Much like Friday the 13th and Predator: Hunting Grounds before it, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is developer Illfonic’s love letter to a beloved property. It still retains the asymmetrical multiplayer framework that Illfonic has become known for, but also builds on lessons learned from those prior titles. Without question, it’s the most fully formed of the developer’s releases and does well to capture the spirit of Ghostbusters, but it struggles with some of the same issues as well.

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As mentioned in our Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed preview, the setup of the game pits four Ghostbuster recruits against a solo, player-controlled ghost. The Ghostbusters’ goal is to capture the ghost a total of four times, or to destroy the rifts that it uses to respawn, while the ghost must completely haunt the map by horrifying its citizens and then survive a brief concluding timer. From the moment the Ghostbusters enter the map to the moment the match ends, there is a lot more going on, but the concept should be familiar to fans of Illfonic’s games.

The Ghostbusters team is equipped with the standard kit seen in the movies. Each Ghostbuster has a PKE Meter for tracking ghosts and rift artifacts; a Particle Thrower for tethering ghosts or damaging rifts; a Proton Pack that regulates the intensity of the Particle Thrower and its cooling; and a Ghost Trap that does exactly as its name implies.

Illfonic has created mechanics that fit the Ghostbusters milieu extremely well. Essentially, the team of four Ghostbusters is on its own ghost hunt throughout match, using their tools to first find and then capture the haunting apparition. However, finding and capturing the ghost carries its own challenges with another human at the helm.

As the Ghostbusters team is on the hunt, the ghost is simultaneously doing its requisite haunting or hiding as inanimate objects a la Prop Hunt. With a basic attack and two abilities at its disposal (each with a cooldown after use), the ghost can damage the citizens to build up their terror meter or scare them by possessing objects. As the citizens become more afraid – and eventually leave the map – individual rooms become haunted, adding to the overall haunting meter of the map. Of course, the more terror that the ghost inflicts also increases the odds that the Ghostbusters will find it, which creates a very exciting cat-and-mouse game.

When the Ghostbusters and the ghost come into contact, the Ghostbusters have a set pattern of objectives. Ideally, they want to stun the ghost using the PKE Meter’s charge, tether the ghost, and then pull it toward an open trap. However, completing all those actions requires a lot of coordination and understanding on the part of each player. If everyone is trying to tether the ghost, for example, no one will be able to get a trap out before the ghost breaks free (by mashing a button as part of a simple mini-game). Like Egon, Venkman, Spangler, and Winston, the Ghostbusters must work as a united front to capture the ghost, taking on individual roles and coordinating attacks.

For the Ghostbusters team, Spirits Unleashed is at its best with a group of friends or when using in-game voice chat. Being able to call out ghost locations, coordinate plans, and even cut off an escaping ghost is essential to victory. Although the ghost’s sprint is limited by its energy meter, they are still very quick and can move vertically. The Ghostbusters can only use a grappling hook to ascend railings, and that’s assuming they have the grappling hook gadget equipped instead of a different item. Depending on the skill level of the ghost it can be a challenge to capture it, but the Ghostbusters can even their odds by finding rift artifacts and eliminating the ghost’s respawn chances. Rather than having to catch the ghost 4 times, the team can simplify things down to one capture, using the PKE Meter to find the artifacts that protect the rift and destroying it.

For the ghost, the difficulty lies in trying to balance haunting the location and avoiding the Ghostbusters. By no means is the ghost helpless – in fact, it can attack the Ghostbusters with its basic attack or abilities to build up slime and eventually down a ‘Buster. The ghost also has an ultimate attack that has a long cooldown timer but is devastating against the Ghostbusters. They can also move more freely through the level, which in the right hands is a huge boon. Or against a skilled Ghostbusters team, it can feel like there is no escape once the energy meter runs low.

And therein lies the rub with Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. It’s the same issue that faced Friday the 13th and Predator: asymmetrical balance. If the Ghostbusters are a well-coordinated team and the ghost is a novice, they won’t get much of a chance to haunt. Similarly, if the ghost is high level but the Ghostbusters are not coordinated, then it should be able to haunt with relative ease. There’s a fine line for Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed to walk but when things go right it is genuinely fun without feeling unfair or players feeling outmatched.

Not to mention, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed makes up for the long matchmaking times that plagued F13 and Predator by adding AI teammates to fill in the match if need be. For players who just want to engage with the mechanics and don’t want to do multiplayer at all, the AI is fairly competent and will allow them to have fun. But when the team needs to be firing on all cylinders, the AI is not helpful at all. And on the flip side, if the ghost is an AI it’s extremely easy to beat them.

Players will improve in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed the more matches that they play. The game has a few different leveling systems that add progression and upgrades. On a profile level, each level will unlock a customization option for the Ghostbuster like a pair of glasses, boots, or a hat. And on a mechanical level, each gadget or ghost ability levels the more it is used.

As the gadgets level, they unlock new components that carry their own positives and negatives. For example, a better PKE Meter grip might increase the scan range but shorten the stun distance. Or a new Particle Thrower component might make it easier to create tethers but the recoil is harder to control. Playing as the ghost has its own upgrades as well, including new forms with different attacks, ultimates, and strengths and weaknesses. One ghost type might be harder to tether but it doesn’t do a lot of slime damage to the Ghostbusters, for example. Encouraging players to engage with their gadgets or abilities to upgrade them is a smart system that rewards understanding and using the mechanics effectively. It forces players to learn that the PKE Meter isn’t just for tracking but also has a very useful stun blast. At the same time, it does feed into those balance problems when a level 50 ghost player is against a team of level 1 Ghostbusters who have no gadget upgrades.

Asymmetrical multiplayer games tend to carry the disclaimer: when it works it’s great, but it doesn’t always work. The same can be said for Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. It doesn’t have any connection issues or quirks that ruin the experience, but its level of fun is determined by the whole party. Making sure both sides are evenly matched is no easy feat, but Illfonic sought to tackle that idea and can move closer and closer with patches and updates.

Despite those inconsistencies, it’s hard not to be overcome with a sense of nostalgia and joy playing a Ghostbusters game like this. Illfonic has taken care to ensure every element is true to the property. Within the matches, the sound effects, the details on the gadgets, the neon translucent glow of the ghosts, and the music all make for an experience that is undeniably Ghostbusters. And outside of the matches, players can explore the Ghostbusters fire station home base or visit Ray’s Occult Books, which are true to the IP but have been greatly expanded. Just letting players explore these two areas between matches would have been a treat, but Illfonic brings them to life with a short campaign story that is fully voiced with new characters and, more importantly, returning Ghostbusters actors Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson. It’s not a campaign in the sense of a single-player experience but a set of scenes that play out in between the player’s first handful of matches. Still, getting Ray and Winston in the game helps make this feel like an authentic Ghostbusters experience.

Asymmetrical multiplayer games are difficult to get right for a number of reasons. Many of the problems that face games like Dead by Daylight or Evolve are present in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, but there are mitigations in place, like AI teammates/opponents, that help the game appeal to a wider audience.

Ghostbusters fans will no doubt appreciate the ability to create their own Ghostbuster, upgrade their kit, and hunt ghosts, but once the nostalgia wears off and the only thing that matters is winning, the game may start to show its flaws. Playing as the ghost, on the other hand, has its own inherent challenges of finding the balance between being outmatched and doing the steamrolling. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed has all the right pieces when it comes to making a GB game that feels authentic – it’s bringing those pieces together in the right way every time that can hurt its fun factor.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is available now for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Game Rant was provided a PS5 code for this review.

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