Misfire: Tokyo

HIGH Shibuya at night looks absolutely beautiful.

LOW The combat is basic and repetitive from start to finish.

WTF Hitting endgame and wondering if I’d accidentally skipped half the story.

It’s been a while since we first heard about Ghostwire: Tokyo. I was immediately excited given that The Evil Within 2 is one of the best (and most underappreciated!) survival horror titles on the market, and the direction of this new IP seemed right up my alley. There’s a divide between expectation and reality, however, and now that I’ve played through Ghostwire, my feelings are mixed.

Ghostwire‘s story is that a man named Akito is on his way to visit his sister in hospital as the game begins, but he’s mauled in a traffic accident at the Shibuya crossing as an otherworldly fog rolls in and dissolves every human it touches except him. (He’s saved because he’s just been possessed.) The deadly fog brings evil ghosts known as Visitors, and only the fused pairing of Akito and his possessor (named KK) can stand against the man behind it all — a crazy occultist in a Hannya mask with a flair for melodramatic speeches and a squad of masked spirit ninja at his side.

Taking place across a reasonably large chunk of open-world Shibuya, one of Ghostwire‘s greatest strengths is its sense of identity. At first the available area is tightly constrained by the deadly fog that will kill Akito if he’s in it for too long, but it soon opens up as he purifies various shrines and Torii gates and pushes the fog back. It isn’t long before he can scale massive towers or weave in and out of alleyways and shops as he completes various missions and sidequests.

There’s a lot of stuff to hunt down in Shibuya, from Jizo statues that provide Akito with more spirit power and shops full of healing items, to various paranormal encounters that warp reality and lead to some seriously impressive setpieces as the world distorts and reassembles itself in mindbending ways. The freedom to explore and deal with spiritual elements taken from Japanese folklore is excellent, and it’s bolstered by a wonderfully detailed portrayal of an abandoned nighttime Shibuya.

The graphical detail and art design are excellent, from traditional shrines and small cul-de-sacs that rub shoulders with huge shopping malls and massive neon advertisements, and frequent rainstorms giving everything a wet and misty look. This is a lovingly-portrayed rendition of Shibuya, with a keen eye for detail apparent in nearly everything Akito comes across. Tango Gameworks have gone all out to ensure that this version of Tokyo is a stunning visual showcase for the new generation of hardware, and they’ve succeeded in style.

While nearly every human has been dissolved into ecto-juice by the fog, that doesn’t mean there aren’t friendly faces out there. Cats and dogs were spared, so petting and feeding them should be Akito’s first priority. Doing so offers little reward or progress, but they’re pets and therefore deserve the very best. Oh, and Akito can understand them somehow, which is rad as hell. Sadly, while the fur factor is strong, the core combat loop is far less engaging.

During a hands-off preview last month, I was excited to see small details like how perfectly guarding a thrown weapon could reflect it back at the attacker. It hinted at a depth in the combat engine that simply doesn’t exist in the final product. Sure, the reflect mechanic is still there, but there’s never any need to pull it off. Worse, there’s seldom any need for tactics other than backpedalling out of danger while blasting away at whatever’s chasing Akito or chucking a fireball if there’s a group. That’s about as complex as encounters get, and the limited upgrade system for Akito’s abilities fail to elevate the proceedings.

It’s a shame because the combat animations are excellent — cracking open a couple of enemies and ripping out their cores simultaneously looks cool. However, the elemental attacks Akito can do don’t feel like they have any impact and there’s no dodge or dash mechanic to quicken skirmishes. Akito also moves with a slow, lumbering pace. This all results in a type of combat that’s several layers of complexity away from where it needs to be.

The only gameplay element that seems to shake things up is that Akito’s spectral connection to KK will occasionally be severed. This temporary lack of a ghostly ally means that Akito will have to use a bow while engaging in a bit of basic stealth for a while, but these sections are generally quite brief and don’t offer enough variety.

Moreover, despite an intriguing initial premise, Ghostwire: Tokyo wastes no time flushing away its story. While KK and Akito make for a decent leading duo with some amusing, archetypical banter between the crabby old veteran KK and the headstrong but inexperienced new kid Akito, they’re the only characters with any decent scripting.

Every other character is horribly mishandled, and written in a way that shows a desire for players to care about them, yet there is absolutely no reason to do so. Without even tiny shreds of personality or charisma, they feel like baffling, meaningless plot contrivances that shuffle around pointlessly in the background.

Finally, it has to be mentioned that Ghostwire: Tokyo is a short experience. I did plenty of non-essential side content and paused to take in the sights frequently, and my playtime topped out at just under twelve hours. Anyone attempting to mainline could conceivably finish in around six hours, and that brief critical path feels like about half of it is filler.

Ghostwire: Tokyo is relaxing and pretty, and spending time exploring its rain-soaked metropolis is almost worth the price of admission by itself. It is also, however, a disappointing game that fails to fulfill its own potential with a repetitive combat system, too much checklist-ticking busywork, and an undercooked main storyline that fails to live up to its promise and contains no notable secondary characters. Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t a bad game — it just feels like it could have been so much more.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda. It is currently available on PS5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Language and Violence. The official description reads as follows: This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the role of a man facing off against a supernatural threat in Tokyo. From a first-person perspective, players explore the spirit world, collect mystical items, and battle various ghosts and demons in frenetic combat. Players use spells, talismans, and blasts of energy to defeat the spirits. A handful of ghosts wield machetes or giant scissors while menacing player’s character. Combat is highlighted by cries of pain and explosive light effects. One cutscene depicts the aftermath of a road accident, with several corpses lying on the ground. The words “sh*t,” “a*shole,” and “pr*ck” appear in the game.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.   

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/or resized.

There’s a lot of additional visual information in Ghostwire: Tokyo to help out when audio is unavailable. Indicators on screen show the states and locations of enemies who are nearby, and a spirit vision mode allows Akito to look through walls and see where enemies may be lurking before engaging. I’d say that it’s completely playable without audio.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Darren Forman
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