Who you gonna call? Atari, apparently – after Activision dropped Terminal Reality’s Ghostbusters game, Atari scooped up the franchise and released what Atari representative Erik Reynolds calls, “arguably one of the best licensed games of all time.”
I had the opportunity to sit down with him at Atari’s New York offices to see a preview build of their downloadable follow-up, Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime, learn a bit about the circumstances surrounding the game’s development, and find out why Dan Akroyd doesn’t want you to call the Ghostbuster’s close range weapon a shotgun.
Reynolds opened with some background on how the game came to be. It all started with the release of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, back in 2009:
“It was a perfect storm – the talent wanted to do something while they waited on the [new] movie, Sony was way behind it, so we were able to get everyone together.” says Reynolds. But not everything was perfect – originally meant to be a Vivendi release, the game was left in limbo when the publisher merged with Activision Blizzard. Reynolds, who worked for Vivendi before moving to Atari, was essentially along for the ride.
“Activision has a very unique business model. They’re like, anything we can’t monetize as a billion-dollar brand, we’re not gonna do it.”
Thankfully, Atari scooped up Ghostbusters: The Video Game, releasing it to critical and financial success. “It was a huge success both critically, and from the sales perspective, so naturally the idea came of ‘let’s do a sequel.’”
But with the development of Ghostbusters 3 moving forward, it wasn’t the ideal time to start work on a full-fledged sequel. “With Sony focused on readying the next movie, hopefully getting Bill Murray to read the script, [they thought] let’s hold off on doing a big game, let’s do something in between.”
And so, Sanctum of Slime was born. The game is a 4-player, online or offline cooperative twin-stick shooter coming to Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and PC at the end of March.
“I like to call it Ghostbusters Gauntlet,” Reynolds says.
You won’t be playing as the Ghostbusters in this one, most likely due to the challenge of getting the voice talent together. Rather, you’ll be playing as four rookie Ghostbusters. “The Ghostbusters have essentially been franchised, Peter Venkman’s dream,” Reynolds explains.
Does the lack of the classic team of four take out some of the appeal for Ghostbusters fans? Not necessarily, as Reynolds explains, “The main enemy in this, Damazu, is a demigod under Gozer the Gozerian. [The character] who really kicks off this whole situation is Janosz Poha.” (Janosz, originally played by Peter MacNicol, runs the art gallery in Ghostbusters II)
As we get into the game, Reynolds explains that Sanctum of Slime was developed by Wanako studios (now known as Behaviour Santiago), “They’re probably best known for Assault Heroes 1 and 2, so they know the online, arcade genre very well.”
The gameplay hook of Sanctum of Slime is the color-coded weapons and enemies. The Proton Pack is red, so it does more damage against red enemies. As more weapons are introduced, so are more colors for the ghosts. “There’s a layer of light arcade strategy where me and my buddies might be sitting on the couch and say, why don’t you take the Fermion Shock because that’s yellow, and I’ll take the [Proton Pack].” Additionally, each weapon will have a secondary effect, “If I use this Fermion Shock it’ll also stun the enemies.”
“The technical name is Fermion Shock, but I call it the Fermion shotgun – we all know what it is. Dan [Akroyd] is very specific that the weapons of Ghostbusters aren’t really like guns, you know?”
The cutscenes of the game are in comic panel style, and the writing is done by comic writer Tom Waltz, who also writes the Ghostbusters comics for IDW. The presentation fits with the cartoon style of the game, and the panels can be skipped through as quickly as you’d like if you and your friends just want to get into the action.
The demo I played takes place in an insane asylum where, as Reynolds explained, Janosz Poha was locked up after the events of the movie. Whether playing with friends or by yourself, all four Ghostbusters are accounted for, with the remaining crew controlled by AI. “It’s true to the lore, because the Ghostbusters don’t really do anything on their own,” Reynolds explains.
AI teammates will revive you if you run out of health, and you’ll have to revive your teammates as well, Left 4 Dead-style. Environments are somewhat destructible as well, with furniture that can be blown up with your shots to obtain items. Items include temporary invincibility and boosts to damage.
Each of the game’s 12 levels features a boss battle at the end, and it’s these big guys that you’ll have to capture with your traps. I only got a brief glimpse at the final boss in the asylum, but it had possessed a mountain of asylum equipment to form a sort of robot.
Overall Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime seems like it will be some simple fun for an evening on the couch with some friends or online. A brief teaser at the end showed a handful of sequences, with one particularly cool one that involved the Ghostbusters atop the Ecto-1 shooting ghosts as it barreled down the streets of New York City. It’s that kind of off-the-wall action that has me looking forward to this game when it comes along at the end of March.