Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed has been in the works for years. IllFonic, the studio behind asymmetrical multiplayer games Predator: Hunting Ground and Friday the 13th: The Game, is ecstatic to finally pull back the curtain. “The biggest thing for me is that I can finally talk about this, because it’s so awesome,” says Jared Gerritzen, head of creative at IllFonic.
It’s easy to understand the excitement. Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a new take on the asymmetrical multiplayer genre which pits a team of four customizable Ghostbusters against a variety of ghosts the sole enemy player can choose from. In this Ghostbusters game, you aren’t stepping into the role of an established character, but making your very own Ghostbuster working under the tutelage of both Dan Akroyd and Ernie Hudson, who lend their voices to Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.
Who you gonna call?
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed may exist within the larger Ghostbusters cinematic universe (IllFonic references an in-game stun feature first seen in Ghostbusters: Afterlife), but this is a game that can stand on its own. Players will be able to customize their very own Ghostbuster, from their looks down to the equipment they bring out in the field. “The Ghostbusters community is extremely huge, it’s across the world and it’s all shapes and sizes, races and genders,” says Jared Gerritzen, chief creative at IllFonic. “So we’re really putting a lot of effort into the customization of the Ghostbusters themselves. We really want people to be able to make their Ghostbuster how they look and feel, and all of that fun stuff to really kind of connect to being a Ghostbuster.”
Your ghostbustin’ base is, of course, the iconic NYC firehouse from the original film. Here you’ll be able to level up your Ghostbusters and their items, which include the particle thrower, ghost trap, proton pack, and PKE meter, which are all customizable as you progress in the game. You’ll also be able to customize your ghosts for when you want to jump into the game as the antagonist. The base is full of lovely little nods to the franchise, like the Ecto One parked in the firehouse, Winston (Hudson) heading up the ghost squad, and Ray (Akroyd) running his bookstore. IllFonic decided to add some story and cutscenes into Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed after securing Akroyd and Hudson. “We felt that it was really a huge part and kind of a disservice not to make a story… so we’re adding some story and cutscenes into our multiplayer game to give that player a bigger Ghostbuster experience,” Gerritzen explains.
But that core Ghostbuster experience is, of course, about bustin’ ghosts. IllFonic takes me through a hands-off demo on one of the game’s maps – a museum that initially looks a helluva lot like a map from Midnight Ghost Hunt, an upcoming prop hunt game from Vaulted Sky Games. The museum isn’t empty, however, but populated by some civilians who are there to take in a bit of culture. The ghosts’ goal is to fully fill a haunt meter by scaring those civilians so badly that they flee, possessing objects to avoid the Ghostbusters’ traps, and summoning ghoulish minions to help up the spooky factor. The Ghostbusters, of course, are trying to trap the ghosts, corralling them and keeping citizens calm until the match timer runs out.
As IllFonic goes through the demo, a cartoonish ghost spews slime on the ghostbuster squad, possesses a mop bucket and sends it sliding across the museum’s linoleum floor, scaring several citizens so badly that they run screaming for the exit. The Ghostbusters run throughout, searching for the ghost and trying to destroy one of its three rifts that keep it tethered to the world. The rifts act like a “continue token,” so destroying them will help destroy the ghost’s chances – but IllFonic takes this feature a step further. Doing too much frivolous damage will run up an expensive bill, which counts against your XP bonus at the end of the game. This means players will have to be a bit more discerning before firing a particle thrower at an Ancient Greek urn, and ghosts can use that to their advantage.
From the moment the demo starts to its waning moments, it’s clear that there will be a lot of fun to be had with Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, and that the team behind it has perfected the asymmetrical formula. As they should – they’ve been doing this for quite some time.
IllFonic is no stranger to asymmetrical multiplayer games, and the devs have worked hard to identify problems in both their previous games and the genre as a whole in an attempt to eliminate them in Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. “This isn’t the first time that we’ve made an asymmetrical game. So we’ve taken a lot of our experiences and a lot of the feedback from the previous games,’ Gerritzen explains. “The one player feeling like they’re able to slow down and decide what they’re going to do next is very core to the game itself.”
As such, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed will not only let ghost players hide, but give them a chance to escape and fight their way out through quick-time events if they’re caught. Those quick time events become harder the more you get caught, but IllFonic thinks it’s important to remove an “instant fail” that occurred in its previous games. “We want to give the ghosts the ability to have multiple chances – it makes the game a lot more fun,” adds Gerritzen.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed will also offer something IllFonic’s other asymmetrical games don’t: you’ll be able to play this game solo with NPCs, without having to join a multiplayer lobby and play with other people. “What we found out in our past titles is when we announce people are like ‘Oh my gosh, yay!’ But then they’re like, ‘Ah, but I don’t want to play multiplayer’,” Gerritzen admits.
“Multiplayer to a lot of people can be kind of daunting, and can be something that they might not want to do when they see a game like this. And so we really are pushing for offline mode for players to be able to play by themselves. All the IPs that we’ve worked on have definitely been one of those things where it’s heartbreaking when we do all this work and then someone’s like, ‘oh, they had me until multiplayer,’ so we definitely want to take our learnings and push a lot of that stuff to allow players that might not be hardcore multiplayer fans to come in, play the game experience a great game.”
IllFonic hasn’t just used its impressive resume to ensure there’s a great experience outside of multiplayer, but to shore up the stability and sustainability of matches, which can be one of the more frustrating aspects of asymmetrical games. Not only will the game backfill players who quit out mid-match (first with an NPC, then with the next available IRL player), but IllFonic actually wrote new matchmaking software to hopefully ensure queue times aren’t too long. As a Dead by Daylight player, I can confirm that asymmetrical multiplayer games have a queue length problem – if there’s four players versus one, you’ll be waiting a lot longer to slide into that single spot. It’s an issue the studio is aware of.
“Something that’s pretty hard to do in asymmetrical games is matchmaking, a lot of the matchmaking software out there is made for PvP, and so we wrote our own for this game and had a chance to test it out in some of our past products,” says Chuck Braungart, CEO of IllFonic. “And it seems to be doing relatively well. One of the important things for matchmaking is really just making sure that people don’t wait too long,”
When it comes to Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, IllFonic has covered all the bases from customization to gameplay and all the matchmaking problems in-between. Get ready to gear up with your friends to go ghost hunting in a nostalgic and beloved world when Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed drops on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC later this year (all we know as of writing is that it’s due out in Q4 2022). Oh, and there’s crossplay – so you shouldn’t be afraid of bustin’ ghosts without your friends by your side.
Check out even more games you should have on your radar with our list of new games in 2022.