This article has been rewritten multiple times. After playing 5 hours of Phasmaphobia, my conclusion was, “I hate it, and it’s buggy, dumb and boring.” I’ve now played 20 hours, and as you might guess I no longer hate it. That said, I have some problems with it. In brief, Phasmaphobia is fun to play with friends, but many of the mechanics are unintuitive (Wiki Ahoy!) and the game is still buggy. For right now, I’d only say it’s worth getting if you have a group of people to play it with.
Phasmaphobia is a ghost hunting game, except it follows more of a lite-simulation route than a gamey experience. You and up to 3 other people go out to a haunted location. Once there, you use the equipment you brought with you to try and find the ghost, and determine what type of ghost it is. You do this by walking around real slowly in a traditional first person view.
The equipment itself is all “traditional” ghost hunting equipment, such as EMF detectors, thermometers, cameras, sound sensors, and spirit boxes. There are also a variety of other things, such as crucifixes, salt, flashlights, smudging sticks, and ghost books.
One thing to keep in mind is that not all ghosts respond the same way to all stimuli: e.g., some types will drop temperatures to freezing, while others won’t. Some are more active if multiple players are around, and some are not. Some give off EMF readings, and some just don’t. The main gameplay loop is to try to determine which type of ghost you’re dealing with based on the reactions you get from your equipment.
Between missions, you level up from surviving, and acquire cash based on your performance, taking photos of the ghost, and some other bonus objectives. This allows you to buy more equipment to hunt the ghost in the future. Equipment isn’t lost if you drop it/lose it, but it is lost if you die during the mission. While I think this could become annoying, I haven’t acquired enough cash for it to become a problem. Some of the other random players I played with though mentioned it frustrated them, and another mentioned that the “strat” is to have one person buy all the equipment, and then stay in the van, so you can’t lose anything.
Oh, and you can play Phasmaphobia in VR.
I can’t group my problems with Phasmaphobia into one big overarching chunk or theme, so I’m just gonna list off everything about the game that annoys me.
Ed Note: I’ve edited the original version of this list. The list is accurate to my experience of playing the game, but I’ve updated various points with more information.
The game has all the thrills and excitement of real life ghost hunting, which is to say none whatsoever. I don’t know who thinks wandering around a big ass building with all the lights off and waiting for something to happen is interesting. It really isn’t. If you’ve ever watched a ghost hunting show of some sort, you have seen the primary experience of Phasmaphobia, which is a bunch of folks wandering around a dark building, shouting things out, and then getting scared when the floorboard creaks. And because not every single type of ghost reacts to every type of equipment, and the limited inventory slots, it is entirely possible to search the entire building, and not find the ghost, and then have to go back and grab more equipment.UPDATE: While this is true at the lower difficulties, it’s much less true on larger maps, and higher difficulties where the ghost can begin hunting you much faster. The bit about equipment is also not true, as with more players and a strong plan of attack, you can sweep faster and move quicker. The controls are miserable. With mouse and keyboard, the ability to pick up and manipulate things feels extremely limited, and makes it very frustrating to do things like get cameras in good positions. I don’t actually know how to even light a candle in non-VR, since you can’t have a lighter and a candle out at the same time; you can only have one thing in your hand.UPDATE: You need to have the smudge stick out and press F while the lighter is in your inventory. You can also light them by using the lighter on a dropped smudge stick.
- The VR has one of the single worst movement implementations that I’ve ever seen in a VR game, and commits the number one sin of VR camera movement: You DO NOT have the player move in a way where the in-game camera moves, and the real life player stays still. This is how you make people sick. And this is exactly how Phasmaphobia does it. I wasn’t able to complete a single round before having to take off my headset and lie down for like 15 minutes, making Phasmaphobia the first VR game I’ve played to make me feel ill.
- The VR controls suck. This one honestly might be because I’m using a Vive, but the VR controls use the thumbpads for movement, and this includes just touching the thumbpads, not actually pressing on them. Every time I did so, the game started spinning me around or lurching me forward. I found it insanely frustrating. If you’re thinking “Well, just don’t touch the thumbpads,” I’d like to point out that you have to be able to move around, and in addition, because of the way you grip the controllers, you will almost always be touching the thumbpads.
- The game is buggy. If you try to load into a game, and the game doesn’t let everyone from your lobby load in, you’re gonna have to restart the game, and remake the whole lobby. Same thing could be said for the voice recognition. It’s cool, but it doesn’t always seem to actually, well, work. There isn’t really physics for any of the objects, and I’ve had situations where ghost types that are supposed to create freezing temperatures just… don’t. I’ve had situations where I can go into the building, shout myself blue in the face about the ghost, and have nothing happen. The second my two friends walk in, the ghost shows up, locks the building, and strangles one of them to death. This is for ghosts that the guide tells us are “Shy, and will only react to one person”. UPDATE: I’d say that some of this is still true, but the game has gotten updates that have made some things show up easier, and I’ve had less instances of crashes when attempting to load in. Generally speaking, the game feels much less clunky, but it also might partly be I know what I’m doing at this point.
So here’s the thing. Despite that above, I’m still playing and enjoying Phasmaphobia, but I feel like at least to an extent, it’s because I have a solid group of 2-3 other people to play with. Strategizing, planning, and looking for clues cooperatively is a really neat experience when it works the way it should, and the game is still fairly challenging for us with the larger maps. With that said, there are also still issues. Taking pictures of ghosts is incredibly hit or miss, running away from ghosts and hiding is kinda “eh”, and I honestly have no idea how crucifixes are supposed to work.
For the $14 cost of the game, I’d buy Phasmaphobia as long as I had a group of people to play it with, but if I was going in solo, I’d probably pass.