December 6, 2023
IllFonic's latest, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, is a blast, whether you're bustin' ghosts or sliming busters. The Finger Guns review:

Asymmetrical multiplayer games have proven to be pretty popular in recent years, and IllFonic is a studio with plenty of practice in the genre. They’ve become adept at taking beloved movie licenses like Friday the 13th and Predator and spinning them into fun, 4v1 multiplayer titles. Now Ghostbusters has joined that list with IllFonic’s latest release, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. As an avid lover of the franchise, I was instantly interested in playing it, and after well over a dozen hours in matches, I can confidently say that I had a great time with it.

Beautiful, You’re Hired

Before I get into the meat of the game, I’d like to point out that Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed does have some story content. Taking place after Ghostbusters Afterlife, you play as a new recruit to the Ghostbusters team after Winston reopens the Firehouse. Ray and Winston are voiced by original actors Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, and there are 2 new team members, Catt and Eddy, who are solid additions. The story plays out naturally as you play matches, with new cutscenes and dialogue added in every few games. It’s a fun story, but I’d not recommend anyone buy it just for the story content, as it amounts to about 25 minutes of cutscenes. What’s frustrating is that there is no way to progress offline, which always sucks. While the story isn’t the star here, it still sucks that people can’t get that content without being online. 

As of the time of writing, neither myself nor other members of the Finger Guns team could play any matches offline at all. The prompt to start a job didn’t exist in the Firehouse. All we could do was walk around, talk to the team and use the target shooting area. IllFonic stated in some documentation sent to us alongside the review code that offline play with bots would be a feature. It’s almost definitely a bug/release issue, and playing offline isn’t the best way to play, but it’s worth noting that currently, the feature doesn’t seem to work.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review

Creating your custom Ghostbuster is one of the first things you’ll do in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed’s opening tutorial. There are several options to tweak, but every facial feature slider starts at 0%, meaning if anything on your character isn’t as small as you want it to be, too bad, you’re stuck with it. You start with a few colour and outfit options, but levelling up your profile or completing specific objectives unlocks new clothing and accessories to dress up your custom Buster.

Visually, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed has chosen to go for a chunkier, cartoony aesthetic for the characters, sharing a visual similarity to Fortnite, and it works well here. It’s like a middle ground between the IDW comics and the visuals of Extreme Ghostbusters. Characters are always clearly visible due to the game’s brighter colour scheme, with all the different ghost types emitting a glow that makes them easy to spot as you play. All of the ghost designs are great, too. There are 5 classes of ghosts to unlock as you play, and each of them has multiple variants that look and play slightly different while retaining the specific silhouette of their ghost class, so you always know what type of ghost you’re up against.

Something Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed has absolutely nailed is the sound design. If you’re familiar with the franchise, you’ll immediately recognise the sounds of your gear as you use it or the wind-down after you’ve stopped using your particle thrower. Even the music fits right in with that of the original movie soundtrack. Instead of just using the movie’s score, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed manages to nail the atmospheric sounds of the franchise. I will say that with the default audio mix, the music did drown out some of the actual gameplay sounds, so I bumped it down to about 40%. It was still very much present but a lot less distracting.

We Came, We Saw, We Kicked Its Ass

The quick-paced 4v1 gameplay is where Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed really shines. I’ve never had a match that’s lasted longer than 15 minutes, which gave the game a “one more game” feel. I’d look at my phone, and all of a sudden, ninety minutes would have passed. Because the game has only just launched, getting into games was quick, too. Once I’d join a wait queue, it was no more than 30 seconds before I was in a match and playing, and when you finish a round, you’re instantly put into another: no having to return to the Firehouse. It all serves to get you playing as fast and painlessly as possible.

The actual gameplay of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is split into two parts: The four-player Ghostbusting and the solo Haunting, and both styles of play are just as fun as the other. I was a little hesitant that playing as a Ghostbuster would overshadow the ghost gameplay, but I was surprised at how much of a good time I had with the different playstyle that the 5 ghost Classes offer.

To simplify it, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is essentially a more active game of Prop Hunt. The ghost’s objective is to successfully haunt one of the 5 maps the game offers at launch and evade being captured. By scaring civilians, haunting or possessing items, and sliming Ghostbusters, you will build up the map’s Haunt Meter. As a Ghostbuster, it’s your job to do just that: Bust ghosts. 

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review

He Slimed Me

Each ghost class has unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses that make a difference in how you play. Each of these abilities depletes the ghost’s PKE meter, and if you empty that meter, you’re basically a sitting duck. There’s way more strategy to being a ghost than just sliming other players. By possessing objects, you can hide in plain sight as one of the various objects around each map whilst regenerating your PKE meter. There’s a fun little detail when possessing items: you can walk around as them, and they’ll more often than not move as if they’re alive. For example, if you hop into a garbage bag, the corners of the bag act like little feet when you move around. It’s cute, it’s totally unnecessary, and I love that it’s there.

There’s a good amount of variety to the ghost classes, each allowing for different playstyles. The second class of ghosts, the Ghouly, can possess the civilians that roam each map at the cost of their PKE meter. This lets you hide and move around the map while also terrifying the civilian when you stop the possession. When the Howler haunts an object, they’ll occasionally emit noises to lure any nearby Ghostbusters. The Poltergeist passively emits electric shocks to any Ghostbusters too close to them and regains their PKE meter faster when possessing electronic objects. There’s a lot of subtle variety here, and no ghost class felt better to play than the others; it’s just that they play differently

It’s a shame, however, that four ghost classes are locked behind your profile level, with the Poltergeist requiring you to be at level 50 before you can even try them. I understand the intent: give the player a less complex class to learn the ropes, but locking it behind a level that took me more than 14 hours to reach seems like a lot.

We Have The Tools, We Have The Talent

Ghostbusters are equipped with the gear you’d expect: The particle thrower, proton pack, PKE meter, and a ghost trap. Your particle thrower and proton pack are directly connected and are what let you tether to a ghost; the PKE meter detects any nearby rifts or possessed items but can also stun a nearby ghost with a charged blast. Your trap is, obviously, where you trap the ghost, but it’s got a bit of nuance to it. If it’s open too long, it’ll run out of battery, and you’ll need to pick it up and recharge it. Not only do you have to time your traps right, but the ghost can actually pick your trap up and carry it away, meaning you’ll have to find it or run back to the resupply point at the spawn point.

Each piece of equipment levels up with use, and as you level up, you unlock different upgrades to each piece of gear that alters how it functions. If your proton pack is overheating too fast, then you can swap out a part that’ll generate less heat at the cost of taking a little longer to wrangle a ghost. There are also 4 pieces of secondary equipment (3 of which you unlock by levelling) you can swap out at the resupply point, but I found that the grappling hook device had much more utility than putting down a device that slows a ghost down. Because ghosts have way more mobility, having that ease of quickly going up a floor seems like it should’ve been included as a core piece of kit.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review

There are a ton of bits and pieces you can change out on your equipment that alters how you play: It’s like a free-form way to build a class. You could group up with 3 friends and set up your equipment around different aspects of gameplay: one person could focus on detecting ghosts with an enhanced PKE meter, while another could alter their PKE meter to find ghost rifts.

Ghost rifts essentially act as the ghost players respawn points, except they are physical objects in the world that the ghostbusters can seek out and destroy. Each map has 3 ghost rifts that start in various default spawn points, and one is removed every time the ghost is captured. You can’t finish a job until all the rifts are gone, and you can finally catch the ghost completely. While this could mean that experienced Busters would be able to focus in on rifts at the start of a match, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed dodges this by letting the ghost pick it up and move it to a completely different location on the map.

Each rift is inside an object on the map, and once discovered, each player, ghost included, gets a ping for where it is. At this point, the ghost player could rush in while the Buster team is destroying the rift, pop their ultimate ability, knock down the entire team and carry the rift away. On the flip side, two or three Busters can keep the ghost player busy while one or two sneak off and destroy a rift. If you time it right, you can take down the rift and then catch the ghost right after to quickly remove 2 rifts.

There are a lot of little elements to think about as you play, and I imagine it’ll only get more refined as people play more of the game and figure these systems out. Even without getting too deep into strategy, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is still a lot of fun, even with random players. There’s even a context-sensitive ping system, which helps coordinate a team without having to hop on voice chat.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review

In terms of the levels you’ll be hunting or haunting in: there are only five at launch. It might seem like too few, but they’re all well-designed, each offering a different challenge and vibe. The museum is a good starting level with its big open rooms, while the prison has more verticality. The lodge has a lot of smaller rooms for tighter encounters. The brewery is compact but filled with objects to possess. The decommissioned cruise ship gives off some Sedgewick Hotel vibes but is filled with long halls and plenty of access points for the ghost to get around quickly.

Each map has 5 hidden newspaper clippings (only one spawns per match) that you can collect to get some background lore on the environments and their hauntings. They’re also littered with various spores, moulds and fungi, so you can start your own mycology collection in the late Egon’s honour. Obviously, it remains to be seen how long 5 maps can hold players’ attention, but I’m sure IllFonic will be working on post-release content for the game going forward. And if they match the quality of the current levels, it’ll be all the better.

On Our Own

To fill games that can’t find players, or if you want to try out new equipment, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed will fill any empty slots in your game with bots. It’s nice that it’s there at all, but honestly, the AI isn’t great. It’s good enough to test stuff out, but you’ll never have the same level of fun you would have with even a random group of real players. They’d sometimes be okay, and other times they’ll walk into walls or stand there scanning nothing; or they’ll throw a trap out but not open it, giving the ghost enough time to break free and get away. The ghost AI is better than the Buster AI, but not by much. If you’re buying Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed as a single-player game, you won’t get the most out of it. This is a multiplayer-focused title, and that’s where the real fun is.

Because it’s a multiplayer game, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed needs a bit of a hook to keep players coming back, and it does this with side jobs and research contracts. Side jobs are challenges that will reward you with XP and occasionally some cosmetic items for completing specific objectives like causing X amount of damage or destroying X amounts of rifts. Research contracts are challenges that unlock different upgrades for your gear, and you unlock more contracts as you level your gear, but you need to hit level 20 first before you can take them on.

You can only have one side job and one research contract active at a time, and the later challenges have more long-term requirements, so it’s irritating that if you want to swap them, you’ll lose all your current progress. Thankfully you at least get a warning before you switch, but I don’t understand why you can’t just freely swap between them. It seems pointlessly limited.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a clear love letter to a much-beloved franchise, and it’s IllFonic’s most polished product to date. It’s a great multiplayer title that takes the core gameplay of Prop Hunt and spins it into something all of its own. While it’s unclear how the game will grow and evolve with time, what’s presented in the base package is a ton of fun to play, both as a Ghostbuster and a Ghost. That said, while bots are a nice inclusion, they’re not a substitute for real players.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Developer: IllFonic
Publisher: IllFonic

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, IllFonic provided us with a promotional code. For our full review policy, please go here.

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