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Wot I Think: Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime

This top-down arcade shooter came out earlier this week, and is available to buy for a relatively budget price on assorted download services now. Should you cross its stream, or aim for its flat-top? I don't even know what that means, but look at me, I'm saying lines from a film you've seen! That means you will love me. Guh.

Here's my verdict on Sanctum of Slime. I played it so you didn't have to.

The mistakes hit so fast and so frequent that I was actually too bewildered to catch on to just how terrible a game this is. Mistakes such as these:

The intro cutscene lasts almost 15 minutes.

You don't play as the Ghostbusters, but as some charisma-vacuum rookies who pop out of nowhere without a proper introduction.

There is no voicework whatsoever in the game, thus rendering it doubly mysterious that the familiar Ghostbusters are not the playable characters.

It's a game built around co-op play, but does not include online co-op.

The vast majority of ghosts are defeated simply by zapping them - no traps required.

Locked Door Syndrome defines every single moment of progression.

It's mindless, aggravating and packed with absurd difficulty spikes.

I hate it, in short. It took me some time to realise that I hated it, however - that theme tune still does funny things to me, the loose and perpetual fantasy of zapping ghosts with proton packs holds a rich charm, as does the old Robotron-derived control system - move one way, shoot the other. Busting? Busting made me feel good.

Then I found myself about to tweet something along the lines of "this Ghostbusters game is dogshit" and realised something had gone horribly awry. It isn't dogshit (it's more like 'significantly below average', as if that actually means anything), but one more pointless death at the hands of a bossfight surely designed only as punishment brought a temporary rage upon me and I finally and conclusively exited from my gentle fug of slackjawed ghostbusting.

There's something depressingly constructed about Sanctum of Slime. It doesn't feel overjoyed to exist; it doesn't even feel like it wants to be anything in particular. It's just there. License + top-down arcadesome shooting + gratingly peppy but not unpleasant comic-based cutscenes, and you're done.

It is intended to be a small and simple game, with the likes of Xbox Live Arcade determinedly targeted. The PC version clearly falls into the afterthought bracket, partly in the aggravating menus ('press escape to go back' actually means 'click on the picture of the escape key with your mouse to go back) but most especially in the blind, crazy lack of online or even LAN multiplayer. The game is all about four people doing the Gauntlet thing, and being able to do that with a few remote mates would go some way to redeeming this vapid wretch. No, instead the gaming platform least suited to having four people gathered in front of it only supports shared-screen play. If only they'd have had a LAN mode at the very least we could at least have fudged it with Hamachi and GameRanger and whatnot.

Instead, this is by necessity a singleplayer verdict of an inherently multiplayer game. Have I failed in my critical duty? I don't believe so. I'm commenting on the experience most purchasers of this game will have. There will be a rarefied few who can persuade (and have the will to) drag three mates over to their PC, but while I have no doubt that would promise a far better time it's going to be a rarity. It's going to be why this game is very likely to vanish and die on PC. It would never have truly thrived because it's cheap and nasty, but it could have had a few days in the sun as a party game.

No Ghostbusters, no proper co-op. So what's left, in this hollow shell of a Ghostbusting game? Jump into the overalls of one of the four rookies, who look a bit different and offer unbidden wisecracks at scripted moments but are otherwise identical. Zap ghosts with your left mouse button. Switch between weapons with the wheel. Actually, that's where it threatens to become interesting tactical - different ghosts are different colours, with you required to switch between similarly-coloured weapons to reach maximum anti-spook efficiency. I can see how this would shine in co-op - yelling "Derek, go red! Clive, you're on yellow! I'm sticking with blue!" as a horde of contrastingly-hued spooks surge into the series of locked, repeating arenas the game essentially comprises.

In practice, it's helplessly yelling "why the cocking hell are you all on yellow when the enemies are red?" at the blundering AI companions. They're not totally inept, and particularly are pretty sharp at reviving downed players (achieved yourself by repeatedly tapping Space), but when it's a matter of mixed enemies it's all down to your quick thinking and quick-scrolling as they wander around in confused circles with ineffective weapons.

It all goes to hell for some of the boss fights, though. This is a game in which it is very easy to die, in part because it's very easy to revive/be revived. Two successive hits is all it takes to have a tumble, and in the cases of the bosses it's usually one. As your AI mates surge over to pick you up, they'll all inevitably be insta-killed by the looped attack pattern, the game will end and upon opting to try again you'll be thrown not that far back, but just enough to make it infuriating. Were they real players, you could all communicate and pick the right moment to attempt a revive or two. I can imagine enjoying that, and the frantic screaming that led to it. Because this PC version is essentially singleplayer, that's not possible and it means surviving the big fights is just a miserable grind, relying on sheer chance and bloodymindedness to get through. It's not inherently a hard game - far from it, as for the most part it's a pleasantly dull matter of proton-spewing until the room's empty, but occasionally difficulty spikes designed purely for genuine co-operative introduce sudden brick walls to playing solo.

As a drunken party game with chums, I'd be ok with this. There is great pride to be had from overcoming such adversity together, even when it is banal and repetitious adversity. Alone, it's like trying to hammer tent pegs into stony ground during a camping trip. You know that if you persevere the right, accommodatingly soft bit of turf is here somewhere, but it's getting dark and that pub nearby might let you sleep on one of the tables if you ask nicely. Or you could just give it up as a bad idea and go home. Yeah, do that.

Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime is available on Steam, Direct2Drive and more now, for around $10/£7.

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