IllFonic, the game development studio behind Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, knows a thing or two about asymmetric multiplayer games built on famous brands. Their summer camp-slasher that evolved into Friday the 13th: The Game and the studio’s 2020 entry Predator: Hunting Grounds, the first Predator-themed game in some 10 to 15 years, paved the way for their most widely recognized title yet. I’m happy to say that Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed conjures up the spooky fun and humor of the beloved franchise and pairs it with a playstyle that makes it just as much fun to bust ghosts as it is to be one.
If you’re not familiar with asymmetric multiplayer games, they’re actually simpler than they sound: Players on one team—like, say, campers trying to survive the night or mercenaries helicoptered into the jungle for a mission—try to either outlast, outsmart, or outgun the solo player on the opposing team, which is usually a superpowered character, like the nigh-unkillable Jason Voorhees or the superior alien hunter known as the Predator. You can either squad up with friends or randoms from the queue, or go it alone to try and take down the team. And that’s all there is to it!
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed follows in the footsteps of IllFonic’s forebears in a couple of ways. The teams consist of a four-person Ghostbuster squad who storm through one of a few different urban locales. (No matter the location, be it the museum, brewery, lodge, or what have you, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the map as soon as possible. It’ll save you a lot of trouble in the long run.) The main job of the Ghostbusters? Bust the ghost that’s causing trouble in the place and freaking out the normals. Side gigs include tracking down and destroying rifts, which allow the ghost multiple opportunities to escape being trapped when left intact, and finding collectibles, like newspaper clippings and various spores, molds, and fungi.
The solo side of things sees a lone player taking control of a ghost, of course. (You’ll start out as an Ectoplast, a rather basic speedy version of the classic “focused non-terminal repeating phantasm, or a Class 5 Full Roaming Vapor.” You can unlock both skins—including Slimer—and other ghosts as you level up.) The longer you avoid the Ghostbusters, the more you can haunt the premises, terrify the people in it, and please your otherworldly master in the ghost realm. You’ll have a few special skills to help you in your tasks, and you can zip around pretty freely while waiting for those skills to cool down. Should you get snagged by a tether from the Ghostbusters’ proton packs or sucked down into the equally iconic ghost traps, don’t worry, you have a few escape routes to take … as long as the Ghostbusters haven’t busted all of your rifts.
One of the traits that sets Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed apart from IllFonic’s other ventures into branded asymmetric gameplay is a strong nostalgia factor and a story steeped in Ghostbusters lore. That’s not to knock the other games. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed just feels more like an extension of the franchise rather than something tacked onto it. Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson reprise their roles in updated versions of Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore respectively. It was a pleasant surprise to see how their characters factored into the story at the outset, and even more so once the narrative really got rolling.
Yup, there’s more to Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed than just the gameplay loop of busting ghosts or haunting locations (though, to be fair, that’s the bulk of the experience.) In between missions, you’ll be treated to a delightful narrative that introduces new characters in familiar places with tech and specs that should be quite recognizable. The twists and turns the game throws at you feel in step with the spooky sort of humor the franchise is known for, and some of those surprises you absolutely will not see coming. The game adds its own flavor to special gear that you can research and equip as you progress, and its relatively robust character creation and customization system really lets you make your very own Ghostbuster just the way you want them to be.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed does suffer from some of the same pitfalls that all asymmetric multiplayer games have, especially during launch week. Lots of folks will want to play as the ghost, but the queuing system seems a bit chaotic at the moment. There are dedicated areas for players to either enter a game as a ghost or as a Ghostbuster, as well as settings that allow players to pick their preference, but there seems to be little rhyme or reason behind who gets to play what and when. The other ghosts in the machine seem to be tied to either balancing issues with the game’s mechanics themselves, or lag problems based on server speed and connection strength on the players’ side. Matchmaking issues are nothing new with these types of games, and I hope they get smoothed out in time. I will say that I appreciate the true crossplay capability among consoles (except Nintendo Switch, sorry) and PCs, as long as everyone is linked in to an Epic Games account.
Overall, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed debuted at the perfect time of year. It’s a fantastic new addition to asymmetric multiplayer games, especially when you get to play with a squad of friends and absolutely shriek in horrified delight as ghosts attack, escape, and are ultimately busted. It’s on the gentler side of the spooky spectrum, so if you’re looking for a new Halloween-themed title that’s a little easier on the heart rate monitor, this is worth a look. And its price point is hard to beat.
With a little love and attention to current bugs and a roadmap for future content (I will absolutely shell out the bucks for a Vigo the Carpathian or Samhain DLC, should that happen), Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed could be a crowd-pleaser for a long time. As it stands right now, it’s got enough Halloween spirit to carry you through the spooky season.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed was developed and published by IllFonic. Our review is based on the PlayStation 5 version. It’s also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
Dave Trumbore is the author of The Science of Breaking Bad. For more on TV, movies, animation, and games, you can follow him @DrClawMD or in Big Bad Beetleborgs forums.