Ghostwire: Tokyo Preview
Imagine if the original Ghostbusters movie was set in Tokyo. Instead of a quartet of wise men, think of a confused, ordinary guy with an angry witty voice in his head. Now, replace a ghostly, skeptical New York with a Tokyo whose entire population has disappeared. Finally, ditch the nuclear-powered ghost-catching machine. Replace it with magic hand gestures, paper dolls and payphones. This is Ghostwire: Tokyo.
We previewed Tango Gamework’s upcoming Ghostwire: Tokyo a while ago after seeing a hands-on demo. We’ve had some time with the final game as it nears its March 25 release date. Part first-person shooter, part open-world RPG, part horror, and part mystery, Ghostwire: Tokyo has a lot of atmosphere and plays interesting variations on familiar mechanics.
A very bad day
As you may recall from the E3 trailer, the game begins as the bustling population of present-day Tokyo suddenly begins to disappear, their bodies and souls turning into wispy black smoke. Where do their minds go? Can they be freed? Who is behind this magical apocalypse?
These are just some of the questions the player-character must answer. You play as Akito, who finds himself barely alive and with a new and unwelcome voice in his head. The voice is KK, who took over Akito’s body. At first unwilling to accept the partnership, Akito realizes he needs KK’s help. Both to stay alive and to find and save his younger sister’s spirit. Likewise, KK needs the vessel of a human body to hunt down and defeat the demon responsible. The “unwitting partner” plot isn’t new, but it works.
As he learns to trust KK, Akito is able to access an increasing array of powers in order to rescue trapped souls and battle demons and possessed citizens. Some of them involve the use of magical energy, both offensively and defensively. He soon finds a magic-infused bow and other weapons. All of Akito’s powers and weapons can be upgraded by defeating enemies and finding collectibles while exploring the city.
Open World Ghost Hunting
The main campaign brings Akito and KK closer to defeating a powerful and mysterious demon wearing a hannya mask, freeing Tokyo from an evil plague, and saving Akito’s sister. Because it’s an open world game, there are also a lot of side missions. Many of them involve clearing a temple or section of the city of demons and finding and destroying evil energy centers. Often, side missions end in a boss fight in the Spirit Realm, where Akito must face off against waves of enemies.
Tokyo has become a dangerous and mysterious place. Tendrils of evil energy block entrances and intersections and must be cleared. Demons and other yokai are everywhere. There are also ghostly apparitions of everyday objects that can be smashed for magical energy – think mana – and healing items to pick up. Trapped souls hover in the air and can be contained and then discharged into phone booths, earning points. Although most of Tokyo’s human residents are gone, the city still seems alive.
Mechanically familiar but still unique
It’s easy to play “spot the influences” in Ghostwire: Tokyo. It’s basically a first-person shooter with magic instead of guns. Or, maybe it’s a first-person RPG with a mage as the main character. Either way, the combat mechanics will be familiar to most action gamers. There’s even a grappling hook mechanic and sometimes a bit of Control-like trippy world distortion. KK is a nice addition. It serves as both a narrative voice and an ally in battle. The tension between the spirit character and the living human also provides some comic relief.
At first, the combat seems quite slow and imprecise. As Akito develops his powers, his movement and casting speed increases and everything feels more responsive. Even at moderate difficulty, the boss fights are quite difficult. It’s easy for Akito to be surrounded by enemies and there are never enough healing items. An important mechanic is Akito’s ability to finish off enemies by removing their spirits. Unfortunately, this animation can be stopped even by a minor hit from elsewhere. This makes the fights quite tense.
Ghostwire: Tokyo places great importance on Japanese folklore, ancient cultural traditions and spirituality. The city itself – with most storefronts closed – is a riot of rain-soaked reflections, neon lights and echoes of activity. It is a city literally haunted by millions of souls. I liked the mix of old and new. The equally haunting musical score combines traditional Japanese music with electronics and audio processing. The game’s voice acting is in Japanese with English subtitles. There are impressive light and spell effects, and the city’s geography is authentic.
The minifigure models – human or demon – are effective in both cutscenes and in-game, though they look a bit dated. There’s also a lot of repetition early on, both in the mission structure and in the enemies. But Ghostwire: Tokyo does a pretty good job of pacing its introduction of new mechanics, story elements, and opponents, so I’m standing by my judgment until I’ve experienced the entire game.
Where Ghostwire: Tokyo is strongest is in its take on Tokyo haunted by mystery and the implications of deeper narrative payoff that could say something interesting about life and death. The demo that intrigued everyone at E3 only hinted at what Ghostwire: Tokyo was, how it played or even its genre. Now we know, and players can expect to rid Tokyo of evil on March 25, 2022.
***PS5 code provided by publisher***