A few years back, Activision had a console-based Ghostbusters game in the works that I previewed and frankly really enjoyed. After the game was canceled, I held out hope that it would make a return someday, perhaps with a different publisher but still intact. When Atari announced it was releasing Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime, I wondered whether the XBLA game was a scaled-down version of that once-defunct title that seemed so promising. No dice. Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime is not only a completely unique title, but it’s one that’s much harder to enjoy.
Sanctum of Slime follows the traditional Ghostbusters structure, and in fact feels similar enough to Ghostbusters 2 that it’s fortunate Sony Pictures was involved or Atari would be facing some serious plagiarism charges. Here’s the gist: everyone’s favorite love-sick museum docent has inadvertently unleashed a millennia-old evil being. This evil demon has not only caused all manner of ghoulies to appear throughout the city, but he’s found a way to convert negative energy into green slime that’s given the entire burg a nice goopy sheen. All it needs is a pink hue, the Statue of Liberty and the song “Higher,” and we’d have the makings for a climactic finale.
Anyway, because the super demon has unleashed his minions upon the town, the Ghostbusters have been working some serious overtime bustin’ ghosts, and they’re flat-out exhausted. That leaves a team of four rookies, all of whom are playable characters, to clean up the mess and (fail miserably) try their darnedest to evoke the same wit and charm of Peter, Egon and Co.
Once you’ve chosen a character, the differences between which are purely cosmetic, you begin a game that looks like a Diablo, with its isometric viewpoint, but plays like a Doom, with its incredibly formulaic structure. “Enter room, watch doors close, kill every enemy, watch doors open, enter next room, watch doors close, kill every enemy, wash, rinse and repeat” hasn’t been an enjoyable gameplay model for years, and this game sure doesn’t change that. I’m not always one for groundbreaking gameplay, but even on my most mind-numbing of evenings, Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime gets old fast. The monotony of it all isn’t exactly helped by the complete lack of voiceovers or a decent soundtrack, either, because you’re left with nothing more than the sound of the proton pack and ghosts dying to accompany your own silent death on the inside.
To the developers’ credit, they did try to inject some spice into the gameplay, but it isn’t sufficient to save the game from its own bland demise. The spice comes in the proton pack itself, which doesn’t just fire the same basic energy beam, but instead comes in three different flavors: red, blue and yellow. Each weapon, which you can cycle between via the bumpers, fires at a different rate and has a unique blast radius. However, each weapon is only effective against like-colored enemies, so blasting away at a yellow ghoul with the blue plasma beam isn’t going to have nearly the desired effect in a reasonable amount of time. After just a few levels, the rooms — although formulaic and repetitive — start to feature dozens of enemies of different colors, causing players to cycle through the various weapons in an attempt to strategically kill them all before being “busted” themselves.
The thing is, you absolutely have to play Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime with other human players, because if you try to rely on the AI, you’ll go certifiably insane. It seems like every bad habit from PC RTS games has found its way into Sanctum of Slime: pathing so poor that enemies can’t navigate walls and mid-room obstacles, squadmates standing in a corner staring off into the distance when a battle is going down right behind them, AI Ghostbusters shooting at nothing in particular, enemies ignoring your AI teammates altogether and gunning straight for you, and teammates walking straight into the line of fire or (dare I say it?) purposefully putting themselves between you and the enemy. Truly, the combination of formulaic gameplay and horrible AI make the single-player experience excruciating. With multiplayer things improve exponentially, but not to the point that you’ll be replacing Castle Crashers or any of the myriad other multiplayer-focused XBLA games available.
I had very high hopes for Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime, and I kept trudging through room after room of the same basic thing waiting, hoping, betting that things would surely improve. They never did. Had this not leveraged the Ghostbusters license, we’d probably not even be talking about this game. But it does, so we are. And it’s a shame that all the talk revolves more around lamenting its shortcomings than it does praising its success. Is this true? Yes, it’s true. This game has no….
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360