They don’t make many games like Ghostwire: Tokyo not anymore. The latest release from Tango Gameworks, the studio behind the terrifying Wickedness Inside series, Ghostwire: Tokyo is an action game with a big budget and a very specific focus. It is not stretched with an unnecessarily large open world or redundant online features. Instead, it offers something pure and straightforward: a mix of action, adventure and fear in a sleek package that can be packed in under 20 hours.
At the start of the game, almost everyone in Tokyo has disappeared, leaving the metropolis awash with yokai, folkloric creatures, urban legends, and vengeful ghosts. You play as Akito, a human who was able to survive the disaster by merging with a ghost named KK, who gives him supernatural powers. The newly forged duo has a few goals ahead of them: collecting the ghosts of normal Tokyo residents still hanging around, rescuing Akito’s missing sister, clearing the city of a poisonous supernatural fog, and stopping an evil mastermind from creating a rift between the land of the living and the dead. Just a light to-do list.
Ghostwire actually feels like a mix of two very different types of games, which flow together quite seamlessly. At its core, it’s an action game that takes place like a first-person shooter, but without weapons. You can use a handful of different types of magic – wind, fire, and water – all of which have different attributes. For example, fire is great at a great distance, while you’ll want to use water when enemies get close. There is a disaster-like a ballet-like feeling in battle, as you rush through areas, duck behind cover and switch between magical species blasting out of your hands. Just like in disaster, it pays to be aggressive; killing enemies can replenish your health and magic, but you have to get close to enjoy the rewards. There’s also a very satisfying ability that lets you rip out enemies’ hearts for an added magical bonus. The action has a wonderfully tactile feel to it, as you literally use your hands to cast spells and tear hearts out.
The game has a very video game like structure. Navigating Tokyo means wandering the streets in search of hordes of enemies to clear as well as shrines and temples you can cleanse to clear that evil mist and open up more of the map. You must also search for lost souls, stranded all over the city, and use a paper doll called a katashiro to capture them and then take them to safety using one of the many phone booths in Tokyo. . (Don’t ask me how telephone lines carry ghosts.) This serves as a sort of experience system; the more souls you save, the more you can upgrade your different skills. It’s a pretty straight forward structure, but that’s also what I liked about it. I had enough freedom to explore without ever feeling overwhelmed or lost. The only real issue I had were some rather annoying sequences where the game temporarily robs you of your powers, forcing you to use stealth and a hulking bow and arrow to advance.
Ghostwire is full of some really creepy monsters: headless schoolgirls who will attack you with reckless abandon, horrific humans with hair sticking out like giant spider legs, and a seemingly innocent woman wielding devastating scissors. (I really don’t like her.) The bosses in particular are huge and disturbingly mutated versions of familiar creatures. And the world will sometimes shift and change in uncomfortable ways; sometimes that’s a house that gets submerged in a dark liquid, or smaller things like the white-painted lines on the road that suddenly drift in the wind. At one point I swore that the ever-present rain was drifting upwards.
But despite this – and despite the fact that the game comes from a studio founded by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami — Ghostwire is not a survival horror game. This is because I was so powerful in the game that I never found myself running for my life or looking for a place to hide like I do in Silent Hill and Resident Evil.
The action focus works well, and the story – despite leaving out a lot of detail and making most of the side characters very underdeveloped – has good momentum, supported by the buddy-agent-like relationship between Akito and KK. Their constant chatter about life, death and the condition of KK’s apartment is a lot of fun. But the main story is overshadowed by the sidequests.
outside the action, Ghostwire feels like a first person indie exploration game. It reminded me a lot of 2015 Everyone has gone to the Rapture† The streets of Tokyo may be empty of human life, but there is still a lot going on; ghosts in need of help or KK’s old files from his past life as a detective. These stories range from sad to hilarious and feature my favorite moments from the game. One particularly dark quest has you investigating a building where everyone has mysteriously died by suicide, while another is about a collector who can’t let go of his belongings. It is a collection of short stories about the inhabitants of the city and their relationship with death. see it as Midnight Dinnerbut with ghosts.
I would also be remiss not to mention the city itself. Ghostwire depicts Tokyo with an amazing level of love and detail. You will, of course, explore well-known spots such as the Shibuya crossing and the labyrinth subway stations. But Ghostwire also sends you through the alleys and generic office buildings and the shrines and graveyards hidden among the urban sprawl. It’s particularly eerily devoid of people – although you’ll see plenty of piles of clothing from those that have suddenly disappeared – but brimming with signs of life, be it shopping bags full of snacks lying around or pulsing music from the now-empty bars and restaurants.
You can even still shop at those great corner stores as they are now run by talking, levitating cats. In fact, animals play a big role in the atmosphere of Ghostwire† you can pet or feed the cats and dogs left in town and even read their minds for hints. (Of course, it’s much easier to get the dogs to agree to some scratching than the more aloof cats. And the elaborate petting animations feel designed for maximum Twitter virality.)
As games get bigger and longer, more bogged down by an increasing need to have all your attention, experiences like Ghostwire are becoming increasingly rare. This year we have the makers of pokemon and dark souls release great new games that consume an incredible amount of your time and energy. Ghostwire, meanwhile, has elements of open-world and role-playing games, but they don’t overwhelm the core experience. Instead, it deftly balances total action with silent exploration, wrapping it all up in a world full of fascinating, sad and hilarious stories to discover.
It may scare you, but it also respects your time.
Ghostwire: Tokyo launches March 25 on the PS5 and PC.