STAFF REVIEW of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed (Xbox One)

Monday, November 21, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Box art Like many that grew up in the 70’s who flocked towards Star Wars, I’d argue that many kids in the 80’s, like myself, gravitated towards Ghostbusters. That’s how iconic the movie was, though maybe not the sequel as much. Ghostbusters was my thing. I had the movies on VHS, watched the cartoon, had basically all the toys, including the awesome Firehouse that you poured the slime into and Ecto-1, and I’d argue, probably one of the most iconic and recognizable theme songs of all time. Ghostbusters was a big deal, and with the success of the latest movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, having a new game in the franchise to play obviously made me perk up and become curious.

Developed by Illfonic, if you know their track record of games, you’ll probably already have an idea of what to expect. Are you a fan of asymmetrical multiplayer games where it’s usually a 4v1 match? Do you remember Evolve, Predator: Hunting Grounds or Friday the 13th: The Game? If you answered yes, Illfonic also happened to work on those as well, so to say they know the 4v1 genre well is probably an understatement. And what better franchise were this asymmetrical setup makes the most sense other than this franchise, having four Ghostbusters trying to take down a ghost? Exactly, it seems like a match made in heaven on paper.

Ghostbusters fans can rejoice in the fact that it appears as though a lot of time, effort and care went into making Spirits Unleashed as authentic as it can be when it comes to lore, characters and the iconic equipment. Proton Packs, PKE Meters, Traps and more are all just as you’d expect them to be if you know your movies. This authenticity made me smile, and even though you can change and upgrade your gear, even visually, the effort that went into making sure the smallest details, even the basement of the Firehouse where The Containment Unit is located, doesn’t go unnoticed.

Technically a sequel to the latest movie, Afterlife, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed takes place basically right after the post credit scene from the film ending, a pleasant surprise to know that it’s cannon. To further reinforce this, you’ll interact with a few familiar faces, Raymond Stantz and Winston Zeddemore, surprisingly voiced by the actual actors, something I wasn’t expecting. Winston has refurbished the Firehouse and brought back the Ghostbusters’ headquarters back to its former glory.

The original Busters’ time is over though, Ray has moved on, running his unique book store right across from the building, Ray’s Occult Books, and it’s been decades since they’ve suited up properly, knowing it’s time for a new generation of Ghostbusters. This is where you come in. There’s some new characters brought on board as well, like Catt who is almost like a replacement for Janine Melnitz (can you truly replace her though?) and a new tech research wizard, Eddy.

I don’t want to delve too much into the narrative, as it’s actually quite interesting when you learn about a special Spirit Guide written by John Horace Tobin (which should seem familiar if you’re up on your Ghostbusters lore) and a mysterious package that’s sent from Peter Venkman. What I wasn’t expecting though was how it’s not structured like a traditional campaign. Instead, story segments play out with cutscenes and unlocks every so often, which I believe is level based from playing matches, but this wasn’t really explained, so I’m simply guessing. Play matches and eventually you’ll earn story sections in between matches when you head back to HQ every so often.

Much like Illfonic’s previous games that were also asymmetrical, the 4v1 gameplay is where 4 Ghostbuster players in a team will take on one other playing the Ghost that’s haunting a specific building. While you can play solo, as it will place you with bots when there’s no players to join, but doing so will be quite difficult, as the bots are quite braindead when it comes to their AI and actually helping in any meaningful way. With a few friends though, I was actually having some fun playing alongside some fellow staff writers as we try to take down the ghost. While the website does promote that the multiplayer game is “perfect for all levels”, I’d almost argue against that, as there is quite a bit of a learning curve and a team of Ghostbusters that don’t work together in unison will easily get outclassed by a good Ghost player.

You begin your bustin’ career by creating your character how you like, but it’s definitely not one of the most robust character creators out there. Certain clothes, gear and other options are level locked, so you’ll need to work on the grind for the coolest looking gear, even if it’s basic overall. Something I didn’t even catch until later that I really thought was clever is that the name on your uniform is actually your Gamertag. Small detail but very cool, as it looks just as it would in real life in the same font, color and style.

Once you enter a stage you’ll be searching for the ghost, trying to stop them before they fully haunt the place, but you’ll notice there’s a lot of random NPC’s wandering around the building as well. As they get scared by the ghost or you using your weapons near them, they’ll become panicked. You’re able to run up to one and have a brief conversation with them to calm them down, but this really isn’t explained well. A small and quick minigame appears where you need to press the Trigger at a certain time to improve their nerves, but miss these spots and they’ll panic even further. You get points for doing so, but this takes precious time that could be spent tracking down the ghost or supporting your team, so it’s a balance.

There’s currently only 5 maps, and while they are multi-leveled, usually 3 floors, you’ll become quite bored with the same scenery over and over since you simply play a match one after another in this type of genre. The maps are varied, going from a Museum, Prison, Brewery, Cruise Ship and a Lodge, each with their own theme and style, but it becomes repetitive with such few. You do start with a Grapple Hook item that allows you to attach to higher ledges and railings to quickly reach higher ground, eventually unlocking different gadgets you can swap it out for should you wish.

As part of the Ghostbuster team, you’ll need to locate the main ghost to try and capture them, stopping the inevitable haunting of the building, also searching for their three rifts to destroy, acting as their respawns. You’ll use your PKE meter that will alert you if there’s paranormal activity when you’re close, showing which direction to head in as those antennas rise the closer you get. If you want to stun a ghost that’s in close range, you can overcharge your PKE meter but this causes your PKE needing to cooldown or reboot for a short while as a tradeoff.

So you found a ghost or a rift, so naturally you’ll use your iconic Proton Pack to try and capture them in your beam. This needs to be managed though, as using for too long will overheat your pack, needing to be vented to cool or worse, waiting a long time for a reboot if it overheats completely. While one beam might work for a low level or inexperienced ghost player, you’ll most certainly need others from your team to finally trap that ghost.

Speaking of traps, your Ghost Trap is utilized just as you’d expect from the movies. You can toss it out at any point, and then step on the button to open the trap (done with the Left Trigger). This will open the trap, ready to capture any tethered ghost that is placed right over it. While there’s a brief tutorial, I found this quite difficult to actually do. Getting the ghost directly over the trap seemed to never work for me. This is exasperated by the fact your trap has a battery level, so it can only stay open for so long before you need to pick it back up and close it to get it to slowly recharge.

Also, if you have a ghost currently trapped in your beam and want to toss your your trap, you’ll have to stop shooting for a moment to do so, giving them enough time to get away, so you can see where the teamwork and communication is imperative. You only have one Ghost Trap, so if you forget to pick it up off the ground you’ll have to run back to go get it if you want to use it again. Given that all your equipment levels up separately based on its use, my Trap was always the lowest level since I could barely actually capture a ghost it in it.

While there are four Ghostbusters on a team, choose (or randomly get chosen) to be a Ghost and you’ll be solo. You’ll actually need to complete a few matches before being able to be the ghost, giving you a brief tutorial on how to do so. As a ghost you’ll be able to freely fly around one of the five maps that’s chosen, each ghost type with its own unique abilities and stats. You can possess items, haunt them to act as distractions (they will show up on PKE meters), slime your enemies and have a few abilities to help you attack or defend. You have a stamina-like meter, called Ectoplasm, so you need to constantly manage this meter. Almost everything you do as a ghost requires Ectoplasm, so you better be sure to always have a reserve in case you need to quickly dash away from a Ghostbuster that just spotted to tried to trap you.

Need to refill your meter? No problem, simply possess an item. The longer you stay inside, the more you’ll refill. This will show on nearby PKE meters though, even if you stay still, so I wouldn’t suggest doing so for a long time. You have a lot of different strategies to try and fully haunt the building, your objective for winning, and it really depends on how you want to play. Do you use panicked NPC’s that some players will do the minigame for to calm them down as a trap, so you haunt a few items as a distraction while you work on other rooms?

When you do start to get tethered by a team of Ghostbusters, you’re able to break free by spamming corresponding buttons quickly and moving your ghost a certain direction to ‘fight’ the pull near a trap. You have one last ditch effort when being sucked into a Ghost Trap, but without a controller that has turbo or rapid fire, good luck actually doing so. Your three rifts act as respawns if you are caught, so hopefully the other team doesn’t find and destroy them before you fulfil your own objectives.

I can see the appeal in playing the ghost, as you’re given a handful of interesting abilities, and it always feels rewarding to take down a team of four when you’re solo. That said, I hated playing as the ghost. I understood the objectives and how to do so, but I simply didn’t have fun doing so. To be fair, I also never liked being the monster in Evolve or the killer in Dead by Daylight either in similar games, so that’s more on my personal preference. The issue I had was that even though you can choose a preferred role of Ghostbuster or Ghost, even joining a match as a team with friends it would sometimes also split us up, forcing someone to be a ghost even when we joined as a trio.

You get plenty of experience for playing, completing matches, and of course playing well. As you level your overall rank, this unlocks new cosmetic gear and story progression, whereas your equipment levels up independently based on how much you use them. My Proton Pack was climbing levels because I was constantly attacking the ghosts with it, whereas my Trap barely leveled at all since I struggled to capture many ghosts in my individual trap.

As your gear levels up, you can equip different components that not only change the visual aesthetic of the gear, but its stats as well. My Proton Pack for example now has a different piece that gives me better venting and tethering skills. Think of these like attachments for your guns in a Call of Duty, it’s very similar. Ghosts also have unlockable and abilities they can earn by playing and doing well also. The constant promise of a new attachment kept me hooked for a while, making me want to play one more match so I could try and get some new components for my gear.

For the actual multiplayer, which is what the game is based on, yes it will place you with bots if needed, but they are of very little help. With crossplay enabled, finding matches only took 10 seconds or so, never having to wait long for a match. With matches lasting roughly 15 minutes or so, what I did find was that the balancing really needs to be addressed. Some matches would last five minutes because it was clear that the ghost was a new player and had no idea what to do, and others that clearly favor playing the ghost and has zero issues keeping all four of us players locked down and slimed where we couldn’t really do anything about it. 40 or so levels in, if I saw a high ranked ghost, it was almost always a guaranteed loss as a Ghostbuster team.

Spirits Unleashed has a very cartoonish aesthetic to it, not necessary a bad thing, but I did quite like how the particle beams appeared to be true to the source material. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting the original Ray Parker Jr. theme song for the brand to be included, but I was smiling ear to ear once it loaded up. The voice acting of the iconic Ghostbuster characters included are of course perfect, and the secondary characters aren’t too bad either. The soundtrack is decent, though nothing really all the memorable outside the iconic theme song. You’ll be trying to focus on audio cues from scared NPCs and sounds the ghost may be making to try and get an advantage anyway. The particle beams from the Proton Packs sounds as though it came direct from the movies, always sounding great.

I was surprised that Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed was priced at $29.99 USD ($38.99 CAD - currently a sale), expecting a fully priced game. This is basically that sweet spot when it comes to value and replayability given its repetitive nature and lack of maps. Nostalgia will certainly be the main reason many pick it up, but without any friends to bust ghosts alongside with, I’d question its longevity. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!

**Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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