Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden review: this tale of fantasy and ghosts is RPG catnip

 (Focus Entertainment)
(Focus Entertainment)

It’s Valentine’s week, so in the spirit of that: what says romance louder than coming back from the death to haunt your lover?

Welcome to Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, which has slipped somewhat under the radar this month. But maybe that’s about to change, because there are the bones of a very enjoyable game here.

Our romantically-entangled protagonists are Red mac Raith and Antea Duarte. These guys are Banishers – basically, Ghostbusters, if Ghostbusters was set in 1695 – who rock up at the American colony town of New Eden to respond to reports of a haunting. All in a day’s work, you might think.

So do they, until Antea winds up killed by a malevolent spectre and becomes a ghost herself. Stranded miles from New Eden, the pair set out to reclaim Antea’s body and deal with the haunting once and for all – all while getting to grips with her strange new powers and what this means for their love life.

 (Focus Entertainment)
(Focus Entertainment)

If this sounds like RPG catnip, it is. The town of New Eden, where we start the game, is pure Resident Evil: banging shutters, creepy mist and derelict clapboard housing. Later on, we traverse woods, settler towns and caverns, all of which feature spooks that need to be dealt with, and all of which are appropriately atmospheric (even if the 2015-era graphics and an open world rather empty of stuff to do break immersion somewhat).

As might be expected, the bulk of the gameplay revolves around Red and Antea smiting all sorts of paranormal spectres back to the abyss from which they came. Most of this is done via the hack’n’slash approach: Red armed with his sword and a burning torch, and Antea with her bare, ghostly fists. In a fun twist, the player can switch between the two mid-combat, allowing each of them to unleash their own special attacks, of which more can be unlocked as the game progresses and they level up.

That said, it still feels a tad generic: both Red and Antea only have the one weapon each, with the same basic attacks. Totally fine if you’re a player that lacks subtlety (like me), but factor in the hordes of fairly rote enemies (there’s not a whole lot of diversity here) and things start to get a bit wearing, ten hours in.

 (Focus Entertainment)
(Focus Entertainment)

Fortunately, there’s another strand to the game: solving active hauntings. This is where Red and Antea need to combine their skills to track down the ghosts pestering living humans, and deal with whatever unfinished business is tethering them to the world. Pleasingly, most of these cases aren’t cut-and-dried: most feature some kind of thorny moral quandary, which makes judgement especially tricky.

Why? Because this is where the game’s moral arc really comes into play. The player can choose – will you execute the living, in order to build up enough power to resurrect Antea? Or banish the dead, and in doing so eventually doom Antea to the same fate?

If this works, it’s because the relationship at Banishers’ core keeps it compelling. Red and Antea are great protagonists, and they’re beautifully voiced by Amaka Okafor and Russ Bain: their easy repartee and obvious love for each other make them a joy to spend time with. In a nice twist, Antea is also Red’s teacher, balancing out his enthusiasm with insights into the cases they’re solving.

As they progress through the game, their choices play out in real time and impact the ending of the story, adding a welcome grittiness to Banishers. By the time the finale rolls around, Red and Antea will have your heart, even if their handling of souls leave something to be desired. All together now: ahhhhh.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden will be released on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S from February 13