Ghostwire: Tokyo Review: An Atmospheric Power Fantasy
You might expect a game about spirits taking over Tokyo and leaving no humans behind to be a horror game, but Ghostwire: Tokyo has other ambitions. While certainly atmospheric and at times creepy, it flips the script from survival horror titles that make you cower by empowering you to take on the creatures roaming the streets of Japan. In this game, the spirits should run from you.
Which makes sense considering one of our protagonists is a detective with spectral powers that allow him to fight ghosts. Well, he was. Now KK is mostly dead, though his spirit is still hanging around. After our other protagonist, Akito, is in a fatal motorcycle crash during the panic that set in as a ghostly fog sweeps over the city, turning everyone it touches into a spirit, KK decides he’s the best possible host and takes up residence in his body. Akito isn’t exactly thrilled by the arrangement, but when his alternatives are death or turning into a spirit, he learns to deal with it.
Soon the pair gain more of an understanding. Akito’s sole focus is getting to and saving his sister, quickly kidnapped by KK’s old foe Hannya who killed him. With the pair now having a common goal, they set out in search of the power to fight this foe and save the city.
A City Of Ghosts
This means dropping the pair into the open-world version of Tokyo developer Tango Gameworks have created for Ghostwire. It isn’t quite as open as you might be expecting after hearing that, though. You’ll consistently have a single primary mission to complete, and while you can go searching out side quests and unlockables, significant barriers keep you in pretty set areas early on. Only quite late in the game do you really start to feel the freedom to move around the city as you see fit.
Roaming means running into evil spirits, but I never minded that because combat quickly became my favorite part of Ghostwire. Feeling almost like a Doctor Strange shooter, you use a variety of magic abilities and other weapons to take on these enemies. You start with an elemental wind attack which is basically just an energy blast, but when charged, can home in on foes to a degree. Soon though, you’ll unlock water and fire attacks as well, each with its own feel and uses. For example, the water attack is mostly useful for hitting a wide area, while the fire attack does a lot of damage but only in a limited area, and its ammo is the rarest.
While everything feels a bit slow in the early going, a variety of upgrades you can earn over time quickly expand your abilities. These new abilities make your attacks more powerful, your movement feels better, and the entire experience of Ghostwire a lot stronger. The water attack, for example, initially feels too weak to be worthwhile, but after a couple of upgrades, it became my go-to attack. Movement perhaps never got quite as smooth as I would have liked, but it works well, especially when you start gliding from rooftop to rooftop. Combat, meanwhile, gives you an incredible variety of options to use in different situations. You’ll need them because new enemy types later in the game are not only super creepy, but they pack a punch too.
Mixing It Up
While the enemies roaming Tokyo get more varied with time, the actual loop of the game stays mostly the same. There are some cool sequences, to be sure. A couple of times, you’re dropped into surrealistic nightmare sequences where the world itself seems to be turning against you, and you have to navigate this shifting world. These were some of my favorite sequences in the game. I would have liked more of this sort of thing, though. Ultimate, my biggest issue with Ghostwire was that I wanted a bit more variety. I consistently loved exploring the city, and combat quickly became a blast, but outside of hunting collectibles and some solid but unspectacular side missions, there wasn’t a lot else to do. The closest thing to variety the game has to offer are some forced stealth sections when a foe rips KK out of your body. These are more of a pain than anything, though, and Ghostwire is a bit too fond of them. I don’t want my power fantasy to be interrupted, so I can barely fight back. I want more interesting uses for my powers. I did appreciate foes later who can rip KK out mid-battle, but those situations allow you to recover him immediately. Having it happen only to be forced into an extended stealth section is not my idea of fun. The few bosses you face mostly play on the same mechanics the rest of the game does and don’t mix things up as much as they might have.
Still, I was consistently pulled forward by Ghostwire’s wonderful setting, interesting characters, and strong story. While perhaps not the most technically impressive game on the PS5, the neon glow of the city is incredibly atmospheric and looks great in motion. A strong voice cast do excellent work, though listening in the game’s recommended Japanese did mean I missed an offhand comment here and there. An outstanding soundtrack and audio design are well worth experiencing with the game’s 3D audio. It really helped to pull me into the game’s world. Some of the places the story went took me by surprise, and there’s one segment late in the game that took my breath away, twisting so much of what I thought I knew but doing so in a way that makes total sense. It left me in tears.
The sad thing, though, is that Ghostwire: Tokyo feels like it ends just when the story is really getting going. While not a particularly short game, my playthrough lasted about fifteen hours, and there was plenty more side content I could have explored, it reaches a point where it feels like the development team stomped on the brakes. Things are really just starting to build, most of the foes you think you’ll be fighting throughout the game are still out there, and then suddenly, you’re being alerted that you’re about to pass a point of no return. I found it somewhat jarring, though I was satisfied with how the game wraps up.
Ghostwire: Tokyo ends up being a satisfying experience. With a wonderful world to explore, excellent combat that gets quite deep over time, and an interesting story, there’s a lot to recommend about it. Somehow it also ends up feeling a bit incomplete, though. There was room here for more gameplay variety and to really explore more with some of these characters, and doing so might have turned a good game into a great one. As is, the ending feels like it comes a bit out of nowhere, leaving me to wonder if the team’s original vision was a bit larger. Still, if you’re looking for a creepy game where you strike fear into the creatures that go bump in the night, check out Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS5(Reviewed), PC; Publisher: Bethesda Softworks; Developer: Tango Gameworks; Players: 1; Released: March 25th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Ghostwire: Tokyo provided by the publisher.