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'Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed' translates the movie's comedy to friendly competition

Gameplay from "Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed." (Courtesy)
Gameplay from "Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed." (Courtesy)

Video game adaptations of “Ghostbusters” have haunted us since the original movie debuted in 1984. But this week’s “Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed” asks new questions: What if you and your friends weren’t just tracking down apparitions fearsome and foul? What if you could be the ghost, yourself?

“Spirits Unleashed,” now out on Playstation, Xbox, and PC, pits a team of four against one ghost player who has to use their wits (and plenty of slime) to stay unbusted. Lead designer Jordan Mathewson told me that the formula comes straight from a scene in the 1984 movie where Venkman, Stantz and Spengler wreak havoc on an upscale hotel while tracking down a particularly slippery ghost. In “Spirits Unleashed,” that kind of chaos is baked in the rules.

Players can play as a ghost or ghost hunter in “Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.” (Courtesy)

Ghosts win the game by scaring bystanders through a wide array of ghoulish powers. They can animate objects from chairs to teddy bears. They can dump goo all over the ground. But they have to stay discrete, because ghostbusters can track them with P.K.E. meters, tether them with particle throwers and, finally, trap them for good.

Developer IllFonic has plenty of experience balancing this “one vs. many” style of game. This isn’t even the company’s first dance with a Hollywood juggernaut — it’s also behind 2017’s “Friday the 13th” and 2020’s “Predator: Hunting Grounds.” But where those games pitted scrappy survivors against a horrific threat, “Ghostbusters: Spirits Within” keeps things light and breezy.

Ghost hunters try to hunt down the player playing as a ghost in “Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed.” (Courtesy)

In my inauspicious career as a ghost, my NPR colleagues usually captured me in less than 10 minutes. My only win came when I possessed a lowly arcade cabinet. As the seconds counted down, I snickered in the corner as the ghostbusters went on a rampage, destroying nearly everything around me, finally rooting me out when it was too late to deny my victory.

Absurdities like that bubble up frequently throughout the game. So if you’re looking for a hit of silly nostalgia (complete with cameos from ghostbuster veterans Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson), “Spirits Within” should be right up your alley.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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