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Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed review

Bustin' ghosts in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed makes me feel… meh.

(Image: © Illfonic)

Our Verdict

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is an unsatisfying multiplayer experience that lacks the wry character of the movies it's based on.

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Need to know

What is it? A first-person ghostbusting simulator with co-op and asymmetrical multiplayer.
Expect to pay: $40
Release date: October 18, 2022
Developer: Illfonic
Publisher: Illfonic
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Ryzen R7 5700g, 16GB DDR4 RAM, Radeon RX 5700
Multiplayer? Yes
Link: Epic Store (opens in new tab)

Spirits Unleashed opens with a music video of Fortnite Ernie Hudson doing the 'ol walk-and-nod in the original firehouse, that routine your manager does when he has to pretend to be busy. "I may run this place, but don't go around calling me 'boss'," he tells me. I move the mouse from one side of my desk to the other to try and break eye contact with this awkward scene. He orders me to learn to use the Proton Pack while his lackeys, the new generation of Ghostbusters, tell me about picking up "side hustles." This place needs a union.

Workplace gripes aside, bustin' ghosts isn't the worst gig. My first day on the job in Spirits Unleashed let me play around with some cool toys. The Proton Pack, a portable Three Mile Island rigged up to a fire hose, roared as I pulled back on the trigger the first time. That was when I got my first and only framerate drop, like the game was taken by surprise at how much oomph its ghostbusting gun had. It felt good.

The Proton Pack works in conjunction with the traps from the film, the streams harmlessly crossing without consequence in multiplayer. 

Ghostbusters '84 has a sharp wit: it's still a hilarious satire of money-grubbing small business psychos and the gnarled bundle of red tape they run up against. Nothing about the "close three portals while getting harassed" asymmetrical multiplayer of Spirits Unleashed feels like it's in keeping with the cynical energy of the source material. Sure, my motley crew of gig workers and I have to coordinate and focus fire on a ghost to pull them into a placeable trap, balancing our respective proton heat levels and working the best angles, but none of us ever felt like Spengler or Ray.

Spirits Unleashed just doesn't have a ton of personality, something that can't be said for the film it's based on. The custom characters are real voids: the only things they have to say are affirmative barks in the tutorials. I'd have loved to hear some Akroyd/Ramis-style riffing among the squad mid-mission in the vein of Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, but there's none of that here. 

Visually, too, Spirits Unleashed is uninspired, resembling the rounded-edge Fortnite style. It doesn't look bad per se—there's some impressive lighting from the Proton Pack as lightning bolts skitter up and down adjacent walls like a nuclear kaleidoscope—but little else. Barring the licensed theme, the music is unremarkable and bizarrely adjacent to the Harry Potter film scores, a banal 4/4 arrangement of womp-womp horns and royalty-free strings. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed peddles the fantasy of being a Ghostbuster but without any of the style or humor required to really make it feel like you're in that ugly gray jumpsuit. 

(Image credit: Illfonic)

Moment-to-moment Spirits Unleashed is a bit of a bore. Blasting a ghost fills up a meter. When that meter is full, the ghost can be pulled into the trap, as long as the trap has a charge (another meter). The Proton Pack will overheat if fired too long. That's three meters on the screen now. When the tutorial is done, there are three more, and none of them fill up or empty out particularly fast. The key one is the "building haunt" meter—the forces of the paranormal win when it tops out. It's all a bit drab, the meters ticking up and down never requiring more than passive management.

The only non-meter-based interaction occurs when a ghost gets near a civilian. You have to do a Gears of War active reload on them to calm them down. (Hey, we're Ghostbusters, not social workers.) 

(Image credit: Illfonic)

Those civilians populate six drab locations, most of them businesses haunted by the specter of unpaid wages and OSHA violations. There's nothing too special about any of them—I expect real bust-heads may get a kick out of wandering through the iconic firehouse hub world, but even as a casual fan, I found very little there to stave off my boredom between ghostbusting gigs. 

Not all ghosts are the same, as the legal likeness and voice of Dan Aykroyd informs me—there are five different Slimer-likes for players to control, each with a different set of abilities to harass and impede the human players. I found that the ghosts weren't especially fun to play as or against: they're all too quick to catch up to when bustin', and too fragile to bother taking risks with when spookin'. At a glance, the Poltergeist seems to be the meta pick, slightly faster than the already too-fast default ghoul, and able to spawn annoying defensive mobs.

(Image credit: Illfonic)

Spirits Unleashed just isn't all that satisfying to play—the "combat" doesn't reward precision or accuracy in any meaningful way, focused entirely on cohesive team play. Well enough, I suppose—us guys, we gotta stick together. But the ceiling for individual play is pretty low: there's little in the way of equipment, and the Proton Pack upgrades feel indistinguishable from the stock model. Unless your communication with teammates is ironclad (never the case in quickplay) you'll rarely eke out a win.

It all comes down to preventing the ghost from going through a door after breaking free. As a result, flying solo online is often too tedious to be worthwhile, and the AI is far too simplistic to provide much in the way of a challenge at the moment. Most matches saw my human teams fulfilling every objective except busting said ghost. How much of that is owed to screwy balance vs. quickplay apathy I can't pin down, but that doesn't change how frustrating Spirits Unleashed can be sometimes. 

I was told bustin' was hardy blue collar work, but there's no real minute-to-minute urgency here like in Dead by Daylight, with victory and defeat never feeling entirely in my hands. 

The Verdict
Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is an unsatisfying multiplayer experience that lacks the wry character of the movies it's based on.