My relationship with the Ghostbusters franchise has been hit or miss over the years. While I’ll always enjoy the original films, I found 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot grating and unfunny—and largely cringe-inducing at that, which wouldn’t change if the cast were suddenly flipped to an all-male one—and 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife was missing the special something that made the ’80s hits classics in the first place. Nothing’s ever been able to touch the original works for me, and the same can be said of Ghostbusters video games.
Up until 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game, the franchise never wowed me—but that game was a veritable in-universe sequel that did manage to impress me with its return to form and inclusion of the actual Busters themselves. So imagine my surprise when IllFonic’s asymmetrical multiplayer game Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed has managed to unseat the 2009 game as my favorite Ghostbusters game. I didn’t think it could be done, let alone with a multiplayer affair.
Newsweek spent some hands-on time with Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed ahead of its upcoming release, and I came away from the experience a complete and utter believer in the power of a great license. I’ve seen Ghostbusters done well before, but IllFonic took that standard and elevated it even further. I’m pleased to say Spirits Unleashed is the most fun I’ve had with Ghostbusters in years. And you know what? Bustin’ definitely makes me feel good.
Getting the Gang Back Together
Spirits Unleashed places you in the shoes of a brand new Ghostbuster. Without spoiling the story, you can create and customize your own character with a fairly robust creation system. Want a green-haired, ponytail-sporting Buster with a long-sleeved flannel top and fashion-forward sunglasses? You can have just that. I did, in fact. The outfits aren’t gaudy or out of character for the franchise, nor are the accessories, and for a fun effect, your handle appears on your coveralls or top just like it does on the regular Ghostbusters’ uniforms.
You’re working to help Winston Zeddemore (yes, voiced by Ernie Hudson) and Raymond “Ray” Stantz (yep, they also got Dan Aykroyd) revitalize the bustin’ business as new blood. I won’t detail any further specifics this close to release, but that means going through training to get ready for primetime and hunting down the pesky ghosties that are haunting various locations. You can play as your Ghostbuster character or a ghost, and your assignments change depending on what you decide to play as.
If you play as a Ghostbuster, you and three other players or AI partners will work to capture a ghost terrifying a central location. At the beginning of each match, a Building Haunt meter will begin to rise as a ghost terrorizes everyone in a location by possessing or haunting items and making them move or otherwise being obnoxious. Ghosts can sabotage Busters’ proton packs, spawn minions, and slime (effectively knock out) Busters, but they only have three lives to complete their haunting objectives.
As Ghostbusters work to pull ghosts into traps to seal them away, Ghosts can escape into Rifts they can open and even hide, which act as spawn points. Ghostbusters can cooperate to close the Rifts and that means it’s game over for ghosts when they run out of spawns. It’s a little more complex than that, of course, but that’s the gist. And it’s a system that works extremely well in practice.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost
During my hands-on time, I played multiple rounds as a Ghostbuster, a role I was able to settle into comfortably a lot quicker than I had imagined thanks to some really great teammates and intuitive gameplay. I only played one round as a ghost, which I promptly failed at since it was my first time playing—and I can’t wait to totally own that role when I can dig into the full game.
Luckily, there’s a full tutorial to complete as well as a storyline to experience (that you can play solo if you prefer thanks to the addition of bots) which makes Spirits Unleashed a lot more than just a multiplayer affair if you don’t want it to be.
There’s never a dull moment when ghost hunting. At any second, you might see a mop come careening down a hallway or a dancing teddy bear—is it a ghost or is it a haunted item meant to make you think it is? You have to keep your wits about you and be ready to work together with your team at the drop of a hat to throw out a trap, open it, and coordinate a capture.
Smooth gameplay, intuitive controls, and exciting map design make playing as either side a breeze. Your proton pack can be upgraded for better performance as you level up, and the improvement as you rise through the ranks in terms of XP can be felt immediately. The sense of progression you need for a multiplayer affair like this is absolutely here, and it pushes you to keep playing to see just one more level over and over. I started playing with the intent to try the game for an hour at first. That quickly ballooned to three hours.
There is No Boredom, Only Bustin’
If you play as the Ghostbusters, there’s more to worry about than just haunting, though. You aren’t the only ones in an empty building. Every haunted location comes packed with people who are abjectly terrified of what’s going on. Ghostbusters must calm them down using a special gauge with a cooldown to ensure they don’t run screaming out of the building. It can be tricky to retain people, but if a building becomes completely haunted, that means the ghosts win, and you don’t want that.
There are also plenty of collectibles strewn throughout each stage: fungi that you can build up an entire cache of, clippings that illustrate some of the game’s narrative, and other goodies that you’ll happen upon while playing. In the middle of a heated battle between Busters and ghosts, however, they certainly seem a lot less important.
There’s a wealth of things to do in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, like unlock additional ghosts and skins for each, add new cosmetics to your collection, and a story that’ll make any Ghostbusters fan smile. It’s a project that’s perfect for just about anyone who enjoys the franchise. And I had an absolute blast with it so far.
It’s difficult to make an asymmetrical game that doesn’t rely too much on its license or other factors to be fun, and Spirits Unleashed feels like a natural evolution of a universe adapted to a new medium. I can’t wait to jump in and play more with friends, and that’s a sincere compliment. It’s silly, zany fun that we need more of in gaming, and I’m ready to rise through the ranks to become the ultimate Ghostbuster.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is set to release on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on October 18.
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