Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review - Better with a Partner

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed by developer and publisher IllfonicPC (Epic) review written by Hayden with copies provided by the publisher and images, commentary, and snide remarks about how bad he is by Susan N.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

When I started Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed for the first time, the intro sent a shiver of nostalgia down my back. By the time I was done my first few rounds of the game with Twitch mega streamers (Susan: HARDLY mega streamers!) Jagtress and Jet_Sword, there was something entirely different dripping down my back - gobs of ectoplasmic slime after they each took turns serving me up on my own proton pack!

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is at its heart a 4-on-1 arena battle, but it is wrapped up in gorgeous graphics, heavy hits of nostalgia, and a challenging enough set of mechanics that you need all four Ghostbusters to be on their game to bring that ghost down!


Gameplay in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is divided into three main parts. First, there is the Firehall and attached bookstore. The home of the player’s “Buster” (a.k.a. Ghostbuster for those too lazy to use full names), the Firehall is where you can customize your appearance, level up your equipment, talk to important NPCs for story cutscenes, and check your progress on picking up various collectibles. This is the first place the player sees, and the game uses that to lay the nostalgia thickly on - from classic movie characters to the Ecto-1 ghostbuster car, it’s where the game sets the scene.

Second, there are the mission sites that form the backbone of the game and host the Buster-vs-Ghost combat. At launch there were a limited number of different mission sites available, ranging from a museum to an abandoned prison to a former cruise ship turned entertainment venue and more. While there are only a few of them, these areas are actually huge. Each one has multiple floors and lots of variety in what they contain.

Though it might one day get stale, these sites are definitely enough to keep players going for a good long time, and the inherent variety in how different ghost types play will further keep them challenging. The battles in these sites are between the ghost who is trying to haunt and possess enough of the site to take it over, and the four-Buster team that is trying to stop them. More on that later, when things get Ghostly.

Finally, the third site that the game uses is the aptly named “Ghost Realm”. An out-of-combat location linked to the Firehall, this one-room location in the swirling void is where players can customize various ghosts and spirits that they can play against teams of Busters. Unlocked part way through the game tutorial system, most of the interactables here are ghost-versions of the customize and upgrade systems that Busters use in the Firehall.

The Good

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is one of those rare arena battlers that can actually hold its own as a single-player game. While there will always be four Ghostbusters and one Ghost in any match, the player can choose to drop in on each side solo and let the game fill the remaining positions with bots. I know what you’re thinking, and I can almost hear the collective “ugh, bots” through my screen as I’m typing this. Let me reassure you, however, that the bots here do their job and do it well.

Unlike a lot of more open-world games where the huge variety of environments means that you can almost always get a bot stuck in a bad spot, the arena locations in Ghostbusters seem to be put together and polished to an extent that I never managed to see a bot stuck. I managed to get myself trapped temporarily behind a bar in a brewery when I lost sight of the exit, but apparently, the bots are better at pathfinding than I am!

Going along with this, the graphics in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed are phenomenally well done. From the arcing, lightning-like beams of proton packs to furniture and objects being knocked over or flying around (thanks, ghostly possession powers!), hours of gameplay never coughed up a single graphical tear, weird texture seam, or other immersion-breaking glitches even on my decidedly average gaming rig. This level of graphics is present both in and out of combat, although you won’t have quite as many opportunities to blow up random items with torrents of energy when you’re hanging out at the Firehall. (Spoiler alert: there are still a few places you can zap stuff!)

Anyone who knows me or has looked up my review history will see that I rarely do anything near first-person shooter style for gaming. Colony builders, business sims, the odd factory game - beyond Satisfactory, my most recent FPS games are probably Sanctum 2 or Mass Effect 3. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed broke that trend with a vengeance, and while its method of Buster-on-Ghost combat would likely appeal to lots of players who can 360 no-scope players in the latest Modern Duty: Call of Warfare game or whatever, the lack of return fire and instant death by headshot made it approachable and enjoyable enough even for a filthy casual like me. (I’m sure that my co-author here is going to have a hard time choosing the right image to show just how hopeless I am, but that’s only because she has so many options to choose from…)

Susan’s Commentary: I hardly call myself an expert at shooters considering my history of them consists of Unreal Tournament (from the late ’90s and early 2000s), Warframe, and currently Destiny 2. (I can’t think of anything in between that is a core shooter game.) While I might play a ton of Destiny 2, I’m still absolute garbage tier compared to others that play the game (never mind the gilded Iron Lord title. I had to work my ass off for it!) Regardless, I also appreciate the fact that Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is well-balanced between players. Even though I went up against Hayden and Jet_Sword at the same time (FEARING FOR MY LIFE!), I managed to win the match - and I was expecting to lose HORRIBLY. That’s mainly because Jet_Sword is an expert at video games. Just trust me on this one…

I do agree with Hayden about the beautiful graphics without a single tear. So long as you set the options at the right point that suits your graphics card, the game is incredibly clean. Even Triple-A titles have nagging tears, artifacts, or other weird graphics glitches. I’ve seen some weird stuff, mkay?

Additionally, the bots in the game aren’t useless. The AI doesn’t get itself stuck in corners staring into space. They also don’t offer themselves up on silver platters to the ghosts either, so that’s a nice change of pace. Similarly, the ghosts are not a wash either. Should your team of Busters go up against a Slimer, you *will* get owned at low levels. The three of us were absolutely destroyed by one and it was awful! The bugger slimed us ALL at one point and that led to our downfall. Just because the ghost or the fourth teammate is a bot, don’t underestimate the difficulty level. They're slippery! Sure, they aren’t brilliant like players but they were at least convincing - which is a feat in itself.

Also, can we talk about how Dan Aykroyd lent his voice to the game? HOW AWESOME IS THAT?! I appreciate that they were able to get him to participate in the game development to appease our fangirl/boy hearts. Okay, time to move on Susan…

The Bad

The good news about this section is that it’s short. The bad news is that I still need to have it, so here it goes. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a tremendously polished game, and its core mechanics are solid and reliable from what we saw. Around the edges, however, there are a few beefs still to be had. Three stick out to me - first, once you have selected a mission, your only options seem to be to ‘Ready Up’ or ‘Unready’ - there was no way we could find to actually cancel out of the mission selection and return to the Firehall. Second, inviting other friends to play your game through the in-game Epic Games overlay was clunky and frustrating. Simply trying to click or right-click on names didn’t yield options to invite them, and it took quite a bit of fiddling before the three of us ended up in the same Firehall to play together.

The last issue was one that won’t affect everyone, but really disrupted the new player experience for our testing group. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is built to be a multiplayer experience, but its new player experience just… isn’t. All players when they first boot up the game get an intro cutscene and a few small tasks that, when completed, unlock the ability to play in the arenas and invite friends.

However, if you have teamed up with other new players, only the hosting player gets credit for the mission completion and they are shuffled off in a very extended solo sequence upon return to the Firehall. There’s no indication to the rest of your group that you’re in a cutscene or busy with tutorial tasks, you’ve just disappeared and left your friends standing in your Firehall/game lobby getting bored out of their skulls. Not a great place to leave new players who don’t know what they’re doing yet. At least that was a one-time occurrence, from what we could tell.

Susan’s Comments: Yeah I agree with the above. And there wasn’t a ton that I disliked about the game either. Outside of the aggravation of inviting each other to the Firehall, the only thing that bugged the slime out of me was the initial slow camera movement which was fixed with an adjustment in the options menu.

However, I will elaborate a bit on the new player experience as it is lackluster. It’s not that it’s bad per se, it’s that there is no indication when a player is in a cutscene or needs to leave the group. Plus, Jet and Hayden leveled up enough to enter the ghost tutorial. At that point, I wasn’t high enough to follow suit. Once I did unlock the ability, I wasn’t able to go into it without leaving the group Firehall. Generally, that in itself wasn’t a huge issue.

What did bother me about the new player experience was that my tutorial level was bugged! Not a single civilian appeared on my map which was needed to complete tutorial objectives. I needed to restart. BUT WAIT! There’s more! After I left the bugged tutorial mission, the game counted my run as a completion. What? This Buster was confused. Basically, the new player experience needs a little love. Don’t make me break out Slimer to go after you peeps! ;)

And the Ghostly

The combat system in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a really interesting exercise in asymmetric balancing. A lot of the time you’ll see battle games where each side has numbers, units, abilities, whatever that are essentially mirrored on both sides. Does your team have a tank class with a cool barrier ability? The other team also has a tank class with a cool barrier ability that just happens to have the exact same effect as yours… but it has a red texture instead of your golden one! Sound familiar? That’s symmetrical balancing, and you won’t find it here.

Instead, you have four Busters with ranged proton guns that can entangle and drag a ghost to get it into a trap, and a single ghost that can scare civilians, fly, slime people, sabotage the Buster’s proton packs, summon ghostly minions… need I go on? These sides are not mirrors of each other, and that makes it really tough to get the power levels right. All credit to the developers here, what they’ve come up with just feels right.

Playing solo with 3 bot Busters to help me against a bot-ghost? Okay, I can do that. It was tough, but I think I won 2 out of 3 and I left feeling I earned it. Playing with 2 player Busters and 2 bot Busters against a player Ghost? Wow. That was crazy hard, crazy fun, and both times came down to the wire before my butt got slimed and kicked out of the building when the Ghost won - and I was left wanting more. I didn’t feel underpowered as a Buster, it didn’t feel like the Ghost got to (or had to) “cheat” to win, it just felt… right. Balancing that when you have a 4-on-1 game is not easy, but this game is right on the money.

The combat revolves around trying to stop a Ghost from fully “haunting” the map. The Ghost player gets a slew of abilities to help them move around the map, possess objects (and move possessed objects), hide from the Buster players, and even use three Rifts which serve as respawn points that the Ghost can hide inside artifacts.

Buster players have three main tools available: their proton gun that fires an entangling beam (also used to damage summoned minions and Rifts); the classic Trap which is used to capture the Ghost (but it can respawn if a Rift is still active); and the PKE Meter, which serves as a hot-and-cold direction finder to help locate the Ghost and its Rifts. Busters also get a single secondary item of their choice, like a grapple gun for quick ascents or special grenades that temporarily slow Ghost movement in an area.

The more time a Ghost spends in a single room on the map, and the more objects it possesses, the more haunted that room becomes. Over time, that adds to the overall haunting level of the building - if it reaches 100%, the Ghost wins and the terrified Busters flee the field. The Busters have to locate and close the Rifts and then trap the Ghost after they are closed in order to win.

That might sound easy until you realize the Ghost can move its Rifts around or phase straight through walls in order to escape the Busters. Or they can sneak up on the Busters, sabotage their proton packs and cover them with slime - debuffing their movement and eventually incapacitating them for a short time. (Covering players with slime is a very effective tactic, which both Jagtress and Jet_Sword took great delight in practicing at my expense. FYI, slime gets everywhere… *shudder*) Everything the Ghost does costs it energy, however, so using those abilities gets balanced by time hiding within objects to rest and recover - time during which the Busters can look for Rifts and try to make progress.

Susan’s Commentary: Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed IS incredibly well balanced which is more than I can say for a few competitive games/modes out there. What is cool is the idea that the developers balanced not just one type of ghostly enemy, but multiple. Remember how we talked about Slimer? He’s the hardest ghost to go up against, but he’s not the only one. Meaning that players might not know which type of ghost you will be entering the arena as.

So, all the credit to Illfonic as they had to balance the Busters against a handful of ghost types that each have unique abilities. While I haven’t had the pleasure of playing the other ghosts, they managed to keep things fair between the players and the sneaky ghost. I’m not even sure how they managed this feat given that there are many games that simply fail to do the same.

Also, I’m totally going to note that I absolutely FAILED to sabotage Hayden’s pack because the button to execute that command is the same as the ‘haunt object’ button. He was standing right next to a poster that I inhabited for a short time. As I removed myself to sabotage him officially, Jet saved his ass - literally. That bugger… (Remember how I said Jet is an expert at video games? He ALMOST HAD ME because of that minor fumble. True story! Take a look at the screenshot below.)


Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed hits almost all the right notes to bring the heart of the franchise to our screens. This is the fantasy of so many kids brought to life, and in a way that really feels like it does the movies and the spirit (no pun intended, this time!) of the franchise justice.

From gorgeous graphics to engaging asymmetrical gameplay and hitting those notes of nostalgia that appeal to older players who grew up with the original movies, this game does it right. In the end, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!

Score: 9 / 10



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