Who's Behind 'Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed'?
A Quick Look at the Developer Revisiting a Classic 80s Franchise
Who ya gonna call?
It’s been over 30 years since we first heard that iconic phrase in pop culture, and, from year to year, the answer has remained the same. Ghostbusters may have been an 80s film, it’s popularity bleeding into the early 90s thanks to Saturday morning cartoons, but it’s impossible to deny the staying power of the boys in gray. Especially as we’re on the cusp of a reemergence of the franchise, launched by a recent sequel that helped reboot the series and an upcoming video game release that pulls from the ongoing canonical universe.
Several months after Ernie Hudson confirmed a new Ghostbusters video game starring himself and Dan Aykroyd, Colorado-based IllFonic revealed its upcoming asymmetrical multiplayer game set in the cinematic universe. Seemingly taking place after the events of Afterlife, with Hudson’s Winston Zedemore stepping into a leadership role and Akyroyd’s Ray Stanz serving as research support, players don the flight suit and strap into a proton pack to take on supernatural threats. As with other asymmetrical games like Dead by Daylight, it’s a 4v1 setup, with four players equipped with particle throwers and one dodging proton streams as a Class 5 non-terminal repeating phantasm and other dastardly spirits.
The Haunted Pixel Society will be providing quite a bit of coverage of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleased as information releases, but for now, we wanted to circle back to the minds behind the project. As we witnessed in 2016 with the release of Paul Fiege’s all-women reboot, fans of Ghostbusters are passionate. Sometimes to a fault. So, for the team at IllFonic, the challenge is creating a game that respects the franchise, delivers entertaining gameplay, and receives ample post-release support, all while appealing to a broader audience to avoid empty servers. For some developers, this could very well be a challenge. However, IllFonic is no stranger to working in a previously defined space and understanding what it’s like to tackle properties with vocal and protective fanbases.
Taking Players to Camp
In 2014, an announcement trailer for a campy-looking horror game titled Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp hit YouTube. Immediately, gamers made comparisons to the 1980’s classic slasher series Friday the 13th. Following the trailer, Electronic Gaming Monthly briefly reported on the new co-operative and competitive multiplayer title scheduled for an October 2015 release, though many concrete details were missing from the piece. All that players really knew about Summer Camp was that IllFonic began development and Gun Media joined in as support and to publish the finished product.
Then October 2015 rolled in, and the mask on the mysterious Slasher Vol 1.: Summer Camp was lifted to reveal Friday the 13th: The Game. The crowdfunding campaign that ultimately announced the latest Friday the 13th video game saw immediate success, having reached its initial goal of $500,000 within 10 days. Anticipation for Friday the 13th was high, and the playerbase was so large that, upon the May 26, 2017, release date, the game’s servers struggled to keep up. Critically, the horror multiplayer was poorly to moderately received, but there was one market that the game really spoke to - and that was Friday the 13th fans.
Having only been IllFonic’s second release - the first an oft-forgotten first-person shooter based on 2005’s free-to-play Nexuiz - and its first commercial attempt at working on Unreal Engine 4, the need for polish was understandable and forgivable, especially since the development team continued to support and improve the experience. What was evident right from launch was the development team’s respect for the source material, as the game featured appearances by Mrs. Voorheez and Tommy Jarvis and unfolded across memorable locations from the franchise.
Easter eggs like an elaborate means of “killing” Jason, several costumes and weapons for the lumbering villain, and Jarvis’ surprise appearance called back to memorable elements of the movies. Friday the 13th: The Game served the source material well, providing Jason with supernatural abilities that somewhat parodied his impossible abilities throughout the film series. Most surprisingly, it was decently balanced, and playing as either predator or prey was entertaining.
IllFonic and Gun Media had every intention of expanding the game beyond the campsites, with locations based on Jason X planned as DLC, but an ongoing lawsuit between director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller permanently curbed any new content.
A Romp in the Jungle
Shortly after sending players deep into the wooded nightmare of Camp Crystal Lake, IllFonic turned its focus to the jungles of South America. Backed by Sony Interactive Entertainment, IllFonic took another trip to the 80s, this time pulling from an action-packed series that pit muscled, fouth-mouthed, and gun-toting brutes against an invisible extraterrestrial threat.
Predator: Hunting Ground was the Yautja’s first solo adventure since 2005’s Predator: Concrete Jungle. The asymmetrical multiplayer format proved to be the right choice for the Predator franchise, though the human mission structure received some criticism for repetition and lack of depth. Regardless, the real conflict was between man and beast, and IllFonic captured that splendidly in an often high-tension bout of bloody hide and seek.
Like IllFonic had done with Friday the 13th, Hunting Grounds captured the look and feel of the original movie, and the fanservice additions of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Duke” Schafer and Jake Busey’s return as Sean Keyes (otherwise known as the son of Garey Busey’s character from Predator 2) further showed the passion the team has for the 1980s science fiction classic.
Despite recently releasing Arcadegeddon and Predator coming up on its two-year anniversary, IllFonic continues to support the asymmetrical multiplayer title. Of course, it helps that fans are still invested, specifically The Nomad Clan and the game’s 63,000-plus followers on Twitch.
Barring any unexpected legal disputes, Hunting Grounds should still see continued support from the development team. However, IllFonic isn’t quite done with the 80s, a decade that gave us cinema’s best extraterrestrials, time-traveling murder bots, possed dolls, campsite killers, and paranormal eliminators.
We’re Ready to Believe You!
Having shown ample care for two classic and well-established franchises, IllFonic solidified itself as the best choice to take on a Ghostbusters multiplayer experience. Terminal Reality laid the groundwork with the long-since-abandoned Ghostbusters: The Video Game multiplayer mode, and IllFonic appears to be extensively building upon that concept - and many pulled from its previous releases - to deliver a well-rounded supernatural romp across familiar locations from the films and video game.
The brief footage shown during the reveal trailer and subsequent showcase videos promises an expansion on the beloved universe, featuring iconic elements of Ghostbusters like Winston Zeddemore, Ray Stanz, Tobin’s Spirit Guide, the Ectomobile, proton packs, PKE meters, ghost traps, and, of course, the slime-powered paranormal threat.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed is a product of passion, made by a team of fans that understands the importance of breaking boundaries while remaining true to the source material.
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