The Ghostbusters have had a strong run at the box office with critically and commercially acclaimed movies, but its transition to the medium of video games hasn’t been the smoothest. While there isn’t any shortage of games based on the property, fans have been left starving for a competent Ghostbusters experience for almost a decade now. Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed has finally come to the rescue of these starved fans, though the game isn’t without its fair share of shortcomings and design frustrations that can come in the way of its chaotic multiplayer mayhem.
Developed by Illfonic of Friday The 13th: The Game fame, Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed is also a similarly asymmetric multiplayer game that sees a team of Ghostbusters storming various locations in order to curb any and all paranormal activity from that place. Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed is a tie-in release for Ghostbusters: Afterlife – but both properties have different and unconnected storylines.
"Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed has finally come to the rescue of these starved fans, though the game isn’t without its fair share of shortcomings and design frustrations that can come in the way of its chaotic multiplayer mayhem."
The game sees you assuming the role of a rookie Ghostbuster, who has just joined this anti-paranormal organization that has set up shop in a rusty, old Firehouse. You get to choose the looks, voice, and body type for your character by selecting from various options in the character creator.
Upon doing so, you will be greeted by the founder Ray – who will show you the ropes but not before boring you with his endless dialogues. You also get to meet Catt who is the operations manager, Winston who is responsible for finances, and Eddie who is the brains behind most of your equipment. These characters are all pretty distinct in their personality; complete with their many quirks.
Once you are through with your creations, a short tutorial takes you through the basics of ghost-catching. Firstly, you get a P.K.E. meter which changes reading as you get closer to a ghostly presence – and performing a blast move with the device will cause the ghost to appear from any possessed object. You also get a Proton Blaster, which can be shot to bind a ghost to a tether, and you need to pull that tether to a previously laid-out Ghost Trap – which will ultimately trap the ghost. There are some nuances to these activities as well, such as the Proton Blaster overheating with repeated use or trap battery depleting rapidly once opened – but for the most part, it’s easy to understand and execute.
"Your multiplayer adventures aren’t meaningfully related to the story, and both remain mostly separate affairs."
Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed also features a storyline that blends into the multiplayer aspect of the experience. While that certainly sounds like an enchanting premise, it’s anything but. As you complete a set number of jobs, you will be greeted with a narrative-related cutscene that moves the plot forward. Your multiplayer adventures aren’t meaningfully related to the story, and both remain mostly separate affairs.
The Firehouse is the hub of operations, where you can talk to characters, upgrade your equipment and take up jobs. Your standard ghostbusting operation will pit a group of 4 Ghostbusters against a Ghost as it tries to completely haunt the place. A Haunt meter dictates the progress of the match, and as a Ghostbuster – you need to catch the ghost before the meter reaches 100% progress. The ghost can place three rifts anywhere on the map, which needs to be tracked down and destroyed first since trapping a ghost with any active rifts will cause it to respawn. The ghost will also cause other nuisances to further its haunting rate, such as scaring civilians who need to be calmed down or throwing slime spits that can knock your character down. If the map reaches a 100% haunting rate, a short endgame phase starts where all rifts are automatically destroyed – and the ghost needs to survive for that final minute in order to win the game. But if the ghostbusters manage to catch the ghost within that short time frame, they can get themselves a last-ditch victory.
Teamwork is the name of the game here, and you need to work as a team if you wish to catch the ghost. The ghost is a nimble creature, and can quickly cover distances and break tethers – so it becomes essential to lure it into a trap where multiple ghostbusters and traps can easily nip the nuisance in the bud. Splitting responsibilities like finding rifts and calming down civilians also have to be done in a timely fashion to avoid frustrations and quick defeats. Thankfully, Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed features cross-platform support which means you can play with your friends regardless of any platform restrictions.
"The ghost is a nimble creature, and can quickly cover distances and break tethers – so it becomes essential to lure it into a trap where multiple ghostbusters and traps can easily nip the nuisance in the bud. "
But if you want to go solo, you could try playing as a ghost that flips the tables on its head. As the ghost, you must choose the perfect spots for hiding your rifts. And once the match starts, you need to haunt and scare off civilians to increase the haunt percentage of the map. You also have special attacks to damage your opponents, each of which consumes some energy from a common pool. Once that depletes, you need to take possession of any object to restore that energy. You can also sabotage a ghostbuster’s proton pack, or pass through certain walls – and it’s equally fun and chaotic.
While the game is pretty balanced for the most part, there are some frustrations that can get in the way of fun. The biggest is undoubtedly the absence of a mini-map, which can make navigating through spaces an exercise in pain at times. Without any information about the level geometry, it can become frustrating to track down the ghost and search every nook and cranny for rifts – especially the first few times in a level. Also, playing with randoms can significantly put the odds in favor of the ghost – though that’s something that could vary with every individual. Furthermore, I also experienced many glitches during my time with the game. My character would randomly fall to the ground or glitch out while climbing up or down stairs – which made a few level runs pretty frustrating.
Upon completing your ghostbusting jobs, you are awarded XP and other rewards which help in progressing your character. You can also take on side hustles which are basically challenges that reward you with additional XP and rewards upon completion – making them a great way to level up your character. On the gear side of things, your equipment level increases depending on your usage of that gadget, and you can unlock better parts for that equipment once you level up. Besides this and cosmetic upgrades, there isn’t much variety within the tools that you can use for your business – ultimately resulting in a rather thin progression loop.
"It would have been great if there was some more variety in terms of game modes or at least some mini-games spread throughout the Firehouse, and it’s easy for a sense of monotony to kick in after some time given the current status of the game. "
While Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed features more than a handful of varied map locations ranging from museums to restaurants and warehouses, they are home to the sole game mode that is ghostbusters versus ghosts. You can collect news scrapings scattered across each level to learn more about the location and its significance, but apart from that – there’s little that you can do with the game. It would have been great if there was some more variety in terms of game modes or at least some mini-games spread throughout the Firehouse, and it’s easy for a sense of monotony to kick in after some time given the current status of the game.
In conclusion, Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed can make for some great chaotic fun with friends. The core gameplay loop is simple yet enjoyable, and Illfonic has made a game that’s pretty balanced on both ends. Mixing the single-player narrative with the PvP multiplayer is an interesting prospect, but it ends up being a gimmick more than anything else. Furthermore, some annoying design oversights such as the lack of mini-maps and additional game modes can make the game frustrating at times. All in all, it’s a decent experience that might be worth looking into for Ghostbusters fans, but it could have been a lot better had it spent more time in the oven.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Balanced gameplay that can be really fun with friends; plenty of varied maps.
Some design frustrations such as lack of mini-maps; the blending of single-player story and multiplayer content ends up being a gimmick.