The boys in gray are back with a brand new game in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, a title that offers something new for the IP: multiplayer action.
Anybody see a ghost?
It’s just so great to see Ghostbusters back again, and as popular as it now is. There are toys and replicas aplenty, plus a genuine revitalized film series, with not just Afterlife but another new title coming as well. And hopefully this time it’ll more centrally focus on Winston and a re-formed team.
Speaking of that, the ending of Afterlife is of specific import to this game we’re talking about right here. From developer Illfonic, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed picks up where the movie left off, with Buster-turned-business magnate Winston Zeddemore creating a new squad.
Is it where the film franchise is heading? Well, that I can’t tell you, but what I can say is that the premise makes for a darn fun video game, despite some flaws.
Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma
The Ghostbusters team that you knew and loved is most definitely a thing of the past. Sure the surviving trio (well…) made a fantastically fun appearance to assist the kids in Afterlife, but they’re older at this point. And while Ray and Winston and Peter are all great, they can’t quite go toe-to-toe with supernatural horrors like they used to. Cue Spirits Unleashed, and a premise that’s a legitimately great evolution of the fiction.
In Spirits Unleashed, Winston is the owner of the new company. He’s pretty much content to just hang out at the firehouse and support the new team financially. As for Ray, he’s moved his “Ray’s Occult” bookstore right next door to GBHQ, and more or less
wastes time buys potentially dangerous occult artifacts from around the globe. With Winston’s money. And Pete? Uh, yeah he’s not really involved (shocker).
One really cool thing though, is that Ernie Hudson and Dan Ackroyd both voice their respective characters, and do a terrific job with it. They’re not alone though, as there are a few new heroes alongside them. These aren’t actual Ghostbusters though, and come in the form of an office manager and a tech, who hacks together new ghost-busting equipment.
Two sides of the coin
As for those Busters, that’s where you come in. The game doesn’t have any new scripted paranormal eliminators, instead tasking gamers with building their own. The creation suite is pretty cool fortunately, giving fans quite a few options. that’s to say, eventually, because all the good stuff has to be unlocked (kind of a bummer).
That’s one half of the action, as the other side focuses on actually playing as ghost, thanks to a mechanic tied to the infamous Tobin’s Spirit Guide. It’s actually kind of cool so I won’t spoil it for you, but you can also play as a haunter, engaging in a few pretty neat ghostly feats.
Now, you might notice that I haven’t gone into the story much, and there’s a reason for that. If you guessed there really isn’t one, you get the Twinkie. Yes, there are elements of a story and ‘acts’ to play though, but this isn’t Ghostbusters: The Video Game, and it doesn’t pretend to be.
Bustin’ makes me feel good
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a multiplayer title, through and through. You can play single player for sure, but you won’t find a ‘story mode’ with heavy cinematics and such. Instead you’ll pick up missions at the firehouse, and be joined by a cadre of kinda dopey bots. But be that as it may, the actual gameplay is still pretty fun on either side of the veil.
Back off man, I’m a scientist
As a Ghostbuster, which is the meat and potatoes of the game, you can do basically everything that the guys did in any of the films. That includes the iconic PKE meter, and of course the proton pack and neutrino wand.
Simply put, the Ghostbusters hardware looks amazingly cool. Spirits Unleashed is an FPS when played as a Buster, so you can get up close and personal with the hardware. And casting a stream at a ghost both looks awesome and feels just so freaking cool. It also slices through the scenery, just like in the movies.
There are other tools of the trade as well, including some new items, and the ability to upgrade your tech. Upgrades are available depending on your level, and can be added and removed at will, via the workbenches at the HQ.
All of these weapons and gadgets will be used in the game’s missions, in order to catch the spirits infesting the maps. And that is something that’s easier said than done. While you’ll also have to close rifts (that let ghosts into the world), actually busting ghosts is no easy task.
I found that trying to ensnare a ghost was often a war of attrition. See, your pack has to vent if it’s used too much, and holding a ghost in a stream tends to need you to actually have your finger on the trigger. Get where I’m going here? It’s not impossible, but it’s legitimately tough to wrangle a ghost, particularly so if playing with the aforementioned bots.
He slimed me
And of course, on the flip side are the ghosts. Playing as ghost opens up a completely different play style, as you can imagine, with some pretty slickly-designed abilities.
Once out of the ghost realm and into the real world, players can fly freely, use rifts to jump between map points, and engage in some fun haunted tricks. Those include possessing objects and making them move about thought direct action, as well as “haunting” objects so that they move and float on their own, and casting slime across the map.
Of course, you can also scare the bejesus out of humans, slime Ghostbusters, and generally be a free-floating nuisance. This is all working towards building the level’s haunt meter, and getting a location fully haunted. Basically, you’re doing what the players playing as Ghostbusters are trying to prevent, which all comes together in full player matches.
Total protonic reversal
There’s one other point I wanted to make here before I move on, and that’s that the game doesn’t have a ton of maps. There are only six, at least right now. And while they’re pretty neat in their own rights, there are no classic locations either.
The maps are pretty big and have a lot to them, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, you can only see them so many times before the shine wears off the neutrino wand. There’s a lot I’d like to see added to Spirits Unleashed, but before any of the cosmetic options and slime-blowers are DLC’d in, this game need some more maps. That’s something I hope Illfonic has coming.
Choose the form of the destructor
So there are some good and bad points with Spirits Unleashed. But one thing that I absolutely loved was the presentation. It’s decidedly “Ghostbusters”.
Spirits Unleashed has a cartoony look to it. It’s not as silly as the classic cartoon show, but the game isn’t trying to look realistic and the result is a really fun animated aesthetic. That’s overall too, as the ghosts look like they could almost fit right in with the classic Kenner toy line.
While the humans don’t have glowing slime trails, they do have a pretty huge degree of variation. Well, eventually. As I mentioned before, you have to unlock stuff as you play, but when everything is opened for use you’ll be able to deck your Buster out in movie gear from either of the first two films, and even the cartoon suits (or mixture thereof). There’s also a set of original clothing options too, which is a nice touch.
And as few of them as there are, the maps are nicely detailed and well realized. I’m kind of a sucker for nicely thought out levels that make sense in a real-world way, and that’s literally all of Spirits Unleashed’s maps. Again, I just wish there were more of them to play though.
I guess I’ll mention again the voice work here, since it’s just great having a Winston and Ray that actually sound like Winston and Ray. The other actors are solid too, but come on, we know who the stars are.
Oh and as for the music, since I’ve seen it derided a few places, no there are no licensed tracks. And yes, that does mean that there’s no Ray Parker Jr. But what there is, is pretty nice. Spirits Unleashed features a number of tracks that are basically riffs on the non-Ghostbusters-theme music from the movies. It’s kind of tough to describe, but you’ll know it when you hear it. It ain’t all bad in the audio department folks.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed brings the famed license into the multiplayer space in a decent way. It’s got some fun (if at times a little frustrating) mechanics, and both looks and sounds great. Plus, who hasn’t wanted to scare some folks as a specter?
Playing as a ghost was a great idea, and nicely adds to the package. Nevertheless, the game just flat-out needs more to it. The included maps get old pretty fast, especially while playing solo.
A copy of this game was provided by Illfonic for this review
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed
Release date: October 18th, 2022
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), PS5, PS4, Xbox One, PC
MSRP: $39.99 USD
Viggy, Viggy, Viggy
Premise - 75%
Gameplay - 72%
Presentation - 83%
Spooks, specters, and ghosts
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed isn't perfect by any means. It's a little too tough to actually catch a ghost while playing as a Buster, and maybe a bit too streamlined while playing as a ghost. And of course it has way too few maps. But there's no denying that it's still a plenty of fun to get together with a crew and take down some paranormal foes. Plus the game looks and sounds great, and it's such a joy to simply wander around the firehouse (and Ray's Occult). So is it a mixed bag of candy? Yeah, but I'd say a little more to the chocolate side of that satchel than the penny candy.