After getting my fix on the new Resident Evil game, I found myself in a need for more horror. Since going outside was too real of an option, I opted instead to pick up Phasmophobia.
The first-person ghost-hunter sim features multiplayer and solo gameplay, with an xp progression system that allows for purchasing of items that help with various aspects of the hunt. Each item allows you to detect different pieces of evidence to finally decide what kind of ghost it is. When you have all three pieces of evidence, you win. Another cool feature is the ability to use your voice as a gameplay mechanic. Want the ghost to appear for some reason, or move an object? Say “Show yourself.” into your mic, and BAM: you have to change your clothes again after a demon turns off all the lights by sprinting at you.
Seems simple, and to be honest, it really is. But the charm in this game is set right into something that’s hard to put your finger on. It might be seeing your truck loaded up with your own personal loadout, or it might be those moments where you use your experience to put two and two together and catch that ghost, or it could simply be the well designed atmosphere.
Whatever the case, Phasmophobia finds a way to rise above its simple design using very little to become one of the better repayable horror games on the market.
The Pros of Phasmophobia
You can pack all of the identifiable ‘good’ things about this game pretty neatly together. The atmosphere is always at least a little spooky, even for people who have clocked well over 1000 hours into the game. The fun of the gameplay is tied to your own wit and attention to detail, so there’s never a dull moment caused by the simple controls unless you’re really not in the mood to hunt ghosties.
The various ghost types and their respective attitudes they can have make for fresh games. A Poltergeist who is aggressive will be chucking items around you all night, but a Poltergeist who is shy might only nudge an item here or there, leaving you wondering if you’re dealing with another kind of ghost altogether. In such situations, going back into the haunted location to try to find one more piece of evidence is risky, but makes for the more memorable moments in the game, as you’re at the most dangerous point in the match at that point and are vulnerable to attack.
It goes without saying, but playing with friends is very fun. I’ll give Phasmophobia this, though: If you’re into the game and really want an immersive experience, the game might actually be better played solo than with friends. By design, it makes for a far more difficult, and scary experience.
Although limited, customization of your character’s looks and item loadout give the game some amount of your own personality behind each Phasmo match. As aforementioned, each game starts you off in a safe truck, with items mounted on shelves all around you. Seeing these items you hand selected and knowing you did some prepping, at least for me, is a very satisfying thought to have while playing. I give Phasmo points for this, but maybe you won’t.
It’s worth mentioning that game the game supports VR, if you enjoy torturing yourself.
The Cons of Phasmophobia
Right off the bat, it has to be said that the skill cap of the game isn’t very high. There’s a lot of knowledge to be taken up in the game, and that knowledge is almost limitless, but the skill cap itself starts to top off fairly quickly. Within 20-100 hours of gameplay, depending on how well you intuit the game design, you’ll find yourself recognizing how to handle most (if not all) situations you find yourself in.
Additionally, there isn’t really a sense of item management in the game despite buying your loadout pre-match. This is because you can take three items out of your truck and use them to find evidence, drop them, go back to your truck and repeat. Once you leave the match, all of those dropped items return right back to your inventory, so long as you don’t die. Maybe this is a pro for some people, but I feel the game is definitely missing a ‘hardcore’ or ‘realism’ mode that requires greater use of item management skills. In some ways, the feeling it gives you is simply lacking and easy as apposed to ‘quality of life’.
Lastly, one of the cons you’ll find in this game that pulls you out of the immersion is the side missions. They’re uninspired, have little to no effect on how well you capture evidence, and only exist to serve as ‘bonuses’ to your end-game payout. It feels like wasted potential, seeing as those side missions could have been more tied to natural gameplay; finding the homeowner’s belongings, performing a ritual against specific ghost types at the end of a match, and things of that nature.
Instead you’re given missions like ‘get the ghost to walk through salt’ which feels more or less like the easiest payday of your life as you drop salt near the ghost and walk back to safety. Other times you’re given missions like ‘escape the ghost during a hunt’. Which means waiting around for the ghost to hunt you (which can take anywhere from 1 minute to 15, in extreme cases), getting the ghost to find and chase you, and escaping it. Difficult, and not guaranteed as the game might bug out and not detect an escape properly.
In short, these Phasmophobia side missions pull you out of the horror and put into a more ‘game-y’ mindset. A mindset the makes you see the forest for the trees, like watching a horror movie for the fifth time. Not quite as scary, not quite as immersive. In this game, that feeling doesn’t just come from the gameplay itself, rather the objectives the game puts in front of you. The problem is hampered by the fact that you can’t always / usually get the ghost to commit to actions you need him or her to.
Need to snap a photo of the ghost? Saying “show yourself” might work. Or you might be waiting around for 10 minutes after already finding out what kind of ghost it is just so you can grab a 50/50 photo during the hunting phase. Boring, but for the completionists, feels required to make the game difficult enough beyond just gathering evidence.
Altogether, this game really only has cons you if you like to dissect design from the top down. If you enjoy casual horror gaming without the need for optimization or too much meta-gaming, this game has little to no downsides aside from a lack of late-game progression.
Phasmophobia is a good time for casuals and meta gamers alike. The horror is always at least creepy enough to make your look away from the screen from time to time, and the gameplay loop is sure to keep you coming back for games well into months of playing, if you can get past the fact that its developed by one dude who can’t always catch all of the bugs you’ll likely come across.
If you like horror, get this game. If you’re not sure if you like horror, get this game. $14 on steam as this articles post date.
8/10, great game. Closets OP.