Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review

Ever since I was a child rushing over to the VHS rewinder to queue up another showing of Ghostbusters, I’ve dreamt of a multiplayer game in its unflinchingly silly universe. Whether it’s the over-the-top spectral miscreants or the ridiculous ghost-sucking vacuums carried by phantom-catching vigilantes in janitor’s outfits, it’s hard to imagine a world more ripe for an asymmetrical multiplayer game where a team of ghost cops goes head-to-head against a vengeful wraith. Unfortunately, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed’s attempt to fill this void is only a qualified success, as it often absolutely nails the ghost-hunting fantasy, but gets stuck in the thick slime of balancing issues, questionable level design, a story that only barely qualifies being called one, and most of all, a severe shortage of content. I had plenty of genuinely hilarious and satisfying moments running around as a ghost and monkeying with my irksome, would-be captors, and hunting down spooky foes with friends can be a lot of fun, but after a couple hours I’d seen all there was to see and was ready to consign this meager jaunt to the shelf next to my prized Ghostbusters VHS.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed pits a team of four Ghostbusters against a single slime-loving apparition in simple but mostly enjoyable matches on one of five maps. The ghost’s goal is to terrorize dimwitted NPCs and haunt areas of the map until it’s too creepy for human occupation, while the team of Ghostbusters works to track down and capture that slippery abomination before it’s able to complete its unfinished business. As a ghost, you can fly, go through walls, haunt or possess items in the world, cover things in slime, and use an array of interesting abilities that are specific to whichever specter you’ve selected pre-match. Those powers include things like the ability to possess NPCs or summon a giant tornado of slime that does massive damage to humans. This suite of powerful abilities gives you overwhelming advantages over your feeble non-flying pursuers, who find themselves limited by their disgusting, corporeal forms. As a buster of ghosts, you’re given the tools of the ghostbusting trade, including the particle thrower, proton pack, P.K.E. meter, and ghost trap, and must work as a team to capture a ghost whose sole disadvantage is that there are four of you – but even that doesn’t account for much at times.

That’s because, at least right now, Spirits Unleashed is in need of balancing tweaks, as the bar for a human victory is quite high and only happened maybe one in every ten matches I played over the course of 15 hours. For one, the Ghostbusters have to do quite a lot to achieve victory, as simply catching their eerie foe right away triggers a respawn for the ghost. Instead, the jumpsuited crusaders have to hunt down three artifacts that serve as resurrecting horcruxes, destroying them all before capturing the ghost and claiming victory; all the ghost needs to do is run out the roughly 10-minute clock. Of course, the ghost hunters could just try to capture their quarry four times, since the ghost sacrifices one of their artifacts with each respawn, but doing so can be quite difficult when going up against a wraith possessing even a moderate level of skill.

There’s just too many ways for a ghost to win the day using their extensive bag of tricks, many of which feel downright cheap. For example, if the Ghostbusters find one of your artifacts and start damaging it, you can just pick it up, fly away, and hide it somewhere else before they can finish the job, which fully heals the artifact and sets the human team back enormously as they start the hunt all over again. Beyond that, most ghosts can break away from particle thrower streams relatively easily, move through walls or possess an item then quickly run away, and most importantly: they can fly. While Ghostbusters have to contend with stairs, the ghost can quickly float away to a higher floor.

All players being of equal skill, it’s hard to imagine the Ghostbusters consistently winning.

As a ghost, I was able to win almost every match with the rare exception where I was trying out a new character, or just playing foolishly for a laugh. As a Ghostbuster, I could really only win if the ghost player seemed to not know how to play or if I was in a full squad with friends all communicating and working together to scratch out a photo finish victory. All players being of equal skill though, it’s hard to imagine the Ghostbusters consistently pulling off wins with so many advantages in the ghost’s favor.

This is especially true in levels with tall layouts, where the ghost’s flight can be used to its greatest advantage. The prison level, for example, has extremely high ceilings, so if all else fails the ghost can just float high up in the sky where Ghostbusters below have exceedingly little chance of capturing it. I had one match where the ghost simply stayed up there and waited for the match to end, to the entire party’s four-letter word-filled dismay. Other maps might have lots of stairs, or narrow hallways that make it difficult for humans to navigate. On the bright side, at least each of the five maps is unique and has a lot of character, and each item in every level has a distinct, and often amusing, “walking” animation associated with it when the ghost possesses it.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of fun to be had in the sometimes irksome matches. Chasing down unearthly horrors with friends requires strategy, teamwork, and coordinating loadouts, and achieving that rare victory after putting together the perfect trap to ensnare the ghost is a moment that demands to be immortalized with a flurry of celebratory fistpumps. And while winning as a ghost isn’t usually very difficult, it’s certainly always amusing, and I prided myself on finding as many creative ways as possible to mess with my pursuers. I even organized a real-life LAN party in 2022 (not that Spirits Unleashed has actual LAN support) so I could host all five players under one roof, which was a hilarious and memorable experience that I’ll not soon forget. There’s a very cool game here, it’s just hidden by unseemly blemishes.

The biggest issue didn’t come until after a dozen or so hours of playing, when I abruptly ran out of things to do and rapidly lost interest. Much like the slime-spewing ghosts you play and hunt, there isn’t a lot of meat on Spirit Unleashed’s bones. With only five maps, a single game mode, and a story that consists of a series of boring cutscenes sandwiched in between multiplayer matches, you’ll run out of stuff very quickly. To its credit, you’ll continue to unlock new ghosts to play as and some helpful upgrades, tools, and cosmetics for your Ghostbusters, but all of that drives you right back to the same old multiplayer mode where you’ll presumably stay until you’re sick of it. Hopefully new content, especially game modes, will be added in future updates, but for now it’s extremely one-note.

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