By Marcus Yeatman-Crouch
We’re in the middle of spooky season now, and it seems only right that the newest title grabbing the gaming community’s attention is a positive ‘Most Haunted’ simulator. That’s right: Phasmophobia is the spine-chilling and somehow simultaneously hilarious co-op ghostbusting game perfect for the build up to Halloween.
Phasmophobia is a multiplayer, psychological horror developed by one (yes, one!) man, but you wouldn’t think so based on the complexity and ingenuity of the game’s systems. In essence, you work as a team of 4, utilising a number of classic ghost-hunting instruments like an EMF reader, thermometers, and – of course – a ouija board, to draw out anything from a spectre to a demon and prove evidence of a haunting at your location. The main goal is to identify the ghost, and each player gets paid according to whether they figured out the correct type and fulfilled some other objectives. The harder the level you pick, the more steps you’ll have to take to identify a ghost – and the more dangerous it gets. Obviously, spirits don’t like to be annoyed and forced out of hiding. If you prod them enough, they’ll start hunting. The doors lock, the lights go out, and all you can do is pray (or put one of your friends between you and the ghost). With such a simple premise, and many variations based on the type of ghost being hunted, each foray into a level provides some uniqueness: every ghost has their own name and specific ways of hunting and being drawn out, and this prompts memorable experiences of your hunts that make you go back for more.
Despite only releasing on Steam in early September, Phasmophobia has racked up millions of viewers on Twitch thanks in part to its 4 player online system, where you and three friends can team up to search for ghosts on maps ranging from a suburban house to a gigantic asylum. The ideal and recommended method of communication is through the proximity-based voice chat in-game, so you can only hear your fellow ghostbusters when they’re nearby or if you have walkie talkies. This provides some spooks already, as wandering closer to a teammate could let you hear them screaming for help as they face a demon, or insanely babbling the ghost’s name to try and entice it to appear. And yes, you heard right – the ghost can hear you speaking. There are over 100 words and phrases the ghost can pick up from your microphone, including ones like ‘scared’ or ‘Hello?’. This means that anything you say could prompt a reaction, such as the lights flickering off or a piece of furniture flying out of place. It’s truly terrifying when a ghost gets angered, often leading to a mad scramble as you try and escape the house, only to find the doors are locked. In whimpering terror, you’re forced to try and get a picture of a ghost that could just as easily kill you, but the relief as you escape with evidence and your life is due reward for the horror you face.
There are of course some caveats that come with the game at the moment. It’s still in early access, and progress can be slow with only one developer, made even more difficult by the sudden attention of entire twitch communities on the game. There are 10 types of ghost at present, but those veterans of the game playing on harder difficulties have already figured out the patterns in each one, making the process far more streamlined and – because of this – a bit less exciting. There are also at present only 7 maps, 5 of which are classed as ‘small’, meaning their interiors can be worked out quite quickly. This is the challenge of any hot multiplayer game – keeping the community’s interest. There is a roadmap of updates, but actual content like maps and new ghosts are confined to the backlog, suggesting there is a lot to do before anything new comes along. This could pose an issue to a gaming community that hopped from Fall Guys, to Among Us, to Phasmophobia in a matter of months, but at the moment there is still a massive amount of available content to get through with friends, and the unique experience each time means it will take a while for you to encounter similar patterns in the gameplay.
The main question you have to ask of any horror game is naturally: is it scary? The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. Just leaving the van – where equipment for monitoring sanity, ghost activity, and a map of the building is located – can be daunting, as you step out of the well-lit vehicle to walk into an eerie, close-quarters interior where the silence can be as maddening as random noises. When the game is scary enough to prompt players to quit before even encountering a ghost, you know the experience is a good one. If you can muster the courage to enter the house and start investigating, you’ll be beset by the voice of the ghost, its movement, and occasional flashes of its form. The pressure builds as you only have a short window to gather information before the ghost becomes angered and starts to hunt, leading to a crescendo of screaming – your’s, your friends’, and the ghost’s – as the psychological horror becomes real. If there’s one thing that can be said, and it’s certainly praise for a horror game, Phasmophobia is not for the faint hearted.
Overall, if you’re looking to play a game and get spooked with your friends on Halloween, Phasmophobia certainly fits the bill. The game makes the four of you the stars of an interactive found-footage movie, and with the psychological scares starting before you’ve even entered the level it won’t take long to be fully immersed. The future of the title is a bit murky, and we may have to wait a while to get any significant content updates, but for now there is still hours of fun (and terror) to be had in Phasmophobia, if you can work up the courage to play it. Oh, and did we mention you can play the entire thing in VR? Have fun!