Ghostwire: Tokyo Review: Style over substance isn’t always a bad thing
Played on: PS5 (Original)
Ghostwire: Tokyo is a game that could only come from a studio like Tango Gameworks, the developer behind The Evil Within series, as it totally owns its strangeness and thrives in the eerie supernatural world it presents.
From its environment alone, Ghostwire is a vastly different game than Evil Within simply because of how gorgeous it is. Not that Evil Within isn’t gorgeous in its own way, but rather than be in a grimy nightmare dreamscape, players are thrown right in the middle of a realistic Tokyo setting. Tango utilizes a next-gen engine perfectly to spare no expense in bringing the iconic Japanese capital to life. The narrow alleyways and towering skyscrapers really make you feel like you’re walking around the city and diverse architecture and landscapes really offer a full scope of the city’s culture. The detail is so vivid in Ghostwire that you can actually see the red moon floating in the sky perfectly reflected in puddles and windows and it’s quite a sight to behold.
However, in true Tango fashion, this isn’t the usually bustling and busy Tokyo people are used to seeing as a mysterious fog has caused all of Tokyo’s residents to vanish in an instant only leaving behind frightening supernatural entities known as Visitors. Tango has turned Tokyo into a ghost town in more ways than one with there being no human life in sight and the only remnants that remain are these creepy spirits that haunt every street. It’s absolutely eerie to be walking around an empty city like this and it’s a very unique horror atmosphere, especially with the Visitors running around.
Creature design was a key part to The Evil Within’s horrors and it’s equally true for Ghostwire. Although Tango has said that Ghostwire is not an outright horror game, supernatural horror is a vital aspect of its DNA as the Visitors are given some creepy designs. From shambling specters wielding umbrellas to bands of headless ghost students, Ghostwire’s supernatural horror inspirations are clear and fit perfectly into the mind-bending atmosphere players find themselves in. Tango goes above and beyond to constantly provide some trippy visuals that range from weird weather to areas transforming into otherworldly settings. Best of all though is how Tango’s ambitious visuals equally come through in Ghostwire’s unique combat style and central dynamic duo.
After nearly dying, a man named Akito (voiced by Kensuke Nishi) becomes possessed by a powerful paranormal entity named KK (voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue) not only causing him to be the only human survivor of this event, but also gain some visually stunning supernatural powers. With these powers, players use elemental-type magical attacks inspired by a form of Japanese hand gestures, known as Kuji-kiri, to fight against Visitors roaming Tokyo as well as an evil masked conspirator named Hannya (voiced by Shunsuke Sakuya), who’s looking to use Tokyo’s current state for his own mysterious purposes.
The visuals for the hand gestures never get old as switching between different element powers, ranging from a green-tinted fast-firing wind shot to a fiery and explosive fireball attack, is seamless and the color palette bounces perfectly off the dreary background. Even performing the hand gestures for absolving evil spirits and taking away certain obstacles is made immensely satisfying with how you actually perform them through the touch pad or analog stick. Frankly, Ghostwire is one of the best games to fully utilize the Dualsense’s capabilities. It’s awesome how KK will talk to you through the controller in the same way he talks to Akito through his hand. The enhanced vibration and adaptive triggers create more immersive moments with the combat as well as the environment, and the fast travel is super-fast.
Combat as a whole is a lot of fun with the different elements you can use and the challenges you can face in fighting different types of Visitors, especially when they group up. While there are only a few elements players can use in combat, each one allows for players to attack Visitors through a variety of ranges and the upgrades can make you a little more powerful. However, these abilities can feel a little stale since upgrades don’t change much of the action and don’t add much versality to your arsenal. When you can expose a Visitor’s core though, there is a sweet and satisfying pull maneuver you can do to wipe them out that’s visually fascinating and makes you feel powerful. Also, there are other elements to combat including talismans, a bow and arrow weapon, and stealth attacks that do create other ways to attack, but it’s still a shame that there isn’t much depth to Ghostwire’s combat.
Lack of depth is also an issue for Ghostwire’s story as it can feel secondary to its stylistic combat and atmosphere. Akito and KK’s partner dynamic does have good dialogue to it that contains some Bethesda-quality humor and some good growth between the two that makes you like their personalities and banter. However, their motivations and story don’t always come through and the same can be said for Hannya. While there are some good emotional beats for Akito’s personal story of him looking for his sister Mari (voiced by Asami Seto) and some interesting beats surrounding the two investigating KK’s past as an investigator, their arcs aren’t that strong. Akito’s ending has some good emotion to it, but it’s mostly from how much you like him as a character and KK’s friends have some fun personalities but digging through his past don’t deliver many connective story beats.
Ghostwire’s central mystery lacks intrigue and can feel too ambiguous to follow. Akito and KK’s findings never shock or intrigue you enough to become invested in the mystery and Hannya is an incredibly thin villain whose motivations feel too basic, and his backstory never is divulged enough. Even connections made between KK and Hannya and Hannya’s reason for being obsessed with Mari never feel clear and for most of Ghostwire, you feel detached from the main story. Thankfully though, there are plenty of side-missions and collectible hunting to keep you involved with it, maybe a little too many.
Ghostwire is absolutely jam-packed with side activities to the point where you can spend countless hours outside the main story. There are plenty of fun side-missions that have players helping ghosts move on to the afterlife that have some nice horror-driven moments and fun stories. The list of collectibles is never-ending as players can find tanukis, valuable items, lingering spirits, and more that not only feel like a fitting part to the supernatural turn of the world and pay homage to Japanese mythos and horror culture but also intertwine well with progression with some of the rewards players can obtain from finding things. There is a lot though, and with Ghostwire being a fully open world game with scalable buildings and some underground areas, there’s a lot of ground to cover and it can lead to the game feeling overstuffed. There’s so much that the rewards you get may not feel all that worth it and it can become a tiresome to find them all.
Ghostwire is an imperfect new original from Tango that might struggle to refine its story and combat, but continually thrives in the visionary, horror-centric Tokyo that Tango has crafted. Tango has essentially made their Tokyo a paranormal playground that’s fun to explore and utilizes stunning visuals for its atmosphere and combat that define a next-gen experience.