In Bloody Disgusting’s Ghostwire: Tokyo review, we find comfort in the melancholy as well as the melodramatic of this Tokyo ghost story.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is not the follow-up to The Evil Within 2 you might expect from Tango Gameworks. Yet it clearly shares in its predecessor’s DNA. It deals in the art of death, but it’s a little more sobering, and without the level of violent destruction found in the bloody adventures of Sebastian Castellanos. Where that game pulled its horrors from the mind, Ghostwire: Tokyo quite literally draws from the spirit. This makes Ghostwire: Tokyo an intriguing prospect. A refreshing change of pace from the developers’ past.
Where it does feel like a Tango Gameworks game is in its plot. 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 opening 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).
I could understand if people came away from the open-world approach here and asked ‘but what’s in it for me to explore a world literally lacking in life?’ The answer, best as I can give anyway, is that Ghostwire: Tokyo wants you to look at what’s missing to fill in the blanks. The crumpled clothing that litters the streets. Or the adorable dogs and cats that roam Tokyo, mournfully searching for their now absent owners (don’t worry, you can make them feel better with a pet and a snack).
While coming at this from a different angle, the best comparison would be Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture. There are smaller stories to be discovered that allow trapped souls to move on that not only paint specific pictures of lives abruptly cut short, but of the city’s relationship with its folklore. The main story can get a little overblown and sometimes feels a bit light on its own, but delving deeper into the game’s world this way greatly enhances the overall experience. I’d also recommend playing the free prelude visual novel that was released ahead of the main game’s launch, as it enriches the K.K. side of the story.
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 entirely part of 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 trenchcoats, 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 menaces of the mists.
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 (each with an ‘alt-fire’ mode when charged), 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.
Consumable items help when the usual arsenal isn’t enough to push back the numbers. These incantations can do a variety of things. From creating a thicket of thorns that obscure Akito from the roving eyes of spirits to deploying an area of effect that stuns anything that wanders into it. Things do get dicey far more often as progress is made in the story. For instance, Akito gets tasked with guarding others at points and needs to fend off waves of enemies, so these extra tools become an essential part of the battle strategy in both confrontation and avoidance.
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. The shuddering breathing sound that rises the closer Akito gets to a spirit is a consistent reminder of the power audio holds here, and Masatoshi Yanagi, one of the composers for The Evil Within 2, has concocted an often haunting soundtrack that works in tandem with the onscreen action rather well. When singer Eve accompanies his work, it feels even more powerful in its melancholy.
With so much power in Akito’s hands, the worry would be how the game uses its horror effectively. During an early 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.
Boss fights and areas affected by crushing barriers shift reality into more surreal pastures. If you were longing for something akin to the trippier parts of The Evil Within 2, the shifting environments Ghostwire: Tokyo regularly throws out will quench that particular thirst.
I think it’s fair to argue that Ghostwire: Tokyo works best when it sticks to its default first-person perspective. Tango Gameworks is a little too invested in pulling away from it for cutscenes, and this can occasionally cause a jolting change of tone and took me out of the moment in more than one instance. It’s not all unwelcome, but there are definitely points where it would have played out better with the established perspective.
If you head into Ghostwire: Tokyo hoping for The Evil Within 3 then sorry, you’ll be largely disappointed. If you can accept it as its own thing from the off, however, it’s far easier to slide into its groove and enjoy what the haunted Tokyo streets have to offer you. I found Ghostwire: Tokyo to be an effective mood piece that dabbles in loud absurdity and melodrama, but also retains an air of melancholy and quiet horror that compliments that superbly. Make no mistake, this is a game that demands you take your time soaking up its many stories to really enhance the main one, so missing that will undoubtedly leave anyone doing so feeling sold short because there’s a lot of repetition at its core.
Me, I still like to just stand and stare at an abandoned city as the rain drifts down in hazy sheets whilst the pulsing glow of neon and Yanagi’s ethereal soundtrack throb in unison. Moments like that have nothing and everything to do with why I enjoyed Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Ghostwire: Tokyo review code for PS5 provided by the publisher.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is out on PS5 and PC on March 25.