'Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed' Review: A Too-Small Multiplayer Experience – slantmagazine

Beyond its strong foundation, there’s a sense that Spirits Unleashed is a missed opportunity due to its narrow focus on the architecture of the asymmetrical multiplayer.
IllFonic’s Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is the latest video game to use a popular franchise as a launching pad for a competitive asymmetrical multiplayer experience, following in the footsteps of the developer’s own Friday the 13th: The Game, from 2017, and Saber Interactive’s Evil Dead: The Game from earlier this year. On the surface it’s a good fit, as every incarnation of Ghostbusters has seen a team of the four titular paranormal exterminators fighting aggressive supernatural foes, and that formula is faithfully adapted here.
Players assume the role of a new rookie in the ghost-catching business that was teased to have been restarted in the coda to Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife and are shown the ropes by none other than Winston Zeddemore and Ray Stantz (Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd, respectively, reprising their roles in voice and appearance). The Ghostbusters Firehouse acts as a hub from which the player character can be customized, new gear can be utilized, and missions selected, while missions follow the standard asymmetrical multiplayer formula, with four first-person-controlled Ghostbusters exploring and exorcizing a level haunted by an opponent who rushes in to completely infest the location with spectral activity.
The main gameplay is informed by the narrative elements from the films. The Ghostbusters get to use the iconic PKE Meter as a kind of motion detector to find and pursue paranormal activity that’s additionally bolstered by a blast mechanic that can exorcize any possessed object. And the main weapon is the Proton Blaster, which allows the players to grab ghost enemies via an energy tether and then move them to a Ghost Trap where they can be confined for good.
On the opposing spectral side, the opponent plays as a ghost in the third person and must completely haunt a level, planting dimensional rifts (tears in the fabric of reality) and generally causing as much supernatural disturbance as possible. All the while, a Building Haunt meter at the top of the screen shows what percentage of the haunting is complete, and after this meter is maxed out, Spirits Unleashed enters a final phase where the Ghostbusters have a short window of time to properly capture the ghost, lest they lose the round.

At its best, this gameplay captures the exciting chaos of some of the films’ best moments, such as the Sedgewick Hotel from the original film where the original Ghostbusters trio captures Slimer, and the courtroom from Ghostbusters II where the ghosts of the executed Scoleri brothers return to take revenge on the judge. As in those sequences, cooperation is a must for the Ghostbusters to best the aggressive spirits, and Spirits Unleashed demands coordinated gameplay to combat the most effective paranormal opponents.
While all of that constitutes a strong basis for any game, its longevity cannot be ensured. Like the Evil Dead and Friday the 13th asymmetrical multiplayer games before it, Spirits Unleashed will live or die based on whether it’s supported by the developers moving forward. Over time, ghost players will figure out the best locations to place rifts and ensure an easy victory, as will dedicated Ghostbusters work out the most unbeatable strategies, at which point updates and new content will be required to keep the game from disappearing into the ether.
Beyond its strong foundation, there’s a sense that Spirits Unleashed is a missed opportunity due to its narrow focus on the architecture of the asymmetrical multiplayer. Ghostbusters: The Video Game, from 2009, understood that this franchise is only limited by imagination, and was happy to send its characters into brand new locations and even other dimensions in an escalating battle against the forces of supernatural evil. By comparison, Spirits Unleashed is myopic. Arguably the most memorable sequence from the entire franchise, the 1984 finale battle with the enormous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man on the skyscraper rooftops of New York, made for an engaging early level in the 2009 outing but isn’t even alluded to here.
This game never makes the leap from smaller-scale locales to more epic-sized ones, meaning that the notion of laying waste to a city block as Mr. Stay-Puft or some similarly silly, over-the-top paranormal leviathan against the Ghostbusters remains only a fantasy. Like the film that preceded it, Spirits Unleashed is stuck sending us down memory lane at the expense of stepping forward into new terrain. For many, this nostalgia will be enough, but even with updates it seems unlikely that Spirits Unleashed’s core gameplay will sustain it for long.
This game was reviewed with code provided by Stride PR.
Ryan Aston has been writing for Slant since 2011. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.
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