Bugs and glitches in games can be frustrating. Clunky controls, graphical tearing, audio clipping—it all can be incredibly annoying and, at its worst, game-breaking. But janky bits in games can often be a blessing in disguise, bringing a whole new (accidental) element to a game.
Phasmophobia is one such game. The Early Access multiplayer ghost hunter has plenty of hair raising moments, and I agree with Rich when he describes it as the best ghost game ever made, but its jankiness offers much needed bursts of comic relief. And, for someone like me who gets a little fright from something as small as someone piercing a Capri-sun, it's a lifesaver.
This balance of horror and jank is so finely tuned the whiplash of emotions just makes it even more fun. Phasmophobia's ghost doesn't appreciate ghost hunters getting up in their personal business, and so will try to kill players when you've pissed it off enough. The crescendo of knowing the ghost is nearby and then it snapping the neck of one of your group is genuinely terrifying. But when the deceased party member's ragdoll body flops to the ground, clips into a nearby table and begins to wildly flap around like a fish out of water, my blood pressure drastically lowers.
Stranger Things Season 4 pic.twitter.com/8rcpKBXTiSOctober 7, 2020
I'm terrible with horror games and have developed many advanced techniques to get me through a particularly terrifying game. One involves having an emergency cute kitten compilation video readily available on the second screen, and (a technique I still use to this day) standing up so I'm not directly facing the screen to thwart any inevitable jumpscares.
But with Phasmophobia, a little bit of jank is just what I need when on the brink of exiting the game out of pure fright. The avatar's movements are super clunky and trying to place objects like a camera or glowstick means perfecting the art of object dropping, praying they land in the intended place. Watching your team awkwardly trying to investigate a small room is comedy gold, one standing on the bed waving around the EMF reader, another desperately searching for a light switch, and the third shouting the spirit's name over and over in hopes of stirring ghost activity. It's hilariously chaotic.
It's amateur hour up in here, but it's the role that Phasmophiobia has cleverly assigned you and it fits the mood perfectly. Fresh out of ghost hunting school, and with only a few bucks to your name, your group explores different haunted locations, from suburban houses to abandoned schools, trying to identify what kind of spirit is occupying the building, and then leaving swiftly before your neck gets snapped.
It's far from the slick professionalism you'll find in other horror co-ops like GTFO. You ultimately begin in the role of four idiots running around a haunted house screaming at anything that moves when the ghost hasn't even appeared yet. I'm playing as a white dude in a blue button-up who could easily be cast as "the asshole who dies first" in every horror film. It's all fun and games at first, laughing as we mess with smudge sticks and chuck the crucifix at each other. But believe me, all the laughing stops when all the lights suddenly go out and you hear the doors lock.
For all it's janky qualities, Phasmophobia certainly knows how to land a good scare. I expect developer Kinetic Games will iron out all the game's kinks as it continues to cruise through Early Access, and I'm going to be genuinely more scared to play it after then. I'm already sweating at the thought of the new prison level and recent updates have made the ghosts smarter. No longer will I feel the warm safety blanket of the game's jankiness. I'll be thrown into the cold, harsh realities of ghost hunting when the game gets it's full release sometime next year.