IllFonic are back with another take on the asymmetrical multiplayer game and 80s film franchise. Following on from Friday the 13th: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds, this time it’s those wise-cracking ghost hunters, who’ve reformed (partially) for Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.
Spirits Unleashed seems to continue the cannon with Winston Zedmore, fully voiced by Ernie Hudson, reopening the old Ghostbusters HQ and recruiting new blood to get out there and bust ghosts. Dan Aykroyd is also present, reprising his role as Ray Stantz, who now owns a spooky shop next door, selling all sorts of occult gubbins. It’s not all returning faces, however, as you also have Catt and Eddy who you can chat to around HQ, Catt showing you the ropes while Eddy upgrades your equipment.
There’s some semblance of a story there, but it’s really just a few scenes that play out between matches and has no real bearing on the gameplay. This is fine. It’s an asymmetrical game at the end of the day and the gameplay should be the focus.
Speaking of which, it’s a familiar setup with matches seeing four Ghostbusters hunting a solitary Ghost. The Ghost player has to successfully haunt the whole map while the Ghostbusters have capture the pesky ghost.
Each map is divided into segments and the ghost must haunting objects or scaring civilians in each area. The more objects you haunt in a zone, the quicker the haunt meter builds, and the more people you scare into leaving, the faster that meter builds as well. That’s not all, though. The ghost must also protect three ancient rifts, which are initially hidden in objects. If a rift gets discovered, you can either attack its attackers, or you can swoop in, grab it and fly away, hiding it in another object.
The rifts are very important as they essentially act as the ghost’s lives. If a ghost is captured, it respawns at another rift, which is destroyed in the process. Once all three rifts are gone, the ghost will be on its last legs.
Ghost have a good amount of tricks up their non-corporeal sleeves to do this as well. Being able to fly around helps, but you can also phase through walls, cover things in slime, and perform ghosts specific powers, such as turning into a giant slime tornado or even possessing civilians.
All these powers are limited by a meter in the bottom corner of the screen which can run out very quickly if you overindulge, leaving your ghost very vulnerable. As a new player, I found it very difficult to manage the meter in a way that didn’t leave me at the Ghostbusters’ whim in most of my games. The fact that ‘sprinting’ also drains from the same meter means that if you are caught in a room and you just spent most of your meter haunting things, you ain’t getting away and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use any powers to fight back. You just better hope the team you are facing is uncoordinated – we’ll come back to that.
From the Ghostbusters’ perspective, you are given the standard tricks of the trade to try and catch the naughty spectres with the iconic particle thrower and proton pack. It’s a real treat using them as a team to hunt ghosts, the idea being that you use the particle throwers to hit the ghost, like a tractor beam, of sorts. Once you’ve hit the ghost enough, it will become stuck and have to break free, giving you the opportunity to lay down a ghost track and capture it.
Of course, you have to find the ghost first, which is done using another piece of equipment called the P.K.E. meter. This has two main functions: to scan for ghost signatures enabling you to find it or rifts around the level quickly, and to emit a P.K.E. blast which will open rifts up for attack or stun ghosts.
While all this is going on, you also need to prevent scared civilians from running away by calming them down – a two-part skill check that calms them on success, and panics them even further on failure.
Ghostbusting is heavily reliant on coordinated teams. During some of my early matches (and please bear in mind, I played all my games with randomers), we lucked out and managed to catch each ghost with little to no fuss. Everyone randomly threw their traps down in odd places and everyone fired their beams at once. Randomness like this can only get you so far, however. Coming across more seasoned ghosts proved to be a major issue. All of a sudden, they were running rings around us and games were over in minutes.
The ideal strategy would see two of the team use their beams with one on hand to stun and the other handling trap duties, all coordinated with voice chat. The problem with matchmaking on your own is that everyone wants to be the hero and that simply doesn’t work… unless the player you are facing is very new.
Right now there’s too much of a leaning toward needing this coordination, but as with all asymmetrical multiplayer games, that can be addressed through updates. Will this game last long enough to find that balance? Right now, I’m not so sure.
After a bunch of matches, I started to find myself getting a little bored. The games that weren’t over quickly, tended to lack any sort of excitement. The locations are ok but lacked soul and were especially hard to navigate for the Ghostbusters, meaning getting around became a chore. Visually, the Fornite-esque style didn’t work for me. Overall, it just lacks personality.
Also, what doesn’t help, is that you run out of things to do very quickly. All you’re playing for is some customisation options to dress up your avatar and some upgrades to the gear. Of course, there’s new ghost to unlock, but once you’ve got them, it’s back to the same grind with nothing really to achieve.