Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review – Bustin' Makes Me Feel Fine
Few movies have ever seemed more primed for video games than Ghostbusters. You don’t need much: a few friends, some proton packs, a trap or two, and a ghost to bust. While there have been plenty of Ghostbusters games since the original 1984 film that let you wear the slime-covered shoes of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddemore, Illfonic’s latest title, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, takes things a little further by letting you play as a Ghostbuster or one of the ghosts they’re assigned to take down, all in asymmetrical multiplayer.
If you’ve played Illfonic’s other titles, like Friday the 13th or Predator: Hunting Grounds, or genre bigwigs like Dead by Daylight, you’ll already understand the basics of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. It’s a 4v1 title, with both sides trying to accomplish different objectives. The Ghostbusters are trying to capture a ghost and destroy the rifts that allow it to come back once captured, and the ghost is trying to avoid capture long enough to finish haunting a building and then survive a short timer and escape.
The Ghostbusters are kitted out exactly like you’d expect: they’ve got a PKE meter for tracking ghosts and rifts, a Particle Thrower for tethering ghosts and destroying rifts and haunted objects, a Proton Pack for managing the heat and power of said Particle Thrower, and a Ghost Trap, which... well, you get the idea.
On the other side, there’s the ghost. There are several different ghosts to play as, all of which are a little different, but the core idea is the same. They come equipped with a basic attack, two special abilities regulated by cooldowns, the ability to haunt and possess objects, and an extremely powerful ultimate skill with a substantially large cooldown.
The ghost’s job is to control the map by haunting individual objects and using its powers to scare the bejesus out of the poor civilians unlucky enough to be in the area. Haunting items and scaring civvies badly enough makes them leave the map, increasing the haunt meter the ghost needs to fill to win. It also makes it easier for Ghostbusters to find the ghost – just follow the screams.
At best, it’s an interesting game of cat and mouse; the Ghostbusters have to coordinate to win, while the ghost has to play smart. To get there, though, you’ll have to suffer through the game’s story.
There are good things there, most notably Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson returning to reprise their roles as Ray and Winston, respectively. The former runs a bookstore across the street from the iconic firehouse that specializes in the supernatural, while the latter is the boss of the Ghostbusters. There are other new characters, too, and all of them are fine enough. The real issue is your character.
You create your own Ghostbuster in Spirits Unleashed. It’s a robust character creator, but everyone you make looks like they’ve stepped out of Fortnite. They look fine, just kind of... bland. What’s worse is that your created character doesn’t have much to say beyond the odd combat line, so when you’re in a cutscene, characters just talk at you rather than to you.
And these conversations could have desperately used trimming. They all go on too long, and while they’re occasionally funny, it’s not enough to make up for all of the monologues, and it’s hard to care about a story where your character seems to be little more than a personality-free gig worker.
Still, questionable art style aside, the game does a good job of capturing the look and feel of Ghostbusters. Between missions, you’ll spend time in the firehouse and Ray’s bookstore adding to Egon’s spores, molds, and fungus collection, chatting with the cast, customizing your buster, and just generally enjoying the look and feel of the Ghostbusters universe.
This is also where the tutorial takes place. Spirits Unleashed does a decent job of teaching you the ropes, though does often throw a lot of dialogue and text boxes at you at the same time, especially in the ghost tutorial, which can make it hard to figure out what to pay attention to. You can skip it, of course, but it’s a good thing to play, as the game has a lot of mechanics to learn.
Once it’s done, you get to the real meat of things, and that’s where Spirits Unleashed starts to falter. It’s fun when it works and you have a full squad. You can play alone if you want; bots will fill in the gaps. It’s a nice touch, but the Ghostbuster AI is remarkably stupid – it’s not typical to see all three of your AI companions go down in a pile of slime at once – and the ghost AI, while better, is still very easy to beat.
It’s better with a full squad, but even then, the general gameplay experience in Spirits Unleashed is honestly pretty dull. Almost everything is measured by some sort of meter – the Particle Thrower’s heat, the ghost’s abilities, how haunted the area is, how scared civilians are, and so on – and you’ll spend most of your time managing them as a result.
There’s lots of strategy and teamwork. Ghostbusters must work together to find rifts, trap ghosts, and calm down civilians, and the ghost has to be smart about when they use their abilities and how they manage their powers, but there’s not a lot of room for individual skill, and things become repetitive very quickly. It doesn’t help that there are only six maps.
The five different spooks and the ability to customize your Ghostbuster’s gear to more specialize your playstyle helps – you can sacrifice recoil control for a better tether, for instance – as does the fact you and your abilities level up as you play. But in the end, you just do a lot of the same thing over and over and over again. And as with any multiplayer game, enjoyability largely depends on the people you’re matched with, especially since you’ll probably have to talk to them (unless you’re the ghost).
It’s better with friends, of course, but even then, the game never captures the tension, urgency, or moment-to-moment decision-making of something like Dead by Daylight, and your individual choices, whether as a ghost or a Ghostbuster, don’t impact the outcome in a way that makes long-term play sustainable. The lack of content – only one mode, only a few maps, only a few ghosts – doesn't help. Realistically, you can see most of what the game has to offer in a few hours, and once you do, there doesn’t feel like much reason to play.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review — The Bottom Line
- Nails the look and feel of Ghostbusters.
- Bots enable solo play.
- Fun with a group.
- Limited maps.
- Low individual skill ceiling.
- Your character doesn't really interact with the story.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed isn’t a bad game; every cast member, sound effect, and visual reference communicates its love for the source material, but it’s ultimately not that engaging to play solo, and the novelty wears off quickly even with a group.
Hardcore Ghostbusters fans and dedicated groups who love these kinds of games will no doubt find something to love here, but right now, there’s just not that much to interest anyone else. Bustin’ is supposed to make me feel good, but I spent most of my time with Spirits Unleashed the way the civvies do during haunts – waiting for it to end.
[Note: IllFonic provided the copy of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed used for this review.]