It’s spooooooky season! I hope you heard that in a sufficiently spooky voice in your head. I’d say you can imagine my voice but you probably don’t know what I sound like, unless you know me (hi, Amy!). Just trust me: I sound very spooky. Okay, no, I don’t, but you don’t have to know that. What was I talking about again? Oh, right, it’s spooky season and I’ve been celebrating with horror movies and video games all month long. In addition to finishing Days Gone, I’ve been playing Castlevania from the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and, more to the point of this post, a little Steam early access game called Phasmophobia.
Phasmophobia is a 1-4 player co-op game where you and your team investigate an empty house to figure out what kind of ghost has been causing a ruckus. Yes, I said a ruckus. A ghostly ruckus. There are different kinds of ghosts, like poltergeists, demons, spirits, and yurei, and each has different strengths, weaknesses, and clues that they leave behind. You have several tools that “real” ghost hunters use, like EMF readers, thermometers, UV flashlights, and more, and you use these tools to detect the traces unique to each ghost. You might catch a spooky handprint on a window with the UV flashlight, freezing temperatures with the thermometer, or some demonic scrawls in a spirit book you left on the floor of the room you suspect is the specter’s “spot.” Once you collect three clues, you can narrow down which ghost you’re dealing with and get the fuck out of there.
And you will want to get the fuck out of there, because while the ghost may be harmless when you first arrive, after you and your team poke around too much, calling the ghost’s name or setting up gear, it gets angry. It might simply try and spook you by knocking something off a shelf, making the lights flicker, or lightly tapping a key on the family piano. Eventually, however, it will enter a “hunting phase,” where your flashlights will begin to flip out, all external doors will slam and lock, and the ghost will search high and low for a victim. You communicate with team members via walkie talkie, so if a team member dies you might not even know it unless they don’t respond to your calls or you come across their dead, sometimes twisted corpse. I have been playing with my friends Tab and Ron, and here is an example of Tab’s corpse:
What’s that? Are they looking under the car for some keys they dropped? No. They are dead, folded in half by a ghost. I have played a lot of horror games in my time (*strokes long, white beard, indicative of great age and eternal wisdom*), but I have honestly never been so scared playing a game. Okay, maybe that one time, but I was a child. I am a full grown man now (in body, anyway). I served in the military for six years, trained briefly with Marines on a deployment to the Middle East, and live on my own in a very old and creepy house – and yet, when I am alone in a dark room, holding a small glowing radio that’s hissing static, and I whisper “where are you?” only to hear the radio immediately chirp “behind,” followed by a loud hiss whooshing by my ears, I get chills and almost projectile vomit from fear. Okay, the second part was an exaggeration, but this is legitimately the first game to give me chills. Mr. X? Psh. Pyramid Head? *yawn* Betty Brown, formerly of the Ridgeview Road House? *shudder*
At the time of this writing, I have played this game for 61 hours, and while we’ve certainly gotten better at the game and are less scared, we are still very often scared out of our wits. We strut in bravely, thermometers and flashlights in hand, and as soon as we hear a low gurgle accompanied by heavy footsteps, we run as fast as our slow, janky legs will carry us. The game is janky and unfinished, but it’s still a blast to play with friends. And more than almost any other game, I really do feel like friends are necessary for this. Can you play by yourself? Yes. I tried just such a thing, early on, before I knew the stench of my own solitary fear (I’m not even kidding, my sweat seriously stinks when I play this game. My gym sweat? Not bad! Phasmophobia sweat? Like a skunk that shit the bed. Ladies, I am available *kissie emoji*).
It takes a long time to make money at first in this game, so after a play session with Tab, I decided I would try a solo run. I gave myself an actual pep talk before I went in. “It’s just a game. You won’t lose anything if you die. You’re not risking anything. You don’t even believe in ghosts! Just do it. It’s. Just. A. Game.” So I stupidly went in this dark, empty house, all by my dumbass self, and after about two minutes I was in a darkened laundry room. It was cold so I knew the ghost was there. I needed to set up some equipment before I left. I would just make this one trip, I told myself. It’ll be quick. I found a shelf to place a remote video camera and began positioning it when the door to the room slammed and I heard a very loud “HHAAAHHH” move right through me. My heart leapt through my fucking chest, I almost choked, and I straight up closed Steam. Nope.
Let me talk you through a few pictures. First up is a ghost that killed me, stalking Ron. When you’re killed, you return as a spectral form, though you can’t do all the fun stuff that the evil ghost can. You can basically just follow your friends around and ask eerily “why didn’t you save me?” even though they can’t hear you. In this game, I died and watched Ron stand outside the front door, trying to call in and get the ghost to respond. He made the mistake of stepping just a smidge over the threshold, though, and the ghost seized its chance, shutting the door behind him and immediately entering its hunting phase. Ron couldn’t see the ghost but he could hear its heavy boots and gross, ghosty throat gurgles behind him. I, however, could see the whole thing. The ghost, an old man, jaw broken and half hanging from his face, wielded a machete and chased Ron to another room, where Ron was actually lucky to escape.
I don’t have a lot of great screenshots of ghosts because when they do appear as visible in the game, there is a good chance you are either about to die or you just shit your proverbial pants and the last thing on your mind is reaching over and hitting fn>F12. We were determined to get a picture of the ghost once, though, so we hatched a plan. Closets, we deduced, are safe spaces. If you hide in a closet the ghosts don’t seem to kill you, no matter how angry they get. So, in one house, Tab hid in one closet while Ron monitored the ghost’s location from the team van. I opened a different closet near Tab’s so that I could run in and hide once I snapped a pic of the ghost, then I waited in the hallway, camera in hand, as Tab spoke to the ghost to anger it. We were both nervous and jumpy. Finally we saw lights flash and I heard the telltale ghost sounds, but I didn’t see the ghost so I freaked out and ran for the closet. Immediately I knew my mistake. I saw it before I even stepped in. The ghost was in the closet. In leaving the door ajar, I apparently left it wide open for ghostly tenants to hop in and scare the ever-loving shit out of me. As you can see from the picture in the top right, I did get the photo, though.
This next picture was taken tonight. Ron and I were playing, and we narrowed the ghost’s room down to either a bedroom or the adjoining bathroom. We had set up some equipment but we didn’t have much in the way of evidence. We gingerly wandered back into the room to look for stray fingerprints or a polite “DIE DIE DIE” written in the spirit book. We entered and as soon as I spun around the lights went out and we heard ol’ groany. Our characters’ hearts began thumping loudly (as they do when a ghost is very close), and without thinking I snapped a picture, hoping to catch a glimpse of something before my head was twisted around the wrong way. We hauled ass and made it out alive, but check out the shot I caught:
One of our favorite things to do now is play “roulette.” We need a catchier name for it. Ghost roulette? Spectral roulette? Roulettemeoutofhererightnow? We’ll figure it out. Anyway, this is a game I suggested a few days ago and we’ve played it twice so far. The first time we played, we located the ghost before starting, but it’s not necessary and we didn’t do it the second time. Basically, we only bring in photo cameras and maybe a flashlight to toss on the floor so we know when the ghost is hunting. We pick a room, each stand in a different corner, then take turns saying things to the ghost. Last person standing wins. Even though it’s more predictable than a normal round, it’s still very scary. I have also suggested we play a version where we take turns running through the house (in the front door and out the back), calling the ghost’s name the entire time. If the back door locks and you can somehow escape the ghost, you get to try again. I also think it would be fun to each stand in a separate room when we play roulette and only say something once every full minute. That way, if one of us died it would be at least three full minutes before the others realized it (because the dead person wouldn’t say their line), and three minutes is more than enough time for a ghost to start a second hunt.
Okay, I think I’ve babbled on enough about this game, but it was a very fun and unexpected surprise, and the absolute perfect game for the Halloween season. I’m sure our interest will drop off eventually, but I’m already looking forward to our next session, and I can’t wait to check the game out once it gets out of early access and the developers have implemented all of the features they’re planning. Until then, I’ll just be here, in the dark, speaking in a hoarse whisper into my glowing hiss box: “Where are you?” “Are you a girl?” “Can I help?” “Are you single?”
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