In the past few days, the more hours I spent playing Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed, the more I thought about how the heck I could evaluate the work done by Illfonic. The new title dedicated to the famous Ghostbusters it's not a bad title, mind you, and, indeed, I'm sure it will appeal to both those fans of the brand who, like me, manage to tolerate even the worst videogame tortures in order to virtually wear a proton backpack, and those looking for of a multiplayer production 4 VS. 1, slightly different from the average.
The real problem of Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed is the same that gripped all the other 4 VS matrix multiplayer titles. 1, and in general all the games in constant evolution, ie an initial structure poorly finished in practically every aspect. Precisely for this reason, the more the hours went by, the more I wondered why I had to rate Illfonic's latest production at all costs. In the end we all remember Rainbox Six Siege right? At launch it was an incomplete, unbalanced product with enormous potential that had not yet been fully exploited by Ubisoft… and now look at how it has changed.
So after hours spent playing a version of Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed full of technical imperfections and without a Day One Patch; mainly accompanied by Bots, sporadically by some strangers and, in the last few days, by trusted friends, I have decided that for pure and simple intellectual honesty, I will not put a number at the end of this article. The vote will surely come but only when the Illfonic production has been officially released; when the servers will be decently populated and, above all, when the various corrective patches will have done their duty.
But I wanted to analyze everything what good, and not so good, has been achieved in this Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed, trying to figure out who might like it, if it was really respectful of a franchise that has been raped too many times by the gaming industry and, above all, if this ride deserves the ticket price required to take it for a ride. So welcome to the "non-review" of Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed.
We came…we saw…
Ever since the internet entered my house, and we talk about the years of Napster and the 56K, we could already find interviews given by Dan Aykroyd about the Ghostbusters franchise, the making of a third film (which already in the 99 /00 had been deferred and rewritten over and over again) and to his claims that the brand could, and should, be released from the four faces that made it a success in the eighties.
The face of the famous Doctor Ray Stantz has always maintained that anyone can be a ghostbuster and that the message that the first film wanted to pass between the lines was just that. You don't need superpowers to save the world from a Sumerian god who decides to manifest himself in Central Park West… anyone can do it. From a smooth talker to a mad scientist with an obsession for mold and mushroom spores, through a paranormal scholar who still wants to fulfill his childhood dream up to a very ordinary black man who, in the New York of the first half of the 80s, he was looking for a secure pay.
Anyone can be a Ghostbusters and this message has been deliberately perpetrated in every multimedia work released over the past 38 years. From the animated series Extreme Ghostbusters, passing through the various video game transpositions, up to the famous cycle of IDW comics, with each new iteration of Ghostbusters, an unprecedented handful of characters appeared to support or replace the quartet of original protagonists.
A handover strongly desired by Dan Aykroyd and which, only last year, was finally "canonized" with a third film (the 2016 film does not exist, let's all deal with it) which he was able to celebrate in a , more or less worthy, the departure of the original protagonists. A canonization which, however, has made all the works previously released over the years apocryphal and which, in order to be preserved, have been justified as "different space-time lines"... and as far as the multiverse is a concept we know frighteningly little about, I have always found this narrative solution bad.
The fact is that with Ghostbusters Legacy, or Afterlife for English speakers, which has finally cleared the concept that anyone can be a ghostbuster, Illfonic has seen fit to create a video game (in collaboration with the Ghost Corps founded by Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman) that fully embraces this concept and, starting right from the post-credit scene of last year's film, opens the dance with a Winston Zeddemore intent on renovating the old fire station to reopen the historic activity.
And do you think I missed such an opportunity? Created an avatar, more or less decent I show up punctually on the first day of work where a by now elderly Ray Stantz begins to tell me about a past that I already know by heart in every detail. A radio call interrupts him… it's Catt… Catt?! And who the heck is Catt?!
Catt is Winston Zeddemore's new assistant who has taken over the reins of the barracks, allowing its new owner to go about his business in peace. Catt shows me around the barracks, where everything is exactly as I remembered. The only exception is the presence of a young scientist, installed in the laboratory that belonged to Doctor Spengler, who is dedicated to improving proton packs and making new tools to catch ghosts in a more convenient and faster way.
Once the sightseeing tour is over, and after the classic tutorial designed to teach the rudiments of catching to all new recruits, we finally leave for the first assignment and the story of Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed begins to mesh. Oh yes because the game, net of a very basic incipit, also has a story which, although it does not shine for originality, or excessive coherence with the cinematographic universe, manages to be pleasant, disengaged and respectful of the narrative universe which inspires it.
The collaboration with Ghost Corps is perceived in many aspects and, undoubtedly, the passion for the brand on the part of the developers can be seen in lots of "goodies" scattered here and there specifically to bring a mischievous smile to all fans of the franchise.
I also appreciated the banal narrative ploy used to advance the story of Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed which exploits the classic: "you go, we'll update you as soon as we know something", to justify the fact that I have to get to a certain level in order to see the next kinematics. Let me be clear, nothing new or really shocking, but as much as it succeeded in making me steadily progress to understand where the writers behind Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed were going with this.
Also because catching ghosts, or haunting buildings, failed to particularly excite me in the long run due to all that series of small imperfections of which Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed is still full. I don't want to be misunderstood, everything has been well thought out, and the title also offers some interesting ideas for the genre it wants to refer to, but it is in the implementation that the Illfonic team has not managed to best oil all aspects and at the moment the whole thing creaks a little too much.
A life as a ghostbuster…
Being a ghostbuster is undoubtedly fun but after the first handful of games where I got lost exploring the environments, analyzing objects with the PKE Meter and trying to catch the ghost of the moment… it all seemed overly confusing to me. The aim would also be simple: the environments are analysed, the breaches are looked for (which would very simply be the respawn points of the ghost), they are destroyed with proton beam shots and, once all these doors to the supernatural realm are closed, the to definitively capture the unwanted guest that hovers in the game map.
As for the "gunplay" (if you can call it that) everything was taken from the title produced by Terminal Reality, going to simplify some mechanics to encourage speed of action. With one trigger you shoot the proton beam, with the other you launch the trap and open it.
Once the ghost is damaged properly, the proton beam will turn into an energy beam with which the ghost can be dragged onto the trap. Each appliance has a superheat level available which, once exceeded, will absolutely be demolished, leaving the instrument to cool. All very simple and immediate, even if slightly lacking in real feedback on the heaviness of the equipment, while on the move.
The problem is that everything is gripped by a series of balancing issues which tend to divert the role of the Ghostbusters into a constant "caciara" where the poor ghost continues to be hunted down until the time available to him to haunt the building ends and, finally, he will not have any points available.
This is because primarily the PKE Meter (the detector that should indicate the approximate location of the breaches and the ghost) has a radar made too roughly which led me, and I'm not telling you how many times, to go round and round in a handful of square meters in search of a breach which was then located elsewhere.
The second problem arises from the incredibly high amount of energy available to breaches, which lead an entire team of players to shoot at a fixed point on the screen for an excessively high amount of time, making him an easy target for the ghost on duty.
If on paper, and I realize it now that I'm writing it to you, everything seems designed to create reasoned teamwork, the reality of the facts, at least for the moment, is that in Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed these dynamics are very quickly forgotten and, me for one, found myself running left and right for hours chasing down the ghost trying to get him at gunpoint when the timer for the final stage started ticking, using the downtime to collect collectibles and calm down the local workers… yes, you can do that too.
It must also be said that in the days available to try Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed in advance, I have never had the pleasure of being able to play together with 4 real players, managing at best to have another ghostbuster by my side (accompanied by two very scarcely intelligent bots) and a third player to impersonate the ghost. Precisely for this reason I want to wait to be able to test the game in its best conditions before giving a vote.
And, in all honesty, I hope that once the servers are populated I will finally be able to experience all the mechanics proposed by the developers because, between gadgets designed for emphasize teamwork and maps with well thought out architectures, the potential to be an excellent 4 VS title. 1 is everything… provided that the role of the ghost is better balanced.
…and an undead existence
Oh yes, why haunting buildings is really fun but at the same time it made me feel like a real “war machine”. As a ghost I was able to do everything that, since I was a child, I wondered why it was never done by the entities that were faced by the Ghostbusters, discovering that the answer was as obvious as it was complicated: it would always be an unequal battle.
As a ghost I was able to: scare the local workers, possess objects to move quickly in the rooms, haunt the same objects to make them move independently, steal the traps set by the Ghostbusters to leave them with nothing to catch me with, tamper with their proton packs to prevent them from being shot at, summon goons to distract them, move the breaches to hide them in seemingly unreachable locations and, of course, unleash all sorts of paranormal powers to temporarily take down the Ghostbusters… a tad excessive, don't you think?
Using the first of the ghosts available (there are four in Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed) the only "deficits" I had playing a ghost were a stamina that used up excessively quickly (and thank goodness I would say), which could be recharged quickly by possessing a random object on the map for a few seconds, and a deliberately long cooldown of activities, designed to prevent me from using the most powerful attacks with excessive consistency.
Two precautions that are undoubtedly necessary but which have not prevented me from winning practically every game in which I have played a ghost, thanks to all that set of skills that you can use at will and that make you “slightly overpowered”. Fun? Undoubtedly! Unbalanced? Definitely yes!
A real pity because all the dynamics present in both roles show a long study process to try not to limit all the game action to a chaotic hide and seek but the huge need for a "polishing" operation on the developer's part, it escalates every game of Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed in just that direction, spawning destructive manhunts, or specters, adorned with proton beams, scorched wallpaper, and objects flying everywhere.
Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed as it stands now
On the technical side, Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed, shows the same absence of polishing present in the gameplay. Everything is in the right place but there are still a lot of drools that I hope will be corrected by the "Day One Patch". The spoken dialogues, unless I set the system language of my PlayStation 5 to English, are currently absent (and I won't tell you how much time I wasted trying to figure out if I had mistakenly changed some audio setting in the game or console ); some kinematics don't trigger properly, and on multiple occasions I found myself at looking at an empty room reading the subtitles of what was happening in the cutscene I wasn't invited to; notifications indicating new items available don't always work correctly and the frame-rate, generally pegged at 60fps, occasionally shows the sidewall dipping slightly or scaling downwards on elements that move in more distant parts of the map.
Artistically, however, nothing to say. Illfonic, with Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed, wanted to celebrate the franchise with dignity by inserting references of all kinds everywhere. From the possibility of recreating practically every uniform present in films and cartoons (with the exception of those of 2016 ... thanks Illfonic), passing through the presence of Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd in the roles of Winston and Ray, ending with a constant explosion of quotes, references and screen elements taken in handfuls of films, TV series and comics, everything in Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed is designed to respectfully celebrate the franchise.
The only thing I didn't like? A couple of plot forcings designed to justify the breaches and made going to bother a character, whose name I won't mention, who would have needed greater respect given the constant importance he has had within the Ghostbusters lore but net of this purely subjective aspect, Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed will undoubtedly delight the Ghostbusters fanbase.