Phasmophobia is a first-person multiplayer horror game in early access that has very likely reached peek popularity before it’s full release. Developed and published by Kinetic Games and available since September 2020, this ghost hunting simulator quickly became a Twitch darling. Seeing my favourite streamers shit bricks and squeal like children is endlessly entertaining.
I myself being a coward for most horror games, who usually consumes them through YouTube or Twitch, must have got caught up in the hype when I ordered two copies from Steam. One for myself, and one for my partner, as making his life difficult is my real favourite game.
A little background on my relationship with horror. I love it. Not to swing them too victoriously on the tallest podium at the ball measuring contest, but no film scares me. I’m robotic to pre-recorded fear. Games however; are a different matter. I’ll watch others play them with glee, but put me behind the controller and the stress outweighs any fun that could possibly be mined from this quarry of anxiety. Walking simulator horror games like Layers of Fear I'm fine with. It’s the stress of peril that gets me.
My partner will play horror games, generally provided he’s given a gun. And it's great fun to watch him scream at the TV, or cautiously peeking around corners looking for a Zom, stretching a nine-hour game into fifteen through the power of trepidation. (See my recent post regarding the Resident Evil: Villiage Demo)
Feeling brave and given the extra bravado in knowing I wouldn’t be the most scared person in the room, we hunted ghosts.
I say ‘we’. I certainly searched out ghosts, and it wouldn’t be fair to say he didn’t help hunt at all, but he did his searching primarily from the van. Looking at the camera feed.
I didn’t mind too much, until my sanity was at zero and there was still evidence that needing gathering. Not knowing the mechanics of the game’s sanity meter at the time I walked back into the farm house, only to have the door close and lock behind me. After a few panicked tugs at the door handle I turned to face my demons, literally; and watch as the horrific visage of a monster toddler charged me down, flashing in and out of the visible spectrum, house lights responding in tandem. It was screaming, I think, I certainly heard screams from somewhere and I’m too proud to admit it was from me.
Then the decrepit ghoulish hands wrapped around my face and I was gone, to join my assassin in the blue/greyscale afterlife.
I hadn’t even made it back to the van to join my partner in becoming the best buddy cop drama ever, ‘Ghost and the Coward’, before he had closed up and drove off. He knew I was coming; our TVs are side by side on the living room wall for fates sake. At least I now know in my zombie apocalypse survival plans who not to expect to receive help from.
As for the game, did I find it scary?
You’re dam right I did. I was frightened that I'd accidently invited real ghosts into my house by playing it. I was one more unexplained clatter away from pulling out the emergency sage sausage and going Whoopie Goldberg on my home.
Yet it was scary in a good way for me. The stress I get from Resident Evil games, or anything else where I'm expected to be able to accurately shoot the monsters, wasn’t there. I knew that if I get caught or, in an age telling call back, ‘Grabbed by the Ghoulies’ then I'd be out. There is no fighting back. No struggling. And no reverting to my last typewriter, which was far too bloody long ago for me to not quit the game in a huff!
Just onto the next round, next house, next fright. It’s more like getting to live the spooky films I like from the safety of my desk chair. I can handle it.
Since that first experience, I've played it a couple more times, with more people. People who don’t sit in the van and leave me to suffer the frights alone. It’s certainly less scary the more I play it, or at least I'm less worried about walking around the houses. As soon as I hear a Jinn breathing down my neck I still ‘nope’ out of there, voice raising three octaves. But I love it.
What Phasmophobia does great is capturing the atmosphere of a supernatural horror film. I’d most compare it to ‘The conjuring’ or ‘Haunting of Hill House’. It has tension in spades. The creaks on floorboards, lights turning off on their own, objects flying off the shelf. Constantly checking with your team mates if it was them who opened the door or our target. The way the ghosts don’t show themselves fully so often. A flash of an axe wielding spirit is more terrifying than if it was visible always. Less is more, subtle scares keep you on edge.
Graphically it’s more than functional, though I dread to imagine how it would feel built with a high budget Unreal engine make over.
This game is fantastic to play with friends, and to watch friends play. I hope they keep adding new ghost designs and maybe some other game modes to keep it fresh. (Battle royal ghost survival?)
I started this article saying that the game peaked early, having had its moment in the streamer sun before it’s official release. I do think this is the case, though I would love to see it remain popular as the updates come along. A console release might even boost it beyond its initial heights. I really hope so. Though I certainly will be continuing to dip in and out of this for the foreseeable.
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