slightly faster than a human player, if they get to it before being swarmed. However, the difficulty seems all over the place as ghosts can occasionally knock you out with a couple hits while others require several. It's overly punishing and moves from challenging to controller-pitching frustrating in a mere matter of minutes.
Co-op is the best way to play the game, yet it's structured in an archaic format. Teaming up with real players to tackle an extremely difficult level (like the sewers) is 1000% better than relying on the moronic AI. You can shout out different colors over the Xbox Live mic and tackle levels with actual strategy. However, there's no drop-in / drop-out included with the game. Welcome to 2006! If an online player quits, you get to go back into single player. If you are playing a level, you can't invite a friend into the game until you reach the end of the level. If you are playing with a group locally, all the players have to finish a level before someone can quit, otherwise the player turns into dead weight. Also, there's no storyboards included in co-op mode, so any players that jump into co-op first will be confused. If you decide to jump out into the random matching arena for co-op, be prepared to watch players drop like flies as they only pop in to earn the single co-op level achievement. I also got disconnected a few times. (Strangely, the PC version doesn't even include multiplayer.)
Amazingly, there's an achievement for not skipping the cutscenes. Trying to provide incentive for players to avoid skipping the boring presentation doesn't bode well for the game. You think that would have tipped off the publisher that this game was headed for mediocrity. Other achievements include reviving players, collecting all the Stay Puft marshmallow men and playing through the entire game. There are also a couple creative tasks tossed in there like destroying all the HDTVs in the fancy hotel, a throwback to the ballroom scene in the first movie.
The visuals in Sanctum of Slime feel repetitive. You will see the same textures over and over, none of which have been polished up. The second half of the game feels like a retread of the first half as well. On a positive note, the proton pack lighting effects are probably the best part of the visuals. Still, everything seems so dark, drab and depressing. However, it does run smoothly and I didn't see any noticeable framerate hiccups.
The opening theme song sets the mood and is the best thing that this arcade release has going for it. Unfortunately, the rest of the music included in the game is unmemorable. More importantly, where are the voice overs? I have no problem with comic book styling to narrate the story, but while couldn't they have included voice overs for the new characters? They have no personality, thus could have been a blank slate. It also puts anyone without a HDTV at a disadvantage (yes, there are some of those folks still out there) as it's difficult to read the comic styled text on SD.
I would rather be turned into a growling, stone gargoyle as a pet for Gozer than be forced to play through Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime again. I have no idea how the development team at Behaviour Santiago possibly managed to suck out all the fun from the Ghostbusters franchise, but they achieved it. Even more mind-boggling, why would Atari release this pile of drivel when they had such a good thing going with Ghostbusters: The Video Game? It's a crass, extremely rude money grab that's designed to suck $10 out your pocket while simultaneously giving the middle finger to our aging Ghostbusters. I cannot recommend Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime to anyone, even the most dedicated fan. Skip it!