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Game Review: Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed

After putting their 4v1 spin on franchises like Friday the 13th and Predator, Illfonic brings the next level of ghost combat in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. This new asymmetric multiplayer game lets you either bust ghosts as a fresh-faced ghostbuster or be the ghost that terrorizes the night.  Zach and Chris both got to check out the title and share their thoughts below. (Review codes provided by Illfonic)

Zach: Ghostbusters has been pretty hit or miss as far as video game adaptations go.  The NES game is notorious as one of the worst games on the system and there have been varying degrees of quality in other games based on the franchise. But the 2009 video game was actually pretty fantastic. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is definitely on the positive side of the spectrum with just a few things that aren’t deal-breakers but minor annoyances. Spirits Unleashed picks up after the events of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, with Winston buying and reopening the Ghostbuster’s old firehouse and putting them back in business.  You play as a new recruit sent on various jobs to locations like a prison or a museum and you and your team of four Busters have to find “Ghost Rifts” that are hidden within haunted artifacts around the map, destroy them, and then bust the Ghost who is roaming the map, also controlled by a human player.  If you bust the Ghost before all the rifts are destroyed, the Ghost can respawn and if you don’t destroy the rifts and bust the Ghost before the building is fully haunted, the Busters lose.  If you are playing as the Ghost, you are using your abilities to haunt objects on the map, scare civilians and sabotage the Ghostbusters to survive long enough to make the building fully haunted and scare off the Ghostbusters.

There are multiple different types of Ghosts you can choose from as you level up and as you level up, you can also unlock new pieces of equipment for your Ghostbusters along with cosmetic items, including some cool nods to the Real Ghostbusters.  There are tons of customization options for your Ghostbuster and you can adjust the facial features, hair, and other aspects to really make a character that looks like you.  The art style is cartoony but feels like a cool middle point between Real Ghostbusters and the live-action movies and Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd are back to reprise their roles as Winston and Ray respectively.  You’ll visit Ray’s Occult Book Shop next door to the firehouse to access the Ghost dimension and, despite being a multiplayer-focused game, there is a storyline that you progress through as you play matches which brings in some cool lore from Ghostbusters, most notably Tobin’s Spirit Guide and the author behind it.  If you are looking for an in-depth Ghostbusters story experience, the 2009 game and its remaster are probably more in line with what you are looking for but it’s cool that there’s any story at all here.

Gameplay-wise, the game feels solid in both Ghost and Ghostbuster modes.  As a Ghostbuster, you’ll play from a first-person perspective, using all the tools of the trade like the PKE meter, traps, and the proton pack along with new gadgets like a grappling hook.  The PKE meter allows you to track both the Ghost and the rifts but one of my main issues is that it gets a bit confusing trying to figure out what you are tracking down.  The pattern on the PKE meter does go in different directions depending on what you are tracking but I wish there was maybe a new, different gadget to track the rifts or a better indication of what you are actually on the trail of.  When you find the ghost, you actually get to throw the trap and there’s some nice strategy of when and where you deploy the trap, as you may want to wait until you or your team members have the Ghost snared before tossing out the trap.  Snaring and wrangling the Ghost feels pretty good but it’s definitely not as dynamic and action-packed as the 2009 game, which really felt like you were battling and wrangling a ghost and had moves like slamming the ghost in different directions.  Some more feedback or even just more vibration in the controller would have helped to make the snaring feel a bit more active and thrilling.

The Ghost gameplay is played from the third-person perspective and it’s fun to have the amount of freedom of movement to go pretty much anywhere on the map.  Each Ghost has different abilities and it’s fun to mess with the environment, civilians, and the Ghostbusters.  If you get snared as a Ghost, you can mash a button to get out and there’s also a tricky last-minute save you can attempt if you’re right on the brink of being trapped.  My one complaint with playing as the Ghost is that it seems like your energy gets used really quickly, forcing you to hide in an object around the map.  The Ghosts obviously can’t just have unlimited energy but it does feel like you spend a lot of the match as a Ghost hiding and waiting for your energy to fill back up.

If you’re a fan of Ghostbusters and you have a crew to bust with, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is an extremely solid, extremely fun multiplayer game that gives you lots of options for customization while giving you some new story post Afterlife.  My personal preference for games is single-player, story-focused games, so I think I do still prefer the 2009 title but Spirits Unleashed is right behind it and definitely worth checking out on PC, Xbox, and Playstation.

Chris: The Ghostbusters are back and it’s time to stop the spirits from wreaking havoc. Following the events of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Winston Zeddemore (voiced by Ernie Hudson) reestablishes the Ghostbusters headquarters in New York and starts assembling a new team. Winston, his management lead Catt and his head scientist Eddy, and Ray Stantz (voiced by Dan Aykroyd), welcome the player as the new recruit. With a city filled with spiritual terrors, learning the ropes of being a ghostbuster is taught on the job, so every call is an opportunity to get stronger and better at capturing ghosts, with minimal property damage. But if the player is curious want it’s like to experience what lies beyond the mortal coil, they can join the legion of ghastly horrors. It’s a bust or be busted, and can the power of teamwork be enough to stop the frights?  

The core gameplay of Unleashes revolves around a team of four ghostbusters against one clever ghost. The ghostbusters have to rely on their super science equipment and coordinate teamwork while the ghost has spiritual energy to cause total mayhem. A match consist sets the ghostbusters hunting and destroying three dimensional rifts that spawn the ghost and the ghost building up a haunt meter to scare off the Ghostbusters. The Ghostbusters will win the match if they destroy all three rifts and capture the ghost or alternatively capture the ghost four times. The ghost will win the match if they manage to scare away all civilians or successfully hide for an extended period of time. 

When playing as a Ghostbuster, it’s their role to asset the situation, calm down civilians and hunt down the ghost. The ghost feeds on the frights of the civilians and in order to stop them from getting too scared, the Ghostbusters have to talk to them with words of encouragement. There is a quick time sequence that appears when talking, which changes difficulty depending on the civilian’s scare level. But if a civilian is too scared and can’t calm down in time, they will bolt out of the building. The player has access to the four main pieces of equipment: the Particle Thrower & Proton pack, a PKE Meter, and a Ghost Trap. Each piece has a level that increases by usage and unlocks new upgrade parts. Upgrading certain parts of the Particle Thrower can certain properties stronger while having slight negative effects by offsetting others.

Equipping the highest-level gear also doesn’t make the player overpowered, but more focused towards a certain play style. Focusing on finding the rifts early in the match means setting the equipment to be fast to scan items with the PKE Meter and more damage toward rifts. Or if the player is a little more aggressive and wants to find the ghost head-on, it would be better to increase damage to the ghost and faster to throw out Ghost Traps. Playing as a Ghostbuster is meant to be team-based, so breaking far from the group isn’t a good idea. While it is possible to capture a ghost sole, a human-controlled ghost will put up a major fight. It is easier and fast to work as a team, pointing out the ghost’s location and closing rifts as soon as possible. But on occasion, the ghostbusters will just go for the ghost directly to capture it multiple times to win. This can take slightly longer as the ghost will try to hide than fright anyone, drawing out the match time.

Spirits Unleashed uses the first-person perspective well to immerse yourself in the experience. Scanning rooms with the P.K.E Meter is easy and intense, waiting to spot suspicious activity and readying the Particle Thrower. Blasting ghosts is great but lacks a little intensity once you tether to them. There feel like there should have been a mechanic that lets you reel and tire the ghost out before getting them ready for the trap. But on the positive side, the degree of control for the Ghost Traps is a nice feature that makes setting and triggering the trap feel satisfying each time. Knowing when and where to toss a trap and working with teammates to get a ghost into the trap is awesome when everything is coordinated well. But even if it’s a bit sloppy, it’s rewarding to hear that trap shut tight.

There is a lot of fun customization in making your own Ghostbuster. You can spend a good amount of time designing the body and clothing, even tho most of the time the player won’t see it. (But it’s still cool to see in cutscenes!) There are a lot of interesting clothing and color combinations that let you resemble the original designs from the movies and The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. This definitely strikes a huge point for those that grew up playing with the toy line. Clothing is locked by a ranking and is one of the drives to keep playing. All of these tweaks are cosmetic only, but they add a nice personal touch to the experience and make for great laughs to see what others have come up with for their characters. Plus you rolling up with a squad of funky Ghostbusters with your pals looks so cool.

Playing as a ghost has the opposite objectives from the Ghostbusters. It’s their mission to scare civilians, create mayhem and damage to all the rooms, and avoid capture. Being captured allows the Ghost to use one rift as a respawn point, which closes that rift. Getting captured three times means the last capture will be the final time of the match. Being a ghost is all about survival, and increasing the odds of staying alive as long as possible. The ghost has to scare up civilians while protecting their rifts, fending off the Ghostbusters’ attacks as long as possible. Rifts can be moved around, carefully picking new locations and making it harder for the Ghostbusters to find them. The ghost can’t eliminate the busters from the match, but they can temporarily stun them by completely sliming them.

There are five types of ghosts to play with; the nimble Ectoplast, the possessive Ghouly, the brute Basher, the energized Howler, and the mischievous Poltergeist. At the start of the game, only one ghost is available and the rest has to be earned by ranking up. Each type feature unique abilities and strengths, and with sub-variant types have different appearances and special abilities. Each ghost handles being caught in the Partial Thrower and Ghost Trap slightly differently but uses the same methods to break free. The ghost enters into QTE’s to mash a button to escape a tethering with the Particle Thrower or wiggles in the opposite direction of the Ghost Trap. This mechanic adds some fun depth to being a ghost and various the engagement against the Ghostbusters based on play style. A quick trigger button masher Ghost player can be bold to take on the Ghostbusters head-on without too much fear of being trapped. However, being silent and sneaky has its own advantages and increases their chance to survive the match.

All the ghost types have two attacks and a special ability, each that has cooldown timers. One attack is a swipe that hits enemies from a short range and is useful in close combat. The other attack is a summon that brings minions to the area, which damages the surroundings and attacks people. This is great to fill up the haunt meter in a room or take out a clustered group. Special abilities have a large area of effect and have the longest cooldown timers. These abilities can take out the whole team of Ghostbusters if used right and can turn the tide against being sucked into a trap. Moving and attacking takes up Psycho-Kinetic Energy and that slowly replenished over time. P.K.E can be recovered a lot faster by posing objects, which also act as camouflage. However, the P.K.E meters will uncover the player’s position, so staying in one place for too long isn’t a good tactic all the time.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed could have been a reskinned clone title but Illfonic lovely crafted a world that fits perfectly with the lore and tone of the franchise. The cartoon character models let players build up their fantasy Ghostbusters characters and have them exist next to the movie counterparts. Who doesn’t want to get direct assignments from Winstons and hear about phantasms from Ray to a character that resembles you (Or the Real Ghostbuster you)? The musical score features a few of the original movie soundtracks, which helps create the experience that you are playing thru your own movie, regardless of being a buster of a ghost. The maps are fun but limited to just five at this time of review. They offer a variety of spacious designs, multiple pathways, and tons of easter eggs to discover. It only takes a handful of hours to play to master the layouts, but each match never plays the same way twice based on human elements of teamwork and the skill of the ghost. Playing with A.I characters is an okay experience, but some can just be zombies that wander around doing almost nothing. Taking on a A.I ghost or ghostbuster isn’t as thrilling as a human player, and can lead to some easy wins. This gets understandably frustrating with a squad of AI partners as a Ghostbusters taking on a skilled human Ghost player. Hopefully, by this time of review, there will be a constant flow of players trying out this title for everyone to see the fun and spend hours playing together.

Overall, Spirits Unleashed is a great homage to the franchise and gets you close as possible to be a Ghostbuster. This is definitely an easy recommendation for Ghostbuster fans to enjoy and immerse themselves in the atmosphere. But for others, the gameplay style and restrictions are something to think about before gamers pick this up. While the scope is limited to just one type of game mode with a few maps and a short story mode for the single-player adventure, the experience is amazing and the gameplay is solid for all levels of competitive & cooperative players. Since this is a multiple-player focus title, it’s best to form groups of other players early but joining random people works just as well. The A.I fill in a slot to keep the game from long wait times is a nice feature but does mean the matches varied in the fun. However, it does make it that much more rewarding to be part of an all-human match that really puts your skills to the test. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed was released on October 18th for Playstation, Xbox, and PC, and features crossplay for all devices to play online together.

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