Midnight Ghost Hunt is the latest in a steadily lengthening line of Prop Hunt-inspired party games. There are two teams: the Ghosts, and the Hunters. The Ghosts can possess objects in the world to hide inside, and their job is to survive until midnight. The Hunters must use a variety of high-tech gadgets and weapons to track down and destroy the Ghosts before that time, or else risk being hunted themselves once midnight strikes.
The game is already out on Steam Early Access, and has been for a few weeks now. You’ll probably know already whether you’d be interested in giving it a go: after all, it’s Prop Hunt. But it’s also got a fair few more bells and whistles than other Prop Hunt-likes that I’ve come across. So, a group of us decided to get together one chill winter’s eve (sunny Friday morning actually, but hey, I’m tryna set a spooky tone), and bash each other’s heads with inanimate objects for a few hours. And judging from all the yelps and shouting, I’d say we had a good time.
Ollie: Let’s start at the beginning. How did we all get on in the opening moments of Midnight Ghost Hunt? We’re all coming in with varying amounts of experience with Prop Hunt-likes; were you able to get stuck into hunting and haunting pretty quickly, or was the array of perks and options all a bit overwhelming?
James: I like to think it helped to have played two weeks of Team Fortress 2 prop hunt back in 2010 or something. That said, I don’t think any prop hunt game in existence favours the props as much as Midnight Ghost Hunt - if you go in thinking you just need to shoot some candlesticks, pop the helpless spirits and head home, you’re going to end up with your soul sucked out pretty quickly.
Ed: I've not played Prop Hunt or a Prop Hunt-like at all, so I was a little intimidated. But hey, it didn't take too long to get into the rhythm of hiding and haunting. James is right, though, turns out possessing furniture is extremely powerful. Like, borderline too powerful.
Hayden: Like Ed, this was my first proper foray into hunting props, but I understood the general concept so nothing was too surprising. I’d agree that playing as the ghosts definitely clicked faster. There are plenty of powers to try out, like turning invisible or making objects levitate, and they’re much easier to grasp than the various prop-hunting tools. I’m still not sure how the radar works.
Ollie: The main innovation of Midnight Ghost Hunt does also seem like it might be the first stumbling block for a lot of players. Namely, just how many perks and powers there are to choose from. At first, most of these options are locked, but you’ll quickly earn enough ectoplasm from matches to unlock more skills to try out. Which is great! But as the overall skill level of the lobby increases, things get much more confusing, with ghosts capable of emitting false signals to trick radar-users, and hunters able to start using freezing weapons, grenades, and all sorts of other chaos-inducing implements.
Ed: I think the level of choice here is good, it's cool being able to kit out your character with a variety of ghostbusting tools or spectral support systems. But yeah, the sheer number of options can make the simple act of fight or flight an overly awkward bumble as you either fat-finger a button press or mentally short circuit.
Ollie: Of course, it might be that we were just all very bad. Judging by how many times I got thonked in the head by a possessed bench or gravestone, that’s very likely.
Hayden: Yeah, we got destroyed in those early sessions. A lot of our opponents were high levels, so they knew how everything worked while we were just stumbling around like fools.
When a haunted stack of books knocked out Ed by swinging a door in his face, then led me on a looping pursuit that ended with it knocking me out with the same fucking door, I was mad but also respected the play.
James: I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem that there’s so much to get your head around at first, as everyone starts off with a decent set of Hunter kit and a choice of two Ghost abilities. Everything else is basically learning curve stuff. For me the bigger frustration is that the Ghost powers are just so strong - when they can perfectly spoof your tracking gear, how can you ever trust it again except at the very start of a round?
And those powers come on top of the bread-and-butter tricks ghosts can pull, like flinging possessed objects as a surprise attack, or telekinetically messing with doors. I actually thought these base abilities were a lot more satisfying to use, and more interesting to play against, than the unlockable powers. When a haunted stack of books knocked out Ed by swinging a door in his face, then led me on a looping pursuit that ended with it knocking me out with the same fucking door, I was mad but also respected the play. Much more so than when someone simply pressed their “Use instant, completely hunter-negating magic” button.
Ed: That door ability got me so many times, but there's a way to get back into the action if you've succumbed to a slam. So long as someone on your team has a defibrillator, they can get you back up. That is, if the ghosties haven't sucked your soul dry. On the flipside, if you perish as a ghost you'll turn into a ghost of a ghost. This lets you haunt the remaining hunters with silly abilities like slowing auras and traps, and it's a great time being extra dead.
Ollie: It is indeed. I found myself sighing internally a little whenever it was time to be the Hunter instead of the Ghost. Theoretically the Hunters have as many quirks and perks to choose from as the Ghosts do, but there didn’t seem to be nearly as much room for clever tactics. That’s probably inevitable with these games, though. At least Midnight Ghost Hunt mixes things up in other ways with the titular Midnight mechanic.
James: Midnight sounded like the most tantalising twist before I’d played it: a complete reversal where the prop hunter becomes the prop hunted. And it does provide some of the game’s funniest moments, like having to fight off a gnashing, reanimated dinosaur skull while dodging a trio of flying benches. But if the initial hunting phase already leans towards the pro-ghost stance, this sends it even further out of whack. I don’t think we survived a single Midnight as hunters, or left a single survivor as the ghosts.
Hayden: I found the whole midnight thing really stressful at first. If the hunters don’t manage to eliminate all of the ghosts within a five minute window, they all respawn and get to fight back in a red rage. That’s great if the ghosts are scrambling to survive, but as James mentions, they’re almost always on top. It definitely flips the prop-hunt script on its head, but it just seems like another way to punish hunters.
I will say that things got a lot more entertaining when we mixed up the teams. Me and Ollie swapped over to the ghost side to play against James and Ed, making things more balanced, and that gave us a chance to mess around and learn how certain skills worked without dying almost instantly. That radar-spoofing that James mentioned? That was all me, and I was creasing with laughter while he desperately shot at everything in the room. Leading the others on a wild goose chase was maybe my favourite part of the whole experience.
Ollie: Yep, it’s always so much more satisfying when it’s friends you’re fooling instead of strangers. But it still feels like the Ghosts are the ones having the best time. One of my favourite moments in the whole game was after three of us ghosties had already been destroyed, and the only one left was a 3 HP James who had possessed a small ball and wedged himself under a staircase. And then midnight struck, and we all came back to life, ready to exact revenge upon our killers. It was a pure hit of dopamine. And yet, just like using clever tactics to mislead the Hunters’ instruments, it felt like the Ghosts were having fun at the Hunters’ expense.
James: For all my moaning about the Ghosts being overpowered, that incident did bring out the thrills of being hunted. Even when the timer ran down I was so deep into the sense of fear that when the Hunters did approach my little corner, I ran, still in ball form. Only after a minute or so of bouncing away, laugh-crying for help, did I realise I’d actually ascended to demonhood, and turned around to smack down all three pursuers with my bare ghost hands. See? Ghosts have more fun.
Ed: I feel like we've all got less exemplary moments as the hunters, but maybe that'll come with practice. We did get outplayed by a rival hunter who pretended to be AFK - or actually was for a bit - before he sprung to life and tore us to shreds. I clearly remember James bashing him as a box, then winding up another attack casually, before the enemy awoke and engaged his trap card. The ensuing squeals were exceptional.
Hayden: Hunting ghosts isn’t all poking objects and traipsing around though. One time, I spawned in the manor and immediately opened a nearby door to start my hunt before getting rushed by a ghost possessing a large knight. They leapt forward and chased me around like something out of an episode of Scooby Doo, only with lots more panicked screaming as I tried to get away. I think being on the receiving end of the ghosts’ hijinks is fun, but just come prepared for a prop-hunt that gives the props all of the power.
James: I am particularly fond of the weaponisable props, like that suit of armour and the cannons on the pirate ship map. Also, there’s a pirate ship map, which is dope.
Speaking of, I’d like to see more maps that don’t adhere so strictly to spoooooooky conventions. The haunted house and dilapidated church aren’t bad game spaces but there was much more novelty to ghostbusting a hidden cove, and that fossil-stuffed museum. Maybe some opportunities here for custom maps, if those become a thing?
Ollie: It feels like an uphill struggle for games like these to maintain a playerbase after launch, but custom maps would definitely be a big feather in Midnight Ghost Hunt’s cap. I’d love it if you could plonk a huge array of random props into a world and just play. Another of my favourite moments was when I was busy method-acting my way into a sofa as a Ghost, and from my vantage point in the corner I just saw a candelabra careen across the room, swiftly followed by a Hunter. And as it passed, me, the candelabra grumbled, in James’s voice: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” It was comically surreal. The more random moments like these, the better.
James: Clearly this, like most games, becomes more enjoyable when played with a perennially unfortunate hardware editor. Though in all seriousness, I agreed with Hayden when he said Midnight Ghost Hunt is at its best when you’ve got pals on both sides - the Hunter teamwork becomes more satisfying, and the Ghost outplays become funnier. I actually found it a little Among Us-esque in that regard, with round ends immediately followed by triumphant (but not ill-willed) gloating about who outsmarted who.
Ed: Yeah, the game is definitely built with mates in mind - not that playing against randoms is terrible or anything. But in all honesty, I couldn't see myself playing the game on my lonesome, at least not on the regular. But if a group of us got together at the end of every week for an hour or two, I wouldn't be averse to it, you know? It's a fun time in short bursts.
Despite the balancing issues, it’s just so easy to have fun in this silly brilliant little game.
Hayden: Those coming to Midnight Ghost Hunt alone can fill lobbies with bots if you don’t manage to find others online, but be warned: the bots seem a bit broken. Hunter bots snap onto ghosts with remarkable precision and seem mostly immune to any attempts at trickery. Ghost bots, on the other hand, are appropriately lifeless for something dead. I paid particular attention to one for an entire round to see if it had any tactics up its sleeve, but it remained in the same position and object for the full five minutes. Why even come back as a ghost if you don’t want to haunt people?
Ollie: Having bots in a game like this just doesn’t make sense. Ed’s right - I can’t see myself playing it without a dedicated group to play with. But that’s to be expected. I think if there’s any yardstick by which Midnight Ghost Hunt can be truly judged, it’s how much you’d be interested in making time once or twice a week for a session with your friends. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’d definitely be up for that - despite the game’s balancing issues. It’s just so easy to have fun in this silly brilliant little game.
James: On top of the need for a group, I’d probably want a few tweaks to stop Hunters having their early advantage so easily nullified. Or at the very least, make Midnight feel like it’s not just delaying an inevitable wipe; maybe allow for a Titanfall-style rush for the exits, instead of just giving the Ghosts five minutes to play with their food? I don’t think Team Poltergeist should be nerfed to the point that Midnight Ghost Hunt becomes just another prop hunt, but some levelling out wouldn’t hurt.
Hayden: Yeah, I’d need my whole gaming group on board if I were to revisit Midnight Ghost Hunt in the future. Although, I do wonder if my interest would only last until I’ve exhausted the more ridiculous props. Most of my favourite moments were the four of us rampaging around as a group of animal statues, or showing everyone the weird little troll that I’d found hidden behind a cupboard. Any new maps would need some equally wacky items, because I don’t think I’d come back to play as a garbage bag.
Ed: I am down for lightly toasting pigs in a museum again. That's an experience you can't find anywhere else, especially when said pig is probably a ghost and it's going to spring out of its snout and punch you to death.
James: I burned it so I wouldn’t have to fight it later.
Ed: And that's Midnight Ghost Hunt, baby.