Best Co-op Game 2020: Phasmophobia

Our Co-op game of the year: Phasmophobia.
(Image credit: Kinetic Games)

Early Access horror game Phasmophobia snags our Best Co-op Game Award of 2020. We'll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.

Rich Stanton: The first thing my team of crack spook-hunters look at in a Phasmophobia mission is whether the ghost responds to everyone, or only people who are alone. When it's the latter, the mood darkens.

Communication is at the heart of this experience, and even the most hardened don't enjoy being alone with a ghost. The array of equipment forces the team to work in tandem, necessitating constant chatting, while the ghost 'listens' (and can respond) to what's being said. Rule 1: never admit you're scared.

The most common sentences in the game begin with "I think I saw", as one player half-catches something and the team rushes over. When the lights are on and you're setting up, it's all bonhomie and wisecracks about the wallpaper. Then stuff starts to happen, the chat gets quieter and, with no real means of protection from the ghost, you'll see players start to huddle together.

The brilliance of this co-op experience is that it thrives on communication, then builds aspects of the experience on what players are saying, whether deliberately or thoughtlessly. And there's no thrill quite like being in a room with your mates, asking "where are you" and, a few seconds later, the silence is broken by the word "here."

James Davenport: Finally, a game for all mid '00s teens glued to paranormal message boards, staying up late on school nights to record the newest episode of Ghost Hunters. It's apt that Amnesia: The Dark Descent released a decade ago, catapulted into the social consciousness by it's popularity among early YouTube personalities. Phasmophobia is experiencing a similar explosion on Twitch, but this time the experience is shared among friends and never quite the same twice. 

Because Phasmophobia uses tools straight off the hardware store discount rack, ghosts feel like real existential threats rather than thematic provocations to wrap a moral around. Throw in some friends and Phasmophobia easily replicates that same fear, grounding the supernatural in something a little more real and far less predictable than any scripted horror.

Rachel Watts: Phasmophobia is the only game this year that has made me both cry with laughter and in terror. It's a ghost-hunting co-op where you and three friends fumble through a string of haunted buildings in an attempt to document paranormal activity and it's hilariously chaotic. The (almost accidental) balance of spine-tingling horror and slap-stick jankiness is so perfect that the whiplash of emotions just makes it even more fun.  

Watching your team of supposed ghost hunting experts move their clunky avatars around, yelling the spirit's name over and over in hopes of stirring ghost activity is it's own kind of comedic chaos. But believe me, all the laughing stops when all the lights go out, you hear the doors lock, and someone's neck gets snapped. For all its janky qualities, Phasmophobia certainly knows how to land a good scare.

how to use phasmophobia smudge sticks

(Image credit: Kinetic Games)

Jacob Ridley: Standing alone in a darkened room, hunched over a spirit box, and praying to some higher being that my flashlight doesn't start flickering, I have often begun to wonder whether my ghost hunting team has my best interests at heart. It's only after I hear rapid footsteps and a weighty thud that I realise, in fact, they do not. 

Phasmophobia is a game that's just as much a test of your friendships as one for your nerves. It's terrifying, sure. Truly frightening at times, in fact. But it's the social aspect underlying the entire experience that has made this particular game a highlight of my 2020. Granted, it really didn't take much...

It also scratches that itch embedded in my mind from watching many an episode of UK ghost hunting show Most Haunted. You use a range of equipment to hunt and commune with the dead in the game—spirit boxes, EMF readers, cameras, Ouija boards, thermometers, UV flashlights—if Derek Akorah used it, Phasmo's got it.

Fulfilling every trope you could desire out of a ghost hunting game, Phasmophobia is both wonderfully entertaining and frightening in good measure. It's fab-boo-lous.

Phil Savage: Jacob, no.

PC Gamer

The collective PC Gamer editorial team worked together to write this article. PC Gamer is the global authority on PC games—starting in 1993 with the magazine, and then in 2010 with this website you're currently reading. We have writers across the US, UK and Australia, who you can read about here.