Phasmophobia is available on Steam. Joseph Pugh conducted this review.
I never thought I’d willingly play a horror game, let alone review one. They normally aren’t for me. I’m a wimp, and I can’t stand getting spooked. Yet every moment that I’m not playing Phasmophobia, I want to be. I’ll tremble, and scream and I’ll need to change my shirt after every game thanks to anxiety sweat, but I still come back for more.
That’s because Phasmophobia is a unique horror game, and I’m not exaggerating. There isn’t anything else like it on the market. It’s horror isn’t about gore, or jump scares. Phasmophobia is more psychological. It’s about hunting ghosts when you’re the actual prey.
But the ghosts in Phasmophobia aren’t brute force hunters. They stalk you and toy with you. They make your mind question what it’s seeing, and in the darkness, your brain will attempt to fill in the blanks. Some Ghosts will even cooperate and communicate with you first. Oh yeah, by the way, they can hear everything you say through your microphone.
In Phasmophobia, you and your friends are ghost hunters. Not like Sam and Dean Winchester, oh no. You’re like the ghost hunters on Syfy. You need to find evidence of a ghost, identify its type, and document it. But unlike the television show, the ghosts in Phasmophobia are real and dangerous.
Step one: Try not to cry
Phasmophobia is a team game of paranormal investigation. You can play with up to three others. The game is very playable with two players on smaller maps, but the larger ones really need a full team for the best experience. You can even play alone if you’re braver than me, but the game is absolutely team focused.
The ghost is always procedural and one of twelve types, each with their own quirks and traits. Your first goal is to find evidence of it and determine which type it is. Ghosts roam around, but they generally have a room that’s considered their haunt, and finding it is your best chance of finding evidence.
You always have some basic gear, but as you complete missions you earn money allowing you to buy even more stuff, but beware if the ghost kills you, you lose anything extra you bring. You get some money back on a lower difficulty, but nothing on the highest one.
Ghosts can make sounds, mess with lights, move objects, and even materialize. To determine its type, you need to piece together three pieces of specific evidence using your gear. Each ghost has a specific combo of three evidence types. For example, one might manifest ghostly orbs when viewed through a video camera, speak through a spirit box, and leave fingerprints on doors or light switches.
They aren’t always cooperative though, and you need to use tools such as motion sensors, cameras, and salt to track them down while taking notice of anything it interacts with. If it wanders in a room, it may touch and move the door for example.
The ghost can always hear you and your team, and you can talk directly to it. Ask for a sign, and it may oblige, but saying certain phrases can anger it faster. Being in the dark and witnessing ghost events lowers your sanity, and the lower your sanity, the more likely it is to attack.
You can’t fight the ghost directly, but some tools can aid you or buy you time. Some ghosts you can outrun, others you can only hide from. If you are really scared, you can even remain in the Van and guide the rest of your team through a map, cameras and an activity meter. Tools such as sound and motion sensors directly interact with this role and it feels authentic in a way.
Either way the game uses a local voice chat and you may be able to hear your friends screaming from the next room. You also have a walkie talkie to communicate over a distance, but the ghost can interfere with it when it’s hunting.
Step 2: Cry a lot
The beauty of the game is the ghosts procedural nature mixed with perfect psychological pacing. It takes planning, teamwork, and investigative skills to weasel out where the ghost is and collect the evidence needed. At the same time, the ghost’s presence is a perfect medium between aggressive and passive.
You don’t see the ghost all the time, but it’s not hidden away enough to become boring. It will appear, it will haunt the environment and it will attack at different intervals that take in a load of factors that I won’t spoil. It makes every hunt incredibly tense.
You could go a few minutes with nothing only for it to walk by invisibly and hiss in your ear. It may toy with lights at the worst times, or make sounds just behind you. It may throw a book, or a ring a phone. The tension increases with every burst of activity and every second spent on the hunt. The ghost isn’t dangerous all the time, but it flickering into existence in front of you will still make you crap your pants all the same.
One of Phasmophobia’s greatest strengths is its sheer replay value. I don’t think the game will ever cease scaring me. It doesn’t lean on cheap jump scares, but rather a haunting atmosphere and a ghost that remains unpredictable to a certain degree regardless of how much you learn about the game. All while it offers very unique and engaging investigative gameplay.
In fact, the more you learn, the more intense it can become. You can leave after you identify what type of ghost it is. You will get paid a small amount and that’s considered a win. There are other optional objectives you can perform for extra money, but there’s nothing stopping you from calling it quits at any time. But that’s missing the spirit of the game.
You’re there to identify and document the ghost. Identifying it is only half the battle. You are rewarded with money for additional pictures you take of various ghost-related activities. If your EMF is going off, take a picture, if the ghost throws a teddy bear, take a picture. If the ghost shows itself, scream, crap your pants and, take a picture.
The longer you remain on the hunt, the higher the risk. As your sanity drains, the ghost will attack more often. Yet identifying it gives you a weapon to use in your battle to document it. That weapon is knowledge.
You know that if the Ghost is a Revenant, you can’t outrun it. You know that if it’s a Shade, it wont attack you when you’re together with a friend. So while the game doesn’t explicitly tell you, the hunt itself has three phases. Identify the ghost, complete the secondary objectives, and take as many different photos as you can without getting murdered. It’s clever, thoughtful, and well designed.
Phasmophobia is in early access, but I wouldn’t have known that just by playing. The gameplay is incredibly intelligent and polished. The player animations are janky, but honestly, I’ve never once thought about it, I’m too busy peeing my pants to care. Aside from a couple of disconnect issues, I have no other complaints.
In fact, I’m kind of thrilled that it’s in early access because it means that more is to come. The single developer creating the game plans to add more ghost types, maps, and tools. Which is exciting given how re-playable the game already is.
I still have no interest in playing other horror games. However, Phasmophobia’s addicting gameplay loop, incredibly unique concept, perfect pacing, and extreme replay value make it worth playing, even for non-horror fans like me. I like to compare it’s thrill to a roller coaster. When it’s over I might be shaking, but I’m ready to jump right back in line.
Prefer zombies over ghosts? Check out my review of State of Decay 2.
- Incredibly unique investigative horror gameplay
- High replay value with unpredictable procedural ghost hunts
- Stellar pacing that relies on tension rather gore or jump scares
- Addicting push your luck gameplay loop
- Authentic ghost hunter experience with tools used in popular fiction
- Janky player animation
- Some annoying disconnects
- Some maps don’t work well without a full team.