There's some fun to be had in multiplayer, but the game's biting repetition is evident online or off.
"Great. The cemetery again?" points out our perceptive unnamed Ghostbuster. The statement's intended to draw comic relief to the almost-cynically repetitive nature of Ghostbusters: Sanctum Of Slime's structure, but it falls flat given the context. Atari and Behaviour's latest attempt at coining in on Ghostbusters' cult-following does not necessarily falter because of its execution, more its lack of ambition. This is a threadbare downloadable release that shows signs of promise online, but ultimately fails to live up to the franchise it's based upon.
It's always staggering to us how supposedly "new" narratives based on the Ghostbusters lore manage to hit the same familiar beats. Predictably Sanctum Of Slime takes you on a tour of the Sedgewick Hotel, concluding in a boss fight against the Chef Ghost from the previous retail Ghostbusters: Video Game. Unlike the last game, Sanctum Of Slime is much less mechanically ambitious. Playing out from an isometric perspective, the game is essentially a dual-joystick shooter a la Super Stardust HD or Geometry Wars. The main gameplay hook revolves around your proton pack. You can fire three different colour beams — red, yellow or blue. Each colour is most effective against enemies of a similar hue. The mechanic adds some strategy to the gameplay, but it's not enough to stave off the unforgivable repetition as the game drags on and on.
Sanctum Of Slime is best played co-operatively online. Here you'll be matched up with three additional online Ghostbusters that you'll need to work alongside to fend off the ethereal threat. The game's linked together with some heavy motion comic sequences that make a play for Ghostbusters' fantasy sub-narrative. For us, that's never been the franchise's draw, but we imagine hardcore fans will get something out of it.
The online netcode is good, and playing with real human partners keeps the repetition at arms-length longer than in single-player. Make no mistake, you'll reach a point where you just can't stand any more whichever way you experience the game, but that moment seems to come later in multiplayer. One of the most disappointing features of the game online is that it fails to keep your lobby full of human players. When a player quits from the game, Sanctum Of Slime will replace their efforts with an AI character. Which would be a neat touch, if the game started looking for an additional human player. But it doesn't. You just keep going until eventually everyone quits and the game informs you that it's switching you back to single-player mode. Having recently reviewed Moon Diver (which is constantly replenishing your lobby), this came across as a big disappointment to us.
It wouldn't be such a big deal if the AI wasn't so awful, but it really is atrocious. Being a co-operative title, you'll often need to heal your downed allies. But in single-player this just doesn't happen. Not content with standing facing a wall, your computer controlled partners will hesitantly move towards your downed carcass, failing to react with the speed and precision of a human controlled partner. Fair enough, co-op games are always better when played with real human partners, but Sanctum Of Slime's AI feels lazy — particularly for such a mechanically simplistic game.
But worse than the AI, the game's inability to switch things up means it promptly loses its appeal. Aside from some neat sequences aboard a four-wheel drive Ecto-1 and a face-off against an angry sub-way train, Sanctum Of Slime is the same repetitive gameplay over and over and over. The sewer level really reinforces the repetition. The level design is simply divided into round rooms and corridors. Sure that's probably how sewers are genuinely designed, but it doesn't make for an enjoyable gameplay experience. And when you revisit the sewer for a second time later in the campaign, you'll feel done with Sanctum Of Slime.
To its credit, the game isalways introducing new and interesting boss characters, but predictable attack patterns make these encounters less exciting than they could be. What's more, the Ghostbusters always feel criminally underpowered. Bosses can withstand serious punishment, while you're usually in-need of reviving after one or two hits. The proton packs feel less powerful than they should too — with the yellow shotgun power-up resulting in slow and unsatisfying shots.
The biggest problem with Sanctum Of Slime is that it all feels unnecessarily drawn out. It runs out of ideas after the second or third level, and if Behaviour had put some more effort into refining the mechanics and making the gameplay feel more satisfying, it could have gotten away with stuffing the package with more and more of the same content. Co-op games maintain their longevity from replayability, and with Sanctum Of Slime constantly recycling assets and entire stages, this is a PSN release you won't want to touch after experiencing it once. Hardcore Ghostbusters fans may find merit in the comic-book cut-scenes and general premise, but don't expect the package to keep you hooked beyond its opening sixty-minutes.