Pairing the asymmetric multiplayer expert IllFonic with the Ghostbusters license is a match made in the realm of ghosts. Previous outings in Friday the 13th and Predator: Hunting Grounds pitted Jason and Predator against camp counselors and mercenaries of lightning size, but technical issues and uneven design choices held them back. With Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, the team has applied everything they’ve learned about immersive asymmetric multiplayer to a trait that fits the playstyle perfectly.
Four fully customizable Ghostbusters battle one ghost across five maps ranging from an Alcatraz-inspired prison to a cozy lodge. The main difference from other asymmetric games is that both sides are fun. You don’t just wait until you can play as a ghost. However, if that’s all you want to do, you can easily set your preferences and track random players online with no latency (at least during my release-day tests). The active early player base and full crossplay between all platforms makes this possible, and it’s impressive to see such smooth execution right from the start. If you’re a Ghostbusters fan who doesn’t like online multiplayer, it’s easy to play against not-so-challenging bots and still experience all the content.
Gameplay begins with Busters swarming out with PKE meters drawn to track down the ghost and its respawn points. These cracks are hidden in objects, and destroying them takes one of the three “lives” from the spirit. If you encounter the ghost head-on, you can zap it with your proton pack and trap it to consume a life as well. On the ghost side, try to haunt as many objects as you can and scare the wandering NPC civilians to increase the overall haunting level of the map. Once the haunt reaches 100 percent or the ghost runs out of cracks, a final endgame timer begins. If the Busters catch the ghost in that time, they win. The map is officially haunted when the Ghost evades capture and the Busters scurry away in shame.
There’s immense satisfaction in yelling at your buddies when you spot the ghost and trapping it as a team. While the Busters can be temporarily incapacitated with slime, nobody gets stuck on the sidelines watching the rest of the game play out. Hunting or blasting is always the order of the day. The only low point on the Buster side is calming NPCs ad nauseam with the same VO lines.
The five ghost types allow for a variety of playstyles. Do you want to be fast and mischievous, go on the offensive with God of War-style chain attacks, or use tricks to manipulate and misdirect? All ghosts have a basic attack, a minion summon (to man busters or scare civilians), a long cooldown ultimate, and a unique action different for each skin. Owning objects is key to hiding from Busters and recharging the energy you need for pretty much anything. It’s interesting to experiment with how everything handles, like a smoothly rolling beer keg or a limp giant teddy bear. Although ghosts are extremely powerful and mobile, they can be captured at any time. One minute you’ll be triumphantly slimming all four busters and sabotaging their proton packs, and the next you’ll be frantically pressing buttons to escape the pull of currents and deadly traps. It’s a pleasure to hear the enemies’ confusion while you stay out of sight, or their frustration when you cover the entire team in a slime whirl.
The classic fire station serves as a multifunctional hub when not actively participating in games. A handful of cutscenes tell a basic storyline through the early hours of the game. The narration is nothing special, but it’s nice to hear Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson reprise their roles as Ray and Winston. As you level up, you’ll find new cosmetics, pieces of gear that affect stats, collectibles, and contracts that reward special items and earn experience points. Daily and weekly jobs encourage you to check in regularly too. I found that the steady flow of goodies had my group running to the lockers between jobs to try on a new shirt or silly glasses. And the gear upgrades feel tangible, especially when your particle launcher can let go longer without overheating.
While the core gameplay is strong and compelling, I have concerns about Spirits Unleashed’s long-term sustainability. There’s only one match type, so if you tire of that, you’re out of luck. The five current maps are solid, but I’m ready for more (IllFonic claims there will be more free maps and ghosts coming out in the future). Story and unlocks keep things interesting during the first 30 character levels, but then the story comes to a hard end. Up to 50 you get all core unlocks. In addition, the current endgame is to complete high-level missions like “Complete X target 25 times” and so on. Sometimes I learned new aspects of the game that I hadn’t noticed before, but other times I’d fire off bot matches to look for floor wax to shoot, or repeatedly throw and pick up my trap to an annoying request to tick off .
The pre-release of the game had some hard crashes and I also got stuck in geometry as a ghost a couple of times until the end of the game. I haven’t been able to replicate these issues after the day 1 patch, but it’s something to watch out for.
The ideal way to experience Spirits Unleashed is to round up your friends, spin through the maps, take turns playing as the ghost, and continue howling and roaring. If that’s not an option, matchmaking with random players is smooth and fast, and in-game markers allow for teamwork, even when everyone’s playing without a mic. The ghostbusting thrill wears off eventually, but it takes a while to get there and later updates might help keep the proton packs going.
Note: IllFonic Inc. provided game codes for this review.
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