Illfonic is one of the most ambitious licensed game developers out there, but until now, most of its games haven’t clicked with me. Getting to control Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th: The Game was thrilling, but the game was glitchy and ultimately abandoned due to legal issues. Predator: Hunting Grounds had the backing of Sony, but it was even worse, with unbalanced gameplay, the lack of a compelling story, and long queue times.
While I was intrigued upon hearing that Illfonic was making a new Ghostbusters game to follow up Ghostbusters: Afterlife, my expectations were quite tempered because of the developer’s shaky track record. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised that Illfonic seems to have learned from its mistakes and made Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed precisely what fans would want from an asymmetrical multiplayer Ghostbusters game, even if its sustainability in players’ hands remains to be seen.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is an asymmetrical multiplayer game where four Ghostbusters try to capture one ghost that’s haunting a specific map. They must track the ghost down before capturing it with customizable versions of tools like the Proton Pack, Particle Thrower, and P.K.E. meter. This part of the game plays out from a first-person perspective.
Meanwhile, another player controls a ghost in third-person and tries to scare civilians in the area and haunt the building. There are several different ghost types with unique abilities. All ghosts can also possess objects to haunt the building, mess with the Ghostbusters, and restore the ectoplasm needed for its abilities. If the ghost completely haunts the building, the ghostbusters lose. Illfonic expects most matches to take seven to 10 minutes.
It’s part Friday the 13th: The Game, part Prop Hunt, and part Ghostbusters. Ghosts seem less powerful than Jason or The Predator did in their respective games, but that might be OK because killing the Ghostbusters isn’t the primary goal. This is all wrapped in a cel-shaded style that fits the franchise, and it’s clear Illfonic packed the game with detail as it recreated iconic locations.
Even if the game’s final quality varies, Illfonic always tries to respect the IP it’s adapting. That passion can be seen in how the Ghostbusters’ Firehouse is intricately recreated and how Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd are returning to voice their respective characters, Winston and Ray. The developers say that this game’s story takes place after the recently released Ghostbusters: Afterlife, so it will be exciting to see how it impacts the series’ canon and if future films respect it.
The story of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed will also take a big step up from Predator: Hunting Grounds by not relegating the narrative to audio logs.
“We want to be better each time, so these are going to be actual in-game cinematics and controlled cutscenes with Dan and Ernie,” Chief Creative Officer Jared Gerritzen tells Digital Trends. “It will have a fun story arc, and there will be something that happens to the Ghostbusters that will keep the player coming back rank after rank. It’s not massive, but it’s a fun story that gives the player a reason to be there.”
Plot details are scarce outside of this being a “day in the life” story about how Winston is rebuilding the Ghostbusters. Still, the intention of having a more tangible narrative was one of the first clear signs that Illfonic was learning from its past mistakes.
Overall, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a solid pitch, but so were Friday the 13th: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds — on paper. Illfonic needs to deliver on the promise of this game’s premise while fixing the significant issues that plagued its past licensed multiplayer titles. A more involved narrative is one of them, but matchmaking also seems to be better in this game.
One issue that asymmetrical multiplayer games often have is long queue times between matches. Illfonic games have been particularly bad in handling this, but the developer is taking steps to fix it in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. To start, players can choose to experience the whole game offline. While they will have to rely on the game’s unproven A.I., this option should appeal to those just there for the story and give players a worthwhile experience if they can’t get into an online match.
For players that do go online, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed will try to matchmake players as quickly as possible with their desired role. If need be, the game will put the player into a match with A.I. players and backfill those characters with real players as they log on and matchmake. This applies to those who leave in the middle of a game, so rage quitters won’t ruin the match for other players.
The game will also have full crossplay across all platforms. With that and offline options, Illfonic seems to have solved one of the biggest problems with its games: The technical issues that prevent players from actually getting to engage with the gameplay. The developers tried to make the roles in this asymmetrical game more approachable for casual players than it did forpast titles.
Ghosts have three rifts they can place around the map to revive themselves, solving Predator: Hunting Grounds‘ problem of matches ending quickly due to a Predator player immediately dying. As for Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, novice players can focus on tracking ghosts or setting traps if they aren’t confident in aiming, so Friday the 13th: The Game’s issue of counselor players not knowing what to do is solved.
Illfonic is trying to make Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed approachable and enjoyable for everyone involved, which I can’t say about its last two licensed games. Of course, it remains to be seen how the servers and A.I. function and how the game’s meta evolves once it’s in players’ hands. But Illfonic seems to be saying and doing all the right things with this early showing of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, and this could be one of the most refreshing multiplayer games of 2022 … if Illfonic manages to deliver this time.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is coming to the Epic Games Store, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in the fourth quarter of 2022. Illfonic plans to hold a beta before then for curious players.
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