With Halloween approaching, people looking for chills seem to be finding them in Phasmophobia (opens in new tab). It's a paranormal co-op deal, with four players searching for ghosts in dark, abandoned locations. It launched in Early Access last month, but since the start of October it's become increasingly busy, with up to 80,000 investigators regularly exploring haunted buildings at the same time.
All these ghost hunters have kicked Phasmophobia almost to the peak of the Steam top sellers (opens in new tab) list—Baldur's Gate 3 is still above it—and 22 in the top games by player count (opens in new tab). This has no doubt been boosted by its popularity on Twitch, where it's one of the most watched games (opens in new tab) of the last week.
It's an indie horror game in a sea of indie horror games, and an Early Access one at that, so it's been a surprise to see it climbing. But it does stand out. It's an investigative affair, slow and methodical, and one where you've got a team to clutch onto when things get dire—which they absolutely will. It can optionally be played in VR, too, but the real next-level immersion comes from the fact that the game can hear you, so when you talk to your buds through the local chat and radio, the ghosts know you're talking, and they can even talk back.
Rich Stanton reckons it's the best ghost game ever made (opens in new tab), so you might say he's a fan. "[T]he beating heart of this experience is unlike anything else I've played," he says. "The experience depends on camaraderie and communication, as well as a decent smack of bravery, and the ghosts will mess with that combination in ways equally surprising and horrifying."
I suspect if it was exclusively VR, it wouldn't be quite so high up—Half-Life: Alyx is a bit of an anomaly in that regard—but there is something exceedingly appealing about feeling like you're actually stuck in a haunted building, with spirits listening to you whisper and fret, waiting to scare the absolute shit out of you right when you're at your most vulnerable. Actually, I take it all back, that sounds absolutely horrible.
The £11/$14 price tag makes it tempting even in its Early Access state, and according to solo developer Kinetic Games the price will stay the same until launch, after which it'll be raised. Early Access will last until next year, but there's no release date yet. More equipment, maps, ghosts and other things that might be suggested by the community will be thrown into the mix for the full version. In the meantime, there are seven maps that you can explore right now.