It’s been quite a long time since Ghostbusters graced us with a AAA video game experience. We’ve had outings on the original NES, Gameboy, a cult favorite on the Sega Genesis, some mobile and VR games, and of course the highly rated Ghostbusters The Video Game in 2009. Now, the dream of busting ghosts with a group of friends has been fully realized by IllFonic with a 4v1 multiplayer experience in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.
Who you gonna call?
The last big Ghostbusters game was released 12 years ago. While the 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game was well received, the online mode was less than stellar. It focused more on its story-driven narrative. In Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, IllFonic has attempted to bring a true competitive online Ghostbusters experience to the table. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a 4v1 asymmetrical online game. You and up to 3 friends go on jobs around the city to capture and dispose of player-controlled demons, spirits, and slimers that are causing trouble for local businesses. Right away you’re taken into a tutorial that explains the basics from the new firehouse crew, controls and more. Ernie Hudson and Dan Akroyd reprise their roles of Winston Zeddemore and Ray Stantz, respectively. I have to say I was surprised just how big a role both actors play in the game. I was expecting a few lines here and there but they have a lot to say and both actors seem invested in their parts - unlike the dry, bored Bill Murray we saw in 2009's game.
Total Protonic Reversal
I was quite surprised to find that Spirits Unleashed has a captivating story that you’d expect to find in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters. Yes, that right kids, I mentioned “RGB”. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed does have a delightfully engaging narrative with new and old characters alike. While there isn’t a story or campaign mode to speak of, the game does have a plot you follow complete with well-animated cutscenes that drive the narrative forward. These cutscenes unlock automatically from just playing the game. I won’t spoil anything major here, but it’s nice to have some type of story to progress in an engaging way in what’s mainly an online-only experience.
What About the Twinkie?
The game has two main gameplay modes. When playing as Ghostbusters, your job is to locate, capture the ghost, and destroy rifts in the level that are hidden in objects that act as extra lives for the ghost. Every time you successfully capture a ghost, a rift is used to respawn the ghost player. You’ll find the ghost and rifts in the level using the PKE meter and teamwork. While hunting ghosts is the main goal there are side goals like collecting fungus that awards additional XP and calming down civilians. These are fun little distractions that play into the game loop, but for most of the match you’ll be locating the rift objects and capturing the ghost. If you manage to destroy all the rifts or capture the ghost three times before the Haunting reaches 100 percent (which acts as a sort of reverse timer to finish the match), you’ll trigger the final capture event. If successful, your team wins the match. Of course, the Ghosts also have some tricks up their sleeves.
Playing as the Ghost it is your job to haunt objects, scare civilians, and of course slime Ghostbusters. You win by just wandering around doing things which increases the Haunting gauge. The more you do in the match the faster the haunt gauge fills. Once it reaches 100 percent the enemy team has a very limited window to find and capture you in order to make a comeback and snag the match win. While haunting in a match you’re given “ectoplasm” which serves as your energy resource to use abilities, haunt objects, and sprint. Your energy slowly fills as you fly around but if you “possess” an object in the world it refills your energy faster. The game loop is quite addictive and fun on the Ghost side. Haunting objects causes them to fly around the room and speed up the haunting percentage. Scaring AI civilians also increased your haunt meter faster. The best part of playing the ghost is possessing objects in the world. It’s fun and can lead to some laugh out loud moments on both sides.
There are multiple types of ghosts each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and cosmetic outfits to collect. I will say the design of the ghosts are amazing and the character artist should be proud. This 4v1 formula in Spirits Unleashed is an interesting twist and it’s a welcome change. There’s no death for the Ghostbuster players. They can be slowed and downed, but you’ll never be sitting out of a match watching teammates play. You cannot permanently defeat a Ghostbuster; they are always in play. It’s also worth noting the game can be played “offline” without an internet connection, but you won’t be granted XP and can’t progress the story forward.
Back off, man. I'm a scientist.
In Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed you’re given a lot of customization options for your Ghostbuster Avatar; face shape, body type, accessories, even voices are all customizable. They can be changed at any time while at the firehouse which serves as the game’s main hub. There’s even some deep cuts for fans of The Real Ghostbusters animated series which I'll talk about a bit later. It's great to be able to create yourself as your own unique ghostbuster. You even get your gamertag/ID posted on your uniform. However, you can’t customize the name tag which is a tad disappointing. I really wanted to have my last name on the uniform.
Your look as a Ghostbuster isn't the only thing you can upgrade and customize. Your equipment can also be upgraded and changed. The PKE Meter, Ghost Trap and iconic Proton Pack can all be upgraded to do things differently. Have a lead finger? Equip your pack with better heat reduction. Want more range on your PKE? That’s an option too. There’s even brand-new equipment like the V.A.D. (Vertical Ascension Device) that serves as a grappling hook to get around the stages better, ionizer pods that slow the ghost, a radar puck that acts like a UAV, and even the Ecto-goggles are here and all of them have multiple upgrades. Egon Spangler would be proud. It’s amazing to have so many options in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. Truly IllFonic took their time and paid great attention to detail.
Listen! You smell something?
I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the incredible art style of the game. While it certainly has that Ghostbusters look, it’s clear that the art team was heavily inspired by the popular 80s cartoon show, The Real Ghostbusters. It’s great to see some of the show's design and style being put into Spirits Unleashed. We’ve never really seen that art style outside of the toys and cartoons. It worked well here. The entire art team should be commended for its efforts. Everything still has that “live action” ghostbuster look and feel but equipment upgrades and ghost models in particular look like they could be pulled right from the cartoon. I’ve never been happier to see something like this in a Ghostbusters video game.
Not only is the art amazing, but the level design deserves to be mentioned as well. It takes skill and creativity to make everyday places look and feel interesting. All five levels have a unique theme, color, and feel to them so that you won’t get tired running around the environment searching for the Ghost. The Firehouse is also spot-on and filled to the brim with easter eggs and callbacks to past games and film franchise. Bravo folks! Fantastic job!
I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
While Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a fantastic ghost-busting experience, it does have a few gremlins in the ecto-containment unit. There was one match where my Ghost trap was destroyed and I was unable to grab a new one due to a bug. I also encountered some frame rate issues on the Xbox Series X that required a relaunch of the game to fix it.
The biggest issues I faced were with the Ghost Trap mechanics and AI controlled bots on the Ghostbusters side. Being a 4v1 game, teamwork is extremely important. Tethering the Ghost, supporting that tether, throwing out a trap, and dragging the ghost over it to complete the capture is hard work for one person. Matchmaking will sometimes fill spots on your Ghostbuster team with bots to reduce queue times; however, the AI is useless in a match against a real player Ghost. A lot of the time the AI bots are only good for pinging the Ghost location. I had multiple matches where the AI bot stood idle in a location and didn’t move the whole game.
In another match, I tagged a rift and the AI bot just checked it with their PKE meters out and refused to help shoot it. Hopefully, this is something that can be fixed soon. For now, the game is throwing in AI bots to shorten queue times. It’s really important you have four real people on your team against a player-controlled Ghost or the match is going to go downhill very fast. I can appreciate the addition of an AI bot, but they’re not very helpful in a game that’s centered around teamwork.
The Ghost Trap can be frustrating as well. It doesn’t feel like it has “sucking” power to it at all. There were several games where I dragged the ghost directly over the trap, nothing seemed to happen, then the tether broke and the loop reset. It is hard to gauge when the game considers the Ghost to be close enough to the trap to pull it in. It can be frustrating when you have four teammates tethering a ghost and move it over the trap only for the game to decide it was close but no cigar. A little more clarification about the range of the trap while it’s open would be appreciated.
We’re ready to believe you!
As a kid, I grew up in the prime time of Ghostbusters fandom. For me, Halloween and birthdays all had to be centered around Ghostbusters. Even now as an adult and an official member of the Nor-Cal Ghostbusters, I can say I’ve waited my whole life for a game like this. I’m amazed that it took 37 years to release an online multiplayer Ghostbusters experience where you can be your own Ghostbuster or play as a menacing specter against your friends. IllFonic has done a phenomenal job at creating a game that focuses on paranormal investigation and eliminations.
As an online service game, I can’t wait to see what comes next, whether it new levels, ghosts, or cosmetics to name a few. If you’re a Ghostbusters fan, you’ve probably pre-ordered this already. If you're a fan of asymmetrical games like Evil Dead the Game, Dead by Daylight, or others, this is a must-buy. This is IllFonic’s best game they’ve ever made and everyone on the team should feel incredibly proud of the work they put into it. It’s no easy task to create a Ghostbusters game, but they did it. Grab your particle thrower and remember the wise words of Louis Tully: "Stay fit. Keep sharp. Make good decisions."
This review is based on an Xbox Series X digital code supplied by the publisher. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is available on October 18, 2022 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed
- 4v1 Frantic fun!
- Lots of customization
- Great Art Design & Direction
- Spot on sound effects
- Simple & enjoyable story
- Captures the feel of a "Real" Ghostbuster
- Minor frame rate issues on Xbox Series X
- Ghost Trap mechanics can be wonky at times
- AI-controlled Ghostbusters are pretty useless
Greg Burke posted a new article, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed review: Yes, have some!