Thursday, April 18, 2024

Ghostwire: Tokyo Review: spectre-cular from beginning to end

Ghostwire: Tokyo does not want you to sit and review your thoughts or feelings. Right from the very beginning players are thrust into the world of the paranormal, with an opening that introduces you to protagonist Akito and his tag-along that has taken up residence inside his body, supernatural investigator K.K. Before you can catch your breath and figure out what this means, you find out that everyone in Tokyo has disappeared thanks to an otherworldly fog, bringing Visitors from the other side along with it.

Then, in no time at all, you’re whisked off on an adventure that’ll have you rushing to and fro between different locations in the colorful metropolis, all the while scouring and climbing buildings, cleansing shrines, and gliding your way into the fray to fight against ghostly enemies. And that isn’t touching on the incredible amount of side quests, collectibles, and accessories you can come across if you decide to steer off the main story path. If there’s one thing that I can’t complain about, there’s certainly plenty to do in Ghostwire: Tokyo.

The main storyline has you searching for Akito’s sister, Mari, who has been kidnapped by Hannya, a shady individual who wants to use her for some sort of ritual. I won’t spoil the nitty gritty, but the ultimate goal seemingly has something to do with connecting the supernatural world with the physical. Considering that the supernatural has drooling, jaw-snapping monsters that are looking to beat you all within an inch of your life, it doesn’t sound like a great idea and is exactly why K.K – and his group – banded together to fight these entities in the first place. But with K.K’s group gone, and Mari missing, Akito and K.K have no choice but to work together.

With just 6 chapters and a completition time – if you just focus on the main storyline, as I did – of around 15-16 hours, I never felt I had the chance to sit down and review the characters of Ghostwire: Tokyo and their motivations. I was constantly moving from place to place, with no real down time to get to know who Akito or K.K was before Tokyo went to hell. To get that, I instead had to dive deep into the game’s many side-quests and find K.K’s collectables – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but often I found myself wondering when there would be a moment where I felt these two characters – and the characters you meet – meant more to one another than a means to an end. The fact that it never really came, even during the game’s end, left me feeling more than a little disappointed. Big this game may be, but on the main storyline alone? I’m not sure its characters are enough to satisfy me – a shame, considering how interesting the premise of Ghostwire: Tokyo is.

Ghostwire: Tokyo review
Cleansing Torii Gates helps remove the fog from the city

Tango Gamework’s previous work was that of The Evil Within series, two games that brought blood-curdling horror and suspense with their excellent narrative, and intriguing gameplay design featuring shifting, narrow spaces to evoke tension. This same framework can be found in Ghostwire: Tokyo, where there are more than a few instances of reality being warped, with Akito’s perspective being changed via small, narrow corridors, houses being turned upside down, and small spaces getting larger and larger, as well as vice versa. In spite of the similarity in design and framework between the two games, Ghostwire: Tokyo still remains a respectable distance from being a full-blown horror game simply by giving Akito not just the power to fight back, but the impression that alongside K.K, he actually has a chance of winning against Hannya and his cult.

That doesn’t mean Ghostwire: Tokyo doesn’t have any hair-raising moments. As I mentioned in my preview, the sound design of this game is second to none, rivalling even that of The Last of Us Part II. I played with both a headset (the PS5 Pulse 3D Wireless Headset, to be more specific) on, as well as off, and found the former to be most the optimized way to play. To hear the sound of footsteps behind you, as well as the screech of a Visitor, has never failed to make me jump or screech in fear. What’s more, each Visitor – for which there are many – has their own unique sound, making more keen-listeners able to identify which enemy is just lurking around the corner. It’s a very neat additional detail to sound, and I personally love how it linked with the unique design of the multiple visitors you can find around Tokyo.

Other instances of sheer terror is when the game actively takes away weaving – a power from K.K that allows Akito take control of the elements and use them to defeat Visitors. Instead, players will be forced to rely on stealth, talismans, and their ever trusty bow, which unlike your elemental powers, can only be stocked at shops or through finding spares while exploring. There aren’t many games willing to take the power away from the player halfway through, but the sheer audacity of it truly creates a phenomenal atmosphere of spiralling out of control. It’s during these moments of fear, whether short or long, where Ghostwire: Tokyo really shines.

Akito and K.K are both interesting characters – but don’t ever get the chance to truly shine

Still, even while I glided through the streets of Shibuya, taking down evil entities and exploring new, interesting things about Japan’s biggest metropolis, I couldn’t help but feel as though the open world part of this action-adventure game was starting to feel a little stale. There’s no denying that a quick review of the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo would come up with it being absolutely beautiful and charming, but that’s about it. It’s a fantastic backdrop, and it really sells the Japanese-focused myths and stories that are expertly woven into the game’s lore. But much like many open world games, it feels like a setting used solely to enhance the environment behind the endless collectibles scattered across the map.

Ultimately, Ghostwire: Tokyo is genuinely spectacular and had me glued to my seat until the early hours of the morning, desperate to see the emotional toil of our two protagonists pay off… But it still fell flat where I really wanted it to succeed: its characters and its open world. After coming off the back of games like Elden Ring, a game where its open world actively felt like part of the story outside of a backdrop, Ghostwire: Tokyo’s feels skin deep.

Score: 3/5

Ghostwire: Tokyo for PS5 was provided to Gayming Magazine by PR.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.