When things go bump in the night, the solution is to shoot said things with a massive shotgun filled to the muzzle with salt. Or a spectral energy cannon. Or a shoulder-mounted harpoon. And when your poltergeist pest is little more than ectoplasmic sludge on the floor, you can vacuum it up and consider the spook exorcized. That’s business as usual for Midnight Ghost Hunt, a ghostbusting PvP game from new studio Vaulted Sky Games.
After playing a handful of matches with the developers, though, I’ve found that blasting spirits is just one of Midnight Ghost Hunt’s many ideas. Its 4v4 setup is split across two teams, the hunters and the ghosts, each of which has very different goals and gameplay styles. As a hunter you’re playing an FPS where you enter a haunted location with the goal of finding and eliminating the four enemy spectres within. Ghosts, meanwhile, must disguise themselves as one of the dozens of everyday objects littering the map in an attempt to avoid the wannabe Venkmans until the in-game clock strikes midnight.
Midnight Ghost Hunt screenshots
It’s hide and seek with proton packs, then. But there’s plenty more going on that gives me reason to think that Midnight Ghost Hunt could be more than just an unlicensed Ghostbusters novelty. Much of that comes from its asymmetry, which is surprisingly Rainbow Six Siege-ish in its execution. Each match consists of three distinct phases, starting with 90 seconds of preparation during which ghosts can explore the map to find the perfect item to possess and set up defences. Simultaneously, the hunters choose their equipment off site.
In the second phase hunters have five minutes to seek and destroy the enemy ghosts. An inventory of delightfully analogue gizmos, such as the footprint-revealing Pathfinder and the noise-detecting Spectrophone, can be used to help track down spooks. But discovering that a chair or basketball or even a duck is actually a ghost is just the start; you’ll then need to destroy it with your ramshackle ghostbusting guns — an activity that seems to always result in a fun Looney Tunes-like chase around the map — and then vacuum up the ectoplasmic remains to ensure it can’t be resurrected by its teammates.
In direct contrast to the hunters, ghosts are unable to directly inflict damage, and so have a much more defensive playstyle. Alongside being able to hide within objects, they can deploy a variety of abilities to distract or delay their predators, such as spectral hands that reach up out of the floor to hold a hunter in place, or items that whizz through the air to crash into passing enemies. Essentially an arsenal of debuffs, the idea is to use these skills to hold out for as long as possible, rather than actually kill the hunters. That’s because if the ghosts can survive the five minutes of this phase, then the in-game clock strikes midnight and things get substantially more violent.
Should the ghosts be able trigger this third and final phase, any busted spooks are resurrected and the whole team transforms into terrifyingly powerful spectres that can attack with brutal effect. It’s a wild change in circumstances that elaborately bursts the tension bubble as the echoes of the dead are turned into nuclear missiles that shriek “boo”.
This “midnight” phase lasts for four minutes and is a riotous party for the ghosts, but an agonizing bloodbath for the hunters. In principle, I really love this flipping of the tables, and it’s a wonderful reward for a team of ghosts who successfully evade destruction. It also really brings the Ghostbusters fantasy alive for both teams; across all six rounds that I played, it always proved itself as the most intense and energetic segment of a match. It also perfectly evokes the action sequences of ghost movies, which is clearly Vaulted Sky’s goal. But I can’t help but feel that, in its current format, the midnight phase is just a long, brutal punishment for failing hunters. They technically can survive those four minutes and get out alive, but the odds feel stacked at skyscraper height against a hunter crew.
With Midnight Ghost Hunt only just going into closed beta on PC via Steam, though, there’s plenty of time for this to change and improve. I hope Vaulted Sky Games can find an approach that both retains the fear but provides a better sense of balance in that final phase, as I’m impressed by everything else on show. The hide-and-seek middle phase feels, at least from my short time with it, admirably balanced. The ‘80s throwback presentation is genuinely cool, and the map designs gleefully pull from classic horror tropes. Each weapon, gadget, and ability seems to offer a unique slant, and I can envision them being used to create a variety of different specializations within a team. And compared to other Prop Hunt-style games I’ve played, it stands out as having more potential depth and simple raw excitement. It would be a shame for four minutes of carnage to tarnish all that, and so I’ll light a few candles to the dark spirits and hope that Midnight Ghost Hunt can find a way to completely live up to its spooky promise.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.