Once I booted up the game and saw an older, wiser, and dapper Winston open up the old garage door to the Firehouse and wave in the Ecto-1, followed by a restoration montage while Ray Parker’s iconic Ghostbusters theme cheerily blared in the background: I knew I was home. If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, don’t bother calling the Ghostbusters: they’re already here. If you somehow managed to stumble onto this review without knowing even an ectoplasmic ion of what this game is about, know that Ghostbusters: Spirit Unleashed is a four versus one asymmetrical experience where the titular Ghostbusters square off against a paranormal entity with a penchant for sliming humans.
What surprised me is that there is an actual story to go along with the game, although for the most part, it amounts to cutscenes that play after completing several matches. It is great for introducing you to the new characters inhabiting the firehouse, like plucky dispatcher Catt or the surly tech genius Eddy, who handles your gear and upgrades. Winston can be found hanging about the Firehouse and if you cross the alley, you’ll find Ray and his tiny occult shop. Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson reprise these iconic roles, which to me is a huge plus. Bill Murray’s Venkman is conspicuously absent but gets a very brief mention, while Harold Ramis’ Egon is also missing in action but for obvious reasons. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is named as such because it takes place after the events in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. After Gozer’s return unleashed ghosts upon the world again, Ray and Winston decide that it is time to train the next generation. As a matter of fact, that intro I mentioned earlier about Winston returning the Ecto-1 to the abandoned Firehouse was inspired directly by the last post-credits scene in Afterlife.
After the intro and tutorials are over, you have full run of the Firehouse and can launch matches as you please by using the telephone on the desk. The Firehouse serves as a hub and there are a few different things to do here, the most important being sliding down the firepole. Now that you got that out of your system, you can look around at the other things. If you want to replay story cutscenes you can do so at the TV with the Ghostbuster logo screensaver. Interacting with the lockers opens up the cosmetic customization menu. Here you can customize each aspect of your Buster with a range of clothing and accessory items. We’re talking about suits, shirts, pants, zany glasses: the works. You can unlock more options by earning XP and leveling up your player rank. By using all the options and colors available to you, you can bust ghosts in style while setting yourself apart from the other Busters. There are a few collectibles you can view, like your collection of spores, molds, and fungi, or cross the alleyway to Ray’s to read up on newspaper clippings about the game’s haunted locations. The alley has a smattering of cardboard ghost cut-outs if you want to practice your proton-throwing skills. The single most important feature of all is the upgrade bench.
The upgrade bench allows you to customize the look and more importantly, the power and functionality of your gear. Your proton pack, proton thrower, P.K.E. meter, and traps have their own rank. New add-ons can be unlocked when the required rank is reached. The upgrades vary in scope and power, but usually the stronger the benefit is, there is a tradeoff in another category. Some upgrades can change the way a piece functions, like the traps. Normally you must hit the pedal to open up your trap but there is an upgrade that instantly activates it upon throwing, giving the ghost a nasty surprise. These upgrades are a fun way to change the way you play and tweak it to your liking! Gear accumulates experience when used during matches, so get out there and make use of everything to power up your busting capabilities.
Now that you’re familiar with the Firehouse, let’s talk about busting ghosts. I’m sure it is obvious but as a Ghostbuster, your goal is to bust the ghost at one of five different locations. I really enjoy the way the way your Ghostbuster team arrives on the scene as each match starts: swinging open the front door and setting up their gear cart and equipment. However, winning the match is not as simple as trapping the ghost. The goal of the ghost is to increase the haunting meter to 100% before the Ghostbusters can find and destroy the three rifts hidden around the level, allowing them to trap the ghost once and for all. If you trap the ghost before every rift is destroyed, they respawn fairly quickly. Rifts are hidden in objects around the area and can be tracked by the Buster’s trusty P.K.E. meter, which when equipped, shows you readings that can help you detect ghosts and the artifacts that possess rifts. Ghosts can snatch up rifts and move them around, even while you’re trying to blast them so teamwork is key. A detail I love is the way the traps you throw out are attached to a foot pedal that you must be near to open up the trap when ready. Traps run on battery power, so they cannot remain open indefinitely so timing is important. Holding your proton beam long enough creates a tether that you can then use to maneuver the ghost into the trap. Your proton thrower heats up as you use it, forcing you to vent it if it gets too hot, rendering it temporarily useless. This is why teamwork is so important; Ghostbusters never work alone.
Part of a Ghostbuster’s job is calming down the civilians that populate the area. If they get too scared, they will become terrified and run out of the stage, increasing the haunting meter as they go. It takes time to calm them down though so it gives the ghost an opportunity to sneak attack you. Ghostbusters don’t need to worry about health and dying. Instead, ghost’s can slime you down: picture poor Venkman in his first Slimer encounter. You can take a moment to brush off the slime damage you have received but if the slime meter becomes maxed, you are temporarily incapacitated. At this point, you can slowly revive yourself or your fellow busters can help you out and speed up the process and get you back in the fight. Forcing the ghost into the trap after all the rifts are destroyed ends the match. Voila! You are now a Ghostbuster. Working through a location as a team to battle and catch ghosts feels like a truly authentic ghost-busting experience that I feel has never been captured before in videogame media, even surpassing Terminal Reality’s amazing 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game on PS3/Xbox360. After completing a few matches as Busters, the game starts up another story sequence to introduce you to Tobin’s Spirit Guide. The guide and subsequent story sequence/tutorial introduces you to the ghosts and now lets you play as one.
Playing as a ghost is a blast! I always viewed the ghosts as chaotic little shit-heads and I am happy to report that playing like that is not only encouraged but beneficial. Your goal is to fill up the haunting meter and send the Busters screaming and crying while running away from the job. There are a few ways to accomplish this. The haunting meter slowly fills up over time but hiding and waiting it out is risky, since the team of Ghostbusters will be seeking out and destroying your rifts. To speed it up, you can use your basic scare attack to send civilians running. Terrifying them to the max makes them exit the level, instantly boosting your haunt meter. Another way to give it a boost is by fully haunting an area of the map. Each area in a location has its own meter that a ghost can fill up for a bonus to the overall haunting meter. You can do this by haunting objects, causing them to float around and mess with the Buster’s P.K.E. readings. A ghost can also possess almost any object in a map, taking full control of it. Not only is it a great way to hide from Ghostbusters, but it also rapidly generates the P.K.E. energy you need to use your abilities. It is also hilarious to jump from object to object to escape the Busters trying to trap you.
While obviously built for online multiplayer, it is entirely possible to play solo with AI allies and enemies. I spent almost as much time playing with AI as I did real players after launch. The AI players can be sketchy at times, you’ll just see them standing around doing nothing. This is usually not the case, though. While I found the first couple of matches were rough, once I became familiar with the gameplay concepts and maps, I won most of my matches, so the AI wasn’t much of a detriment. When you play as a ghost, you don’t need to rely on another player so it was perfectly fun playing against the AI Ghostbusters. Playing online was a blast, as long as your team is working together. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like verbal communication, there is a simple system you can use that contextually pings out what you’re aiming at with a click of the right stick.
I’m usually hesitant when it comes to 4vs1 games but since I had a great time with the recent Evil Dead game and I’m a massive Ghostbusters fan, I decided to take a chance on this review. Well, my lucky streak continues because Illfonic succeeded two-fold: they created an immensely entertaining multiplayer game and they managed to do incredible justice to the Ghostbusters franchise. Having played every Ghostbuster game since NES, I can say absolutely that it has never been so much fun to play as a Ghostbuster.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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