In our Ghostwire: Tokyo preview, it seems Tango Gameworks is heading in an intriguing new direction. Does it translate to a good horror experience though?
Ghostwire: Tokyo is a game about the lines between the living and the dead. It’s also a game steeped in Japanese mythology. More importantly, however, Ghostwire: Tokyo is the most I’ve seen a game be into the whole ‘can you pet the dog?’ trend.
Sure there’s Yokai to discover, malevolent spirits to zap with your magic fingers, and a near-empty Tokyo to explore, but Ghostwire: Tokyo also has a lot of dogs wandering about to pet and to feed. You can read their thoughts (those of cats too) and interact with them. Which can lead to extra treats for you. In a world where no other human is alive, there’s the same comfort in the presence of animals as there is in finding a safe spot. A momentary break from the oppressive emptiness of the city. It ended up being the most pleasant surprise of my time with Ghostwire: Tokyo’s opening chapters.
Beyond that, there’s plenty of atmosphere and intrigue. An accident leaves a young man named Akito dead on the streets of Shibuya. He’s brought back when a rogue spirit of a detective nicknamed K.K. tries to take over his body. The pair awaken just in time to see a mysterious fog envelope the city, causing everyone to vanish sans clothing. Everyone that is, except Akito and his new spectral roommate. They start at odds with each other, but it soon becomes clear their personal missions have connective tissue and they learn to work as one.
It’s perhaps fitting then that the first two chapters felt much the same way for me as well. While much of what makes up Ghostwire: Tokyo is familiar, it initially feels a bit awkward to get to grips with exactly what Tango Gameworks is going for. I can see why its roots as a sequel to The Evil Within 2 were pulled up and out into a new direction, because it holds an entirely different tone and mood to either of those games. There, the influences were clearly from the West, whereas Ghostwire: Tokyo’s framework is almost entirely embedded in its developer’s home country and culture.
At the heart of that is its depiction of Tokyo. The game’s Quality mode on PS5 allows for Ray Tracing that makes the rain-drenched streets and neon glow truly pop, albeit at the cost of a hindered frame rate. It’s worth it though because outside of enemy encounters, it really adds something to the exploration of every street, convenience store, dingy apartment building, and ominous alleyway. I was surprised by the verticality of Ghostwire: Tokyo. I had assumed it would be largely a street-level affair with some bits set higher up for story purposes. Instead, the game offers a view of Tokyo from on high quite often, and doesn’t punish high rise exploration with pesky fall damage (Akito can even glide downward for a short while).
Before Akito can explore deeper into the city, however, he needs to cleanse Torii gates in order to push back the damaging fog. It’s not the main mission, but it’s an essential activity if the dynamic duo is to rescue the spirits of those who’ve succumbed to the fog and stop the cause of the whole thing.
Standing in the way of that is a bevy of nasty spirits. From headless schoolchildren to scissor-wielding women in trenchoats, Akito and K.K. have plenty of weird and wonderful monstrosities to confront. Luckily, K.K. has brought along a special set of skills to combat them. Through special element-infused hand movements, a magic bow, and incantations, they can vanquish the misty menaces. At first, the pair can only use the power of air. This flings green shards towards foes, inflicting damage. When enough damage is built up, the ghost’s core is exposed, allowing Akito to pull it out, destroying them in the process. my initial response to this combat was to play it almost like a first-person shooter. Not entirely a bad idea as elemental powers effectively behave like different gun types, but the aiming, and pace is set to a slower pace than this, where every ‘bullet’ counts. It ends up a little strange, especially because the addition of a block button makes it a bit of a hybrid between shooter and melee combat akin to Dying Light.
The Dualsense controller’s haptic feedback is excellently implemented in combat, making every element power feel different and putting pressure on the left trigger as you struggle to pull the core from ghosts or cleanse a shrine. Its microphone in tandem with subtle ripples of rumble gives the ethereal booming timbre of K.K.’s voice extra amplification too, but honestly, the pairing of the Dualsense and the Pulse 3D headset combines most beautifully to immerse me in the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo.
With so much power in Akito’s hands, the worry would be how the game uses its horror effectively. During the second chapter, Akito and K.K. are briefly separated, putting Akito in a vulnerable state deep in enemy territory. It’s not an uncommon tool to strip a character of power for a time to artificially shake things up, but given the fragile union of Akito and K.K., it serves to show how reliant they are on each other, even if Akito has just enough in him to scrape by this nervy segment.
The early hours of Ghostwire: Tokyo show promise then, but there’s undoubtedly some uncertainty as to what exactly it is at the start. With misguided ideas of what it should be, there’s room for disappointment. Tango Gameworks really does seem to be heading in a different direction, and that will upset anyone looking for more The Evil Within, but so far, Ghostwire: Tokyo holds its own captivating, sometimes haunting, charm.
Ghostwire: Tokyo preview code for PS5 provided by the publisher.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is out on PS5 and PC on March 25.