Developer IllFonic has made a name for itself in the world of online multiplayer. They made a massive splash with the crowdfunding success of Friday The 13th: The Game, an asymmetric multiplayer game where players controlled the iconic Jason Voorhees against player-controlled counselors. They followed that up with another 1980s franchise in Predator: Hunting Grounds. Now, another beloved 1980s nerd property is getting IllFonic's treatment with Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.
I managed to sit down with some members of IllFonic's team for a hands-off preview of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. The event started with introductions to IllFonic's CEO Chuck Brungardt and the studios Head of Creative, Jarred Gerritzen. What followed was a trailer, showing off four ghostbusters entering a museum, scanning the area with PKE meters, their proton packs charged. Then the perspective changed from the first-person view of the ghostbusters themselves to a third-person view of a ghost as it flies around the museum causing mayhem. As the catchy theme music played, the trailer continued showing the ghostbusters tracking down signs of the supernatural and attempting to capture the ghost with their particle streams and ghost traps while the ghost spewed out the slime to tie the team up. The ghost even hopped from random object to random object, controlling it with odd movement that gave me serious Prop Hunt vibes.
Once the trailer concluded, the developers of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed went into further detail about how the game plays as well as its narrative, complete with demo footage. Brungardt explained that Spirits Unleashed takes some time after the events of the Ghostbusters: Afterlife feature film. Winston Zeddemore, the overshadowed everyman of the original team, has restarted the Ghostbusters business, with the player taking on the role of a new recruit.
This is reflected in the game's interactive hub area: the Ghostbusters Firehouse. As the demo progressed, Brungardt explained that this hub would serve as an interactive menu. By going to certain locations in the firehouse, you'll be able to customize your ghostbuster's appearance as well as make adjustments to their proton pack and gear. Customization tools will be unlocked both by hitting certain ranks in online matches as well as progressing through a guided story. Brungardt only briefly mentioned what this story will involve, only that it will make you feel like a new generation of paranormal exterminators. Finally, when teammates jump in, they will show up in the firehouse as well in real time.
As an aside with character customization, Brungardt made it clear that IllFonic was dedicated to ensuring that no matter where you come from or how you look, you can still bust ghosts with the best of them.
Since Winston Zeddemore was heard in the trailer I was shown, both Brungardt and Gerritzen confirmed that Ernie Hudson had returned to reprise the role. In addition, another veteran ghostbuster has returned, Ray Stantz voiced by Dan Aykroyd.
The latter is especially important since Ray is the key to the asymmetric elements of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. Conveniently located next door to the firehouse is a supernatural book store that Ray owns, and inside is a haunted first edition copy of Tobin's Spirit Guide. Interacting with this book will let you switch from playing as a ghostbuster to playing as a ghost.
The demo then moved into a standard match of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed set in the museum. As mentioned before, the game is an asymmetric multiplayer experience. Four players take on the role of ghostbusters trying to track down a ghost controlled by a fifth player. The ghostbusters win once they've captured the ghost. The ghost wins if they run out the clock or successfully scare off all civilians scattered throughout the map.
To this end, both sides have their tools and skills. The ghostbusters have their PKE meters which can track the presence of supernatural energy. In addition, the PKE can temporarily stun the player-controlled ghost if it gets close enough. Alternatively, the ghost can hit normal objects with a poltergeist ability, causing them to float and potentially throw the ghostbusters off their trail, and hide in plain sight by hiding within the environment.
While this match continued, Brungardt mentioned a big change coming to Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed: AI controlled combatants. One of the largest hurdles to playing a full game in Friday The 13th or Predator: Hunting Grounds was matchmaking. If you wanted to play as the baddie, you would be stuck waiting forever to get a game. To this end, IllFonic have added a feature where missing roles in a match will be filled in by the computer.
With Ghostbusters and all of our previous games, we know that there are massive communities that might not be hardcore FPS players or might not be hardcore multiplayer players. So we really wanted to give them the ability to play the game by themselves or with just a crew of ghostbusters to then play against an AI ghost. With the range of ghosts that we plan on having, and with the range of AI states that the ghosts have, we feel like that's going to be a fun treat for Ghostbusters fans.
However, for those who do enjoy IllFonic's unique take on competitive multiplayer, some changes to the formula were shown. The first big one is ghost rifts. These are extra lives for the player-controlled ghost. If the ghost is captured, one of their rifts vanishes and they respawn on the map, giving them another shot at beating the ghostbusters. Alternatively, the ghostbusters can track down these rifts throughout the map and destroy them, dwindling the ghost's resources. Gerritzen explains:
The reason for the rifts are from our history with asymmetrical games. What we found in previous games is that if a not-optimal player were to go up against a very optimal team, that game can go sideways really quickly and that player can feel unhappy with the way it played out. The addition of the rifts allow ghosts to get trapped early in the game and have that continue. Or a better player can gamble those rifts to do some elements that can change the tide pretty quickly.
As the demo continued, Brungardt and Gerritzen talked about the different playstyles in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. While playing as a ghostbuster will let you customize your tools for a variety of playstyles, support, assault, etc., the different playable ghosts will be closer in style to a hero shooter. There are different playable ghosts, each one with their own distinct playstyle for the ghostbusters to learn and counteract. One ghost shown off in the demo can send out swarms of AI-controlled minions to confuse and disorient a ghostbuster team for example. In addition, they have an ecto meter which powers their abilities as well as “ghost vision” which highlights areas on the map. This lets players plan out their next moves carefully and have more information than the limited first-person view of the ghostbusters team. The drawback is that in order for the ghost to restore their ecto meter, they have hide inside the environment for some time and let the meter recover...where a ghostbuster can pick them up with a PKE meter and get torn apart by a particle thrower.
As the demo concluded for Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, I immediately wanted to get into a match. IllFonic has only continued to improve on their design with asymmetric multiplayer and have learned some valuable lessons throughout their time with other titles. Given that they already have a roadmap for content and free updates going forward, as well as revisions and changes to their matchmaking, this is shaping up to be an experience worth the fans' time.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed will launch on the Xbox Series consoles, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and on PC through the Epic Games Store.