The newest early access Steam game rocking the top sellers list is a cooperative ghost hunting game called Phasmophobia. In Phasmophobia, up to four players team up to investigate various haunted locations and identify the ghosts that reside there. The game is based off popular TV shows where teams of ghost hunters will head into abandoned locations and wander about in the dark, calling out and trying to talk ghosts. Weird events will happen around the TV show hosts like books falling off shelves or lights flickering, but the general consensus of most viewers seems to be that the paranormal activity shown is clearly fake. The hosts will occasionally act as though they feel a malevolent presence and decide to book it out of the haunted location before something bad happens to them, although nothing bad will ever occur. The hosts are never in any real danger. In Phasmophobia, the ghosts are real, and they will kill you.
Phasmophobia can be played in single player, however, bringing a few friends along will make the terrifying game a bit easier to handle. Players start out in a garage packed with ghost hunting supplies that serves as a home base and a place from which to launch missions. There’s a basketball hoop that players can use to relax between missions. A whiteboard on one of the walls allows the players to purchase and choose what gear to bring along on their next outing. This gear includes tools such as flashlights, thermometers, night vision cameras, and EMF (electro magnetic frequency) readers.
Each mission starts with the players inside a truck containing the equipment they chose to bring along and several screens that track the levels of activity in the haunted location and show views from the cameras that can be set up. There is a whiteboard with mission objectives such as taking a photo of the ghost, finding an EMF level of 5, or hearing the ghost talk on the radio. Players get money for each objective they complete and for successfully identifying the type of ghost residing in the haunted location. There are over ten different types of ghosts that can randomly show up, each with their own unique quirks and tendencies, with the developers planning to add more before the full release of the game. Each player has access to a journal that gives them all the information about the ghosts that they need to properly identify them. All that’s left is for the players to head in and find the identifying evidence.
All it takes is one step inside the haunted location to know that you’re in a for a teeth chattering time. The atmosphere of Phasmophobia is relatively calm when you’re outside of the house, preparing in the truck, but as soon as you’re inside the atmosphere is instantly suffocating. The background noise doubles inside the haunted locations. It switches from silence and the occasional drop of rain or gust of wind, to an ominous hum that makes it feel as though the walls are folding in around you. Standing in the haunted location, listening to the background noise, and knowing there is some entity listening to you, is one of the most terrifying experiences of any game I’ve played. And that’s before the ghost becomes active at all. The cleverest mechanic that Phasmophobia brings to the cooperative horror genre is that it uses the players’ microphones against them.
The best way to get the ghosts to start interacting with players and to start showing themselves is to say their name and ask questions. Players communicate in Phasmophobia like they would in real life: they’re only able to hear each other when they’re nearby or over walkie-talkies. It helps the game feel immersive, to a horrific degree; the ghost will track you down by your voice if you talk while it’s hunting. This leads to incredibly tense moments when players realize the ghost is hunting and scramble to hide while holding their breath. When the ghost stops hunting and the lights come back on, it’s time to make a role call and see if everyone survived. Dead players cannot talk to living players, so often the survivors are met with silence on the other end of the walkie-talkie or stumble across the corpse. Dead players see the world through a fog and can hear the remaining players, but cannot help them in any way. Additionally, players who die lose all their gear that they had brought with them for the mission.
The pictures do not showcase the true quality of Phasmophobia. The models and texture work are rather simplistic, but the lighting and ambience of the game are the best that I have encountered in a long time. Every aspect of the game works beautifully to make a truly terrifying cooperative experience. I have not encountered many bugs at all, despite the game being in early access. If you have some friends to pick up the game with you, Phasmophobia is an easy recommend to horror fans.