It might surprise you to find out that I am, and always have been, an anxious individual. Even with constant white noise, I hyperfocus on every bump and creak I hear while sleeping. My general neuroticism has led to me feeling tired and stressed much of the time, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can manage it for the most part. What does any of this have to do with Phasmophobia, the hot new horror release of the season? To put it simply, Phasmophobia is something of a stress simulator for people like myself.
Phasmophobia, which is an Early Access title available on Steam, is a cooperative-focused horror game made by Kinetic Games that has quickly become very popular – especially with streaming audiences on Twitch. The premise is simple: you and up to three partners team up to investigate a haunted location. You scour the location, room by room, using a handful of tools to gather evidence of the paranormal. If you manage to determine what type of entity is haunting the locale and escape with your life, you are given a cash reward. Escaping is easier said than done, however.
Who You Gonna Call?
There are dozens of items available for purchase in the game, but your “starter kit” consists of seven. Flashlights (both traditional and UV) are a must and are always available, but items such as tripods (used to effectively position video cameras) and crucifixes (used to pacify hostile ghosts) are purchased with in-game cash and lost if you are killed by a ghost. You can only carry three items at once, but can return to your truck at any time to exchange items. The truck also acts as your base of operations, allowing you to monitor certain aspects of the mission.
After deciding which items you want to risk bringing along, you choose a location appropriate for the size of your team and roll out to Spooksville. Once the proper mission loads, be sure to carefully select your items before opening the truck and approaching the haunted locale. Don’t forget the key! A countdown timer located above the video monitor will begin to tick away once you open the door to the truck, indicating how much time you have before the ghostly presence becomes hostile.
The Evil Dead
Upon entering the haunted structure, the ambience changes significantly. The game is best experienced with a good pair of headphones so you can take in the excellent sound design. A pervasive, low-frequency drone sets the tone for your investigation of the often pitch-black environment. Creaking – even from your own footsteps – will rattle you. Bumps and thumps can be heard from seemingly every direction. It’s wise to move from room to room quickly before that aforementioned timer hits zero.
The atmosphere may be oppressive, but your first round of investigation will likely have few, if any, incidents. You’ll shine a UV light on windows looking for fingerprints, scan objects with an EMF reader, and listen for voices with a frequency-scanning “spirit box.” After using your first set of tools on the entire house, it’s best to return to the truck, jot down any evidence in your journal, and grab a handful of new tools. Steel yourself for what is likely to be a more eventful second round of ghost hunting.
How Phasmophobia Is Like Paranormal Activity
As you go through each room a second time, measuring temperatures and setting up video cameras, you will experience strange phenomena more and more frequently. Much like the Paranormal Activity films, Phasmophobia excellently escalates the tension. The playful flickering of lights eventually leads to objects being thrown across rooms and doors being angrily slammed. You might even hear a raspy voice hissing in your ear, telling you to “get out now!” After obtaining that third crucial piece of paranormal evidence, you make a beeline to the front door.
Just when you think you’re safe…
Fear Is The Mind (And Body) Killer
…the door slams shut, right in your face. The ghastly presence had opened and closed doors throughout the investigation, but something is different this time. Something is off. You grasp for the doorknob and realize you are locked inside. The hunter has become the hunted.
The lights of the house that you so methodically turned on suddenly start to flash, so you take out your trusty flashlight. The beam struggles to illuminate your surroundings as the lights’ flashing becomes more erratic.
The temperature of the room suddenly drops to the point where you can see your own breath, but that doesn’t stop beads of sweat from forming upon your brow.
You run down the hallway and into the master bedroom, closing the door behind you. You recall the book that you had left on the dresser earlier in the investigation, which was left open to reveal its empty contents. Glancing at the book, you see the words “LEAVE OR DIE” messily scrawled over and over onto every single page.
That’s when the noises begin.
A series of excruciatingly loud thuds begins. It sounds like someone running upstairs, but the pace is strangely rhythmic, like a heart that is about to explode. The sounds become more cacophonous as you back into a corner with your flashlight aimed at the door.
A low, croaky voice whispers into your ear, and that’s when you see it – or at least you think you do. A disfigured shadow phases in and out of existence at the edges of your flashlight’s circular beam.
The twisted apparition gets closer each time it appears, but you can’t get a full view of what it is. After several moments, it seems to disappear for good. You breathe a sigh of relief as rotten fingers stretch over your face from behind. It takes but a moment for your life to be snuffed out completely.
“This house… is clean.”
Forgive my self-indulgent creative writing, but it’s the only way I can think of to effectively convey the section of the game in which you are being hunted by a spirit. These moments are truly horrifying and leave you with little time to scramble to a safe spot in the hopes that the resentful presence will lose your trail and cease its pursuit. If you’re lucky enough to survive, you can escape the building, write down what type of spirit you encountered in your journal, and escape in your truck. Successfully identifying the spirit will earn you a well-deserved cash bonus.
So How Scary Is Phasmophobia?
Phasmophobia is a game that’s best played with friends so that you can split your ghost-hunting duties. With a full group of four, you might even be able to justify having one person in the truck the entire time, monitoring unusual activity within the home or watching a video feed from a head-mounted camera. There’s a lot of flexibility, and if you’re ambitious enough, you can even attempt to investigate one of the larger locations by yourself. Be wary, though, as the spirit will become more aggressive over time, and your sanity meter will dip as you experience paranormal events.
This game will make your spine tingle and your flesh crawl. It preys upon humans’ innate fear of the dark and does an excellent job of making you flinch at even the tiniest of sounds as you sneak through dark hallways. It’s not for the faint of heart, but as someone who is often kept awake by innocuous sounds, I can say that I personally find the experience to be somewhat cathartic. It gives you a safe place to face your fears, and while it might be overwhelming at times, you can always turn the power off and walk out of the room.