Recently, GameCritics was invited to a hands-off demo stream of Bethesda’s upcoming PS5 console exclusive Ghostwire: Tokyo, developed by Tango Gameworks. As a huge fan of their previous release, The Evil Within 2, I jumped at the chance to check out their new game in action. After a short introduction by Game Director Kenji Kimura, we were treated to approximately half an hour of footage from near the start of the game. Not to spoil anything in advance, but it kinda looks rad as hell.
As the demo begins, Tokyo’s already been taken over by a vast fog that wipes out any human it touches — it seemingly vanishes them from existence and repopulates the city with legions of aggressive spirits in their place. Main character Akito has been fused with a deceased spirit hunter named KK, which (presumably) allowed him to survive almost unscathed, aside from some residual smoking eye shadow while everyone else… didn’t fare as well.
The fact that nearly everyone in the city got shunted into the spirit realm isn’t just some random occurrence though — we’re soon introduced to the villain behind it. He looks a lot like a modern-day shinobi wearing a distinctive hannya mask with one broken horn and ectoplasmic gunk spewing out of the eye sockets, so it’s unsurprising to find out that everyone calls him Hannya. He’s a cool-looking antagonist leading a team of spiritual terrorists, and who seems confident that he’s the good guy in this situation despite a penchant for monologues and essentially wiping out Tokyo.
Speaking of Tokyo itself, this is undoubtedly the best videogame translation of it I’ve seen since the Yakuza series. The level of detail is incredible, with still-lit neon signs splashing eye-poppingly vibrant colors around, and an enchantingly wet and foggy atmosphere that looks like it’ll be a pleasure to explore. The spiritual apocalypse has added some cool features to local streets and alleyways too, such as corrupted torii gates that glow with ethereal energy.
Exploration and gameplay offer a first-person perspective and an open world approach to gameplay progression. At one point in the demo, the player opened a map which showed a number of icons signifying points of interest scattered around, as well as safe zones which weren’t covered in soul-sapping fog. To expose more of the map and banish said fog, torii gates and shrines have to be purified along the way — it doesn’t look like it’s initially possible to simply run from one end of the map to the other. There seems to be a decent amount of verticality too, with one section showing unsuspecting Tengu being used as grappling points to scale buildings rapidly.
Enemies are a mishmash of spirits and folklore from Japanese culture, ranging from the aforementioned Tengu and Yokai to headless schoolgirls and faceless suited salarymen wobbling around with tattered umbrellas. Unlike The Evil Within, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of blood in Ghostwire: Tokyo, with Tango Gameworks seemingly attempting to unnerve players through enemy design instead of buckets of gore. However, even if this preview event wasn’t necessarily scary, it all looked cool in motion.
From the first trailer shown last year, I assumed that combat in Ghostwire: Tokyo would be hand-to-hand combat in the vein of Namco’s classic FPS melee brawler Breakdown, but that’s not the case at all. Under the tutelage of KK, Akito usually employs spiritual channeling techniques to fend off his enemies. This means that most of the action took place at about medium range — far enough to avoid getting his eyeballs ripped out of his skull by malevolent spirits, at any rate.
Smashing away at enemies during combat whittles down their ‘outer shell’, and once sufficiently damaged, our hero can rip their ‘cores’ out, killing or banishing them instantly. If several foes are clustered together in this state, it’s possible to yank all of their cores out simultaneously. Even better, it seems like players aren’t locked into these animations while under attack.
For example, during one sequence, a number of spectral schoolgirls attacked on the grounds of a local shrine. After a brief scuffle, the player started to tear out their cores. When one of the phantasms hurled a spiritual blade at our hero, he briefly paused the killing blow and deflected the blade back. It looked awesome and seemed like it was a snappy, responsive counter performed despite Akito being in the middle of another animation.
However, not all foes will have to be engaged in head-on combat. It’s possible to sneak up behind spirits and instantly stealth kill them, which may help turn the odds in our favor before large encounters, or it may allow players to bypass ghostly hotspots completely.
The open world approach to Ghostwire: Tokyo also allows for exploration and sidequests along the way. At one point KK directed the player into a convenience store which had been taken over by an adorable cat yokai acting as a shopkeeper and offering a surprisingly large selection of items. Later on, the spirit of an old lady refused to pass on unless the player helped with a landlord problem, resulting in a purifying ceremony completed by manipulating the R3 stick to match an onscreen pattern.
Again, it’s worth mentioning just how inventive the visuals in Ghostwire are. During one setpiece, a rival operative acting in support of the enemy used barrier magic to crush a large tenement building. This led to a timed sequence where he had to hunt down various stones to dispel the barrier, and as he rushed to complete this objective, the world continually shifted around in crazy ways — objects on the floor would move onto the walls, ripples of darkness bled into the corridors, and everything twisted disconcertingly as he neared his objectives.
I usually like to mention a few things I’m not sold on during a first look to keep things balanced, but I can honestly say that I was digging everything about Ghostwire that Bethesda presented. The most disappointing thing I could mention was that indoor environments don’t load in seamlessly from the outside, instead being accompanied by a short loading screen when dipping in and out of buildings. That’s pretty much the only thing I wasn’t impressed by, and really, this is nitpicking in the extreme.
While this preview event was a just a short glimpse into Ghostwire Tokyo, I’m all-in at this point. The game has a cool-as-hell overall vibe that I’m into, and I’m absolutely down for seeing more as soon as possible. Fortunately, PlayStation 5 and PC gamers won’t have to wait too long — it’s currently scheduled for release on March 25th of this year.