Phasmophobia is a fresh, highly engaging ghost hunting game that is best experienced in co-op. At the moment, it is well worth the low asking price, although we do look forward to seeing more content and new features being added further down the line.
It’s not every day that a small indie developer releases their first game on Steam as an Early Access title, only for it to top the sales charts and attain overwhelmingly positive user ratings within the first thirty days of its release. However, this is precisely what happened with Kinetic Games’ Phasmophobia.
The term phasmophobia denotes an irrational fear of ghosts, although it’s far from irrational in the context of this game. In today’s review, we’ll be taking a closer look at the latest Spooktober hit and we’ll see just why it is so popular, as well as whether it is really as great as people are making it out to be.
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A Very Rational Fear
Phasmophobia is a horror game, that much is obvious, but there’s a reason behind its popularity and why it stands out in the sea of Amnesia clones and uninspired low-budget horror games that have you wandering through generic creepy hallway after generic creepy hallway, waiting for things to jump out at you from the dark.
Namely, Phasmophobia is something of a ghost hunting simulator that has you exploring a number of different locations and using a variety of tools in order to detect ghosts, as well as discover exactly what type of ghost you’re dealing with.
On top of that, it is also designed primarily as a cooperative game, though having other people around doesn’t reduce the fear factor as much as you might expect. This is especially true if you’re playing it in VR, as it takes the word “immersion” to a whole other level.
Of course, this is still a highly engaging game even when played without a VR headset, and while there is nothing stopping you from playing the game solo, it is much more fun if you’re playing with friends, trying to coordinate and cooperate in order to accomplish the mission as efficiently as possible.
Give Us A Sign
So, how do you actually play Phasmophobia and what do different missions entail?
As mentioned above, this is a game that can best be described as a ghost hunting sim, since it requires the player to use various ghost hunting tools in order to find and identify ghosts in open-ended levels.
That said, Phasmophobia isn’t a linear game that has you going from point A to point B and hoping that you can wade through a bunch of jumpscares without dying. Rather, it features several maps that come in three sizes: small, medium, and large, each recommended for two, three, and four players respectively.
There are only seven maps in the game so far (five small, one medium, and one large), but more will be added along the way – Phasmophobia is only in Early Access, after all.
Now, finding and identifying the ghost isn’t always easy, especially on larger maps. Every mission starts out with some basic gear such as a flashlight, a UV flashlight used to detect fingerprints, an EMF reader that will beep upon detecting paranormal activity nearby, a video camera for monitoring and detecting ghost orbs, and more.
However, as the player completes missions, levels up, and earns experience and money, they gain access to more advanced equipment such as strong flashlights, motion sensors, thermometers, and other tools. All of these have their uses, although some are must-haves while others are more situational.
More notably, though, the game makes heavy use of voice recognition, as the players can verbally communicate with the ghost and, potentially, have the ghost respond in some way.
The ghost will listen to what the players are saying at all times and will react in various ways. For example, calling the ghost by its name will aggravate it and so will insulting it, all the while using keywords related to fear e.g. “afraid”, “run”, or “hide”, might embolden it and cause it to be more aggressive.
The players can also inquire about the ghost’s identity or ask it to give them a sign of its presence. The ghost might also communicate verbally with the players if they have a Spirit Box, although not all ghosts are talkative and some will not communicate this way at all, all the while others might only respond if a player is alone.
Moreover, Ouija boards are another way to communicate with ghosts and get concrete responses, although these only spawn randomly and can be dangerous to use, as they can damage the user’s Sanity and anger the ghost.
Ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide what gear (and how much of it) they want to bring on missions. Different pieces of equipment have different uses – some are better for finding the ghost, others are better for identifying it, while certain items can be used to buy the players a relatively brief but potentially life-saving safety window.
To make things worse for the player, if they die on a mission, all of the gear that they brought with them is automatically lost, and this is one of the key mechanics that the game uses to keep tensions high for experienced players. Granted, the Amateur and Intermediate difficulties refund players 50% and 25% of the lost items’ value respectively via insurance, but the Professional difficulty offers no such safety net.
If you want to read more about all the different pieces of equipment available in Phasmophobia, best check out our full Phasmophobia Equipment Guide!
Terrifying Ghosts And Where To Find Them
Now, speaking of identifying ghosts, there are currently a total of 12 ghost types in Phasmophobia, and they all have their own distinct strengths, weaknesses, and ways in which they can be identified.
Each type of ghost has a unique set of three clues it leaves behind, and collecting all three is the most reliable, foolproof way to identify one. These six clues are: freezing temperatures, fingerprints, ghost writing, ghost orbs, level 5 EMF readings, and the ghost talking to the players via the Spirit Box. Some of these can be detected in more than one way, but others will require a specific piece of equipment.
In addition to that, each ghost has a strength that needs to be accounted for and a weakness that players can exploit. However, ghosts can’t be reliably identified based on their model or their overall behavior, as this is always randomized at the start of a new mission. Overall, the players will usually need at least two out of three clues in order to be able to accurately guess what type of ghost they’re dealing with.
Apart from identifying the ghost, each mission has an additional three optional objectives that can be completed for extra cash. The players can also get bonus cash by collecting and/or photographing additional paranormal evidence (bones, voodoo dolls, Ouija boards, dirty water, footprints, fingerprints, etc.).
All of this encourages the players to be thorough with their investigation if they want to reap maximum rewards, rather than just rushing to find the ghost room and leaving as soon as possible.
If you’d like to read more about the game’s different ghost types, then you might want to check out our Phasmophobia Ghost Guide, too.
The Bad And The Ugly
So, with all of the above in mind, you can probably see why Phasmophobia is so popular. It is an innovative horror game that encourages cooperative play, and it’s an absolute blast with friends. It’s not a game that revolves around scripted jumpscares and instead thrives on suspense, tension, paranoia, and the fear of the unknown, all the while the unpredictable ghost behavior can make each round feel fresh.
But, of course, no game is without its share of flaws, and an Early Access indie title is not an exception by any means.
First off, I can’t help but mention the bane of every Early Access game – the bugs. While Phasmophobia is not horribly buggy like some other games I could name, you will encounter the usual issues from time to time: getting stuck in random places, equipment not functioning as intended, voice recognition not working, ghosts not acting according to their description, getting stuck on the loading screen, etc.
Overall, most of the bugs aren’t game-breaking, but they can occasionally ruin the immersion or cause you to lose some pricey gear, but this is something that will be ironed out further down the line.
Now, the main issue that I have with Phasmophobia is the potential for monotony that it has. Yes, it is a fresh and innovative game, but it currently doesn’t offer a lot in terms of content and it relies precisely on the ghosts’ procedurally generated behavior in order to remain engaging.
Yes, it is an absolute blast in the beginning when you’re learning about the game and its mechanics, but as is often the case with horror games, once you get the hang of it and see what it has to offer, you develop a fairly formulaic approach to each mission and the game can lose its charm very quickly.
As mentioned above, the prospect of losing your expensive equipment and the unpredictable ghost behavior both contribute a lot to Phasmophobia’s replay value, but it badly needs to have more maps, some gear needs rebalancing, and it could potentially use some additional ghost types to provide extra variety.
Apart from bug fixes and the need for additional content, the game could also definitely use some general polishing.
For example, some of the menus could be a bit more intuitive and informative, the players should be able to create custom equipment loadouts without having to manually add extra items before each game, they should be able to select the map and the difficulty they want instead of having to choose from several randomly-generated options, and being able to select specific cameras without having to cycle through all of them would be a God-send for larger maps.
Something that I feel needs to be added to the game really badly is the ability to bind inventory slots to hotkeys rather than having to cycle through them using the mouse wheel or the “Q” key. Sure, the inventory can only hold three items at a time, but sometimes it’s necessary to switch to a specific item quickly, and if you’re using a shoulder-mounted flashlight, accidentally switching to it will turn it off and leave you in complete darkness, potentially leading to a lot of confusion.
Finally, the models and the animations could also use some improvement – that goes double for kill animations, as they can be highly underwhelming and immersion-breaking to witness, and they should obviously have the opposite effect. Nothing makes a horror game less scary than having buggy ragdolls glitching out and reminding you that it’s all a game, after all.
But, of course, as I’ve already stressed multiple times, this is an Early Access game and there’s bound to be more content to come, as evident from the public Phasmophobia roadmap on Trello. There are new maps and new equipment in the pipeline, along with some new features, rebalancing, and bug fixes.
The Final Word
So, overall, Phasmophobia is by no means a perfect game. However, being a $14 Early Access indie title, it is more than worth the asking price if you’re a fan of horror games and ghost hunting, especially if you have friends to play it with.
Now, the game’s fate depends largely on how future updates are handled i.e. if Kinetic Games manages to add more content to keep the player base engaged, I feel that Phasmophobia could easily evolve into one of the best horror games of all time, VR or not.
It’s not uncommon for multiplayer-focused games – especially indie ones – to stagnate and sort of fizzle out once their five minutes of fame pass and the spotlight, along with the payers, moves on to the next viral hit.
Still, we’re optimistic that Phasmophobia is yet to reach its full potential, especially with all the support it’s been getting, and we’re looking forward to seeing just what it will look like further down the line.