Ghostwire: Tokyo has been an interesting proposal since Tango Gameworks and Bethesda Softworks introduced it at their E3 showcase in 2019. We knew it dealt with paranormal legends in urban Tokyo, but it’s quite the far cry from the intense and visceral horror Tango previously handled in the likes of The Evil Within. Ghostwire: Tokyo is, instead, a far more mysterious and suspenseful thriller built into an open world. While it can sometimes drag under the weight of extra tasks, it is still an incredible, beautiful, and often unsettling overall journey through a ghost and demon-infested Tokyo.
A timely meeting of spirit and flesh
Ghostwire: Tokyo begins with protagonist Akito on his way to visit his sister Mari at a hospital when he gets into a deadly motorcycle accident that almost kills him. At the same time, a spirit known as KK is in desperate search of an earthly vessel to possess. Finding Akito just weak enough to be possessed, KK tried to take over Akito only to find that he has some fight left. Akito resists total possession and his body ends up housing both KK and himself. As this happens, a fog sweeps Shibuya, disintegrating all human life so that only their spirits remain. Demons known as Visitors quickly descend upon the spirits to try to take them to the underworld. Because of their sudden living dead state, KK and Akito survive the fog unharmed and KK is able to lend Akito his spiritual power to fight back.
The cause of all of this chaos is a devilish fellow known as Hannya, who has engaged in a ritual to attempt to open the gates to the underworld. It just so happens, Akito’s comatose sister is a good catalyst for completing the ritual. KK was also fighting against Hannya before he died. With Akito unable to fight Visitors without KK’s spiritual power and KK unable to survive outside Akito's body, they end up in an uneasy alliance to save Mari and stop Hannya.
Once Ghostwire: Tokyo is done setting the stage, it casts you off into the streets of Shibuya, which are beautifully designed. The fog that descended on the city literally whisked all people to nothingness in the middle of their lives. Everything is still active as it was when the incident occurred sans human life and Tango Gameworks does an amazing job of presenting a city full of lights, sounds, hustle, and bustle where all operators and inhabitants suddenly disappeared. Street intersections are often full of car wrecks, music echoes out of nearby bars and eateries, shopping centers sparkle with neon lighting, and clothes, baby carriages, bikes, and other everyday life items are left cattywampus in every corner of the urban sprawl. It’s stark and beautiful at the same time, and accented even more so by Tango’s liberal use of fog and rain, which bend and reflect light and imagery gorgeously.
That’s not to say Ghostwire: Tokyo’s city is completely empty. The spirits have pretty much taken over where life once was. Mostly, that can be seen in the form of the Visitors, who take on a number of forms influenced by the lore and mythology of Japanese demons. It begins with blank-faced umbrella-wielding fellows that remind me of Slenderman, but it continues with the likes of wraiths, child spirits, and enormous, ruthless women wielding massive scissors to name a few. You run into a lot of these Visitors frequently, but Ghostwire: Tokyo also does a pretty good job of introducing new and more daunting threats throughout the game.
Not all of Ghostwire’s demons are malicious. Some take on the form of more friendly or benign presences. Throughout the city are nekomata cat spirits that run shops and help keep you stocked up on healing food and weapons if you pay the price. There are also Oni mountain spirits, Kodama tree spirits, Kappa water spirits, and a number of further encounters inspired by Japanese lore. Each is well-presented in their encounters and are fascinating takes on common stories. In fact, pretty much most of Ghostwire: Tokyo is a journey through urban and traditional Japanese mythology. Some are more fleshed out than others, but the constant blend of Tango Gameworks’ take on the paranormal into the depths of its massive urban setting is quite fun and often spectacular in terms of visuals and engagement. It even sparsely uses music outside of the environmental sounds except for when encounters call for it, and when the music does come up, it’s quite intense and effective.
The only thing I would say drags on Ghostwire: Tokyo’s presentation is that sometimes it tries to do too much and the performance on PS5 seems to suffer a bit for it. The game has both a performance and quality mode, the former prioritizing a high framerate and the latter offering enhanced ray tracing effects while trying to stay at 30 FPS. Quality Mode is gorgeous and wonderful for screenshots, but Performance Mode doesn’t look half bad either. However, there were quite a number of times where even in Performance Mode, a large amount of activity would cause some choppiness. It wasn’t enough to ruin a good time, but the more hectic enemy encounters with a lot going on did chew up the performance a bit. Other than that, it’s a gorgeous game with a gorgeous variety of visuals, sound, and action.
Sending spirits packing
The main beat of Ghostwire: Tokyo is chasing after Hannya, fighting off Visitors, and saving innocent spirits. To that end, this game is played like an open world first-person shooter. KK supplies Akito with a number of powers and gear to use in a variety of situations. You begin with wind powers that can be shot like rapid-fire bolts or charged to fire homing bolts, but you get further tools like water and fire elements with their own properties, a bow that can be charged for powerful long-range shots, and talismans that can freeze enemies, distract them, and make them weaker.
Killing Visitors means chipping away at their forms to reveal a spiritual core that you can rip out at close or long range to kill them. You can also just blast them to bits with liberal use of your gear. Taking their core heals you, but it takes time to do and can leave you open to damage. That said, there is also stealth in this game and you can sneak up on a Visitor to rip out their core in one strike and even the playing field before fighting the rest. Ultimately, Ghostwire’s combat presents you with a lot of options to go about it and a good variety of threats to keep you on your toes.
There’s also the fog. It’s thick throughout the city and keeps you from exploring freely (entering it will damage you until you get out of it). That fog also obscures some of your main objectives, and so you have to head to Torii gates and shrines hidden around the city to cleanse them. Doing so purifies the area of fog, allowing you to explore more of the city and pursue the main quest. It also opens up a multitude of side tasks. The spirits of the people who were whisked away are everywhere in Ghostwire: Tokyo. By using paper dolls, you can rescue those spirits and bring them to one of KK’s friends to save them, supplying you with experience to level up and increase your abilities with your spirit powers and gear.
You’ll also find quests from lingering spirits that task you with any number of encounters based on the aforementioned Japanese mythology and lore. Some are more fleshed out and others are simply quick romps. I particularly liked one where we took a ghost train to an ethereal “last stop” where a malicious spirit awaited in a reality-contorting abyss. Ghostwire: Tokyo is at its best when paranormal activity distorts the world in real-time as you are chasing the truth of any given predicament, giving it effects very similar to the best parts of games like F.E.A.R.
Unfortunately, not every one of Ghostwire: Tokyo’s side tasks are riveting. There’s one where you have to chase down Tanuki raccoon spirits hidden throughout the city. They can only be recognized by their tail sticking out of common objects they are mimicking. Sometimes, you can pray at shrines to reveal their locations, but you can’t do that with all of them. Ghostwire: Tokyo’s urban sprawl is such a chaotic mess that I found it really hard to spot objects out of place like that. The game also has a ton of other “collectathon” side tasks that I think just drag down the overall pace of the game. They’re still pretty charming, but the sheer amount of them wears out the welcome in an otherwise gripping paranormal adventure.
Specters in the sleek city streets
Ghostwire: Tokyo is, first and foremost, beautiful. Its realistic city elements blended with the ethereal and supernatural create a cornucopia of amazing visuals and sound. Even when the hardware struggles to keep up sometimes, it’s never so much so that the game loses that sense of mystery and awe. Just as well, a big part of that is Tango Gameworks’ creative adaptation of Japanese mythology and lore. Their takes on monsters, demons, ghost stories, and various legends come to life in a massive variety of fascinating ways, whether it’s the situations you encounter, the ways you fight against them, or the elements that aid you. I will say it’s a little bogged down in video game chores in the open world. However, when you’re on the trail of the main quest or any given side story, Ghostwire: Tokyo is a compelling adventure worth seeing through to the final spiritual release.
This review is based on a PS5 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Ghostwire: Tokyo releases on March 25, 2022 on PS5 and PC.
- Vast and gorgeous city to explore
- Wide array of encounters based on Japanese legends
- Solid sound design throughout city and encounters
- Huge collection of side quests in addition to main quest
- Enjoyable variety of upgradeable abilities and gear
- Performance stutters in busy situations
- Some side tasks feel like chores
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Ghostwire: Tokyo review: A striking city of spirits
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