Betweenand Horizon Forbidden West, 2022 has already been a ridiculous year for video games. Ghostwire Tokyo, which comes out March 25 and offers a dense open-world Tokyo to explore, isn’t allowing us to catch a breath.
Letting players loose in a literal ghost town packed with truly odd and unsettling sights, Ghostwire Tokyo is set in Shibuya following a supernatural event that has the citizens of Tokyo mysteriously disappearing. You’re tasked with uncovering this mystery and figuring out how to undo the damage.
Throughout the 15- to 20-hour story, I spent a lot of time taking in the new normal of a human-less Shibuya, Tokyo – now taken over by friendly and not-so-friendly demons and ghosts. I became more and more intrigued by this heavily stylized action-horror game from Tango Gameworks, a notable departure from the team’s previous work with The Evil Within and Resident Evil franchises.
It’s an interesting change of pace for Tango, to focus less on survival horror and more on exploring a haunted Tokyo and “ghostbusting” some ghastly monsters. Yet, it’s a game that hangs onto what this team does best: Creating a chilling but surprisingly endearing atmosphere.
Still, my journey getting settled into Ghostwire’s world took patience. Ghostwire Tokyo takes time to reveal its true scope and depth, slowly becoming a more satisfying game as you expand protagonist Akito’s supernatural powers and open up more of Shibuya where otherworldly monsters lie in wait.
Ghostwire Tokyo is an open-world game, but it doesn’t seem that way in the beginning. The pace is often at odds with the true scope of the game’s world: There’s much to see, but doing so feels slower than it should. Many story encounters require you to go to events set across the city, and much of the exploration of the world is done on Akito’s own two feet. In the opening hours especially, progression is exhausting.
It will also take some time to fully appreciate. The exploration and overall progression is more in the vein of Far Cry, as opposed to Skyrim, which means you’ll need to unlock areas of the map to fully uncover the events and activities therein.
The gradual pace is particularly felt with the game’s approach to combat and exorcizing demons. In the beginning, Akito’s powers — known as Ethereal Weaving — are limited and are used to weaken enemies’ defenses. With your small arsenal in the beginning, and with the game’s slower feel, this made it unwieldy and frustrating to play at first.
Combat in itself took some time to grow on me. I dig how stylized it is, evoking the flow and grace of animated shows such as Yu Yu Hakusho or Avatar: The Last Airbender. Taking part in combat, however, can sometimes feel stilted. Akito’s movements and defensive skills are limited, and with the first-person perspective, I sometimes felt like I was wrestling with the controls. There were times when I felt it was better to avoid combat, but the action does eventually come into its own, feeling more slick and satisfying once more powers are brought into the fold.
The same can be said for Ghostwire Tokyo as a whole. After a few chapters you’ll unlock new powers and see more of the city. That’s when Ghostwire Tokyo begins to shine.
Ghostwire is at its best when it lets you have a run of the ghost town version of Shibuya. Along with the main plot, there’s also a variety of side missions that task you with helping lost souls who need to finish their final tasks. While the core story has some satisfying moments, with Akito slowly embracing his supernatural powers, I often found myself more satisfied when taking in the more evocative and visually stunning points of environmental storytelling found in sidequests and exploration.
Some of my favorite moments come from exploring the ruined streets of Shibuya, soaking in an atmosphere permeated with neon lights and the haunted vibe of a city gone sideways. Many of Shibuya’s most famous locales are created in the game, such as Shibuya Crossing, which is now an eerie and unsettling area filled with ghostly, headless schoolgirls whose movements are hinted at with their looming shadows cast onto the surrounding buildings.
The enemies in Ghostwire Tokyo are some of the most bizarre foes I’ve seen in an action game in some time. The aesthetic of Ghostwire’s rogue’s gallery is a chaotic mix between Japanese folklore and modern iconography, which creates a stunning looking environment to explore and monsters to fight. Along with the ghost school children, gangly, Slenderman looking Salarymen roam about, and lonely 8-foot tall women wielding large scissors stalk the streets looking for their next victim.
Despite its chilling atmosphere, Ghostwire also has a surprising sense of humor. Along with Akito is his spiritual companion, K.K., who gifts him with Ethereal Weaving and other witty insights on how the protagonist is improving. He’ll constantly commentate over Akito’s skills in combat and tells him to improve himself, much to the chagrin of the protagonist. Many missions also show off the game’s lighter side. While some manage to tug on the heartstrings, such as helping lost ghostly children reunite with their families, other moments have Akito helping a ghost have one last comfortable time using the toilet before moving on. It sounds ridiculous reading it like this, but it makes sense in-game – and it’s hilarious.
The big challenge that I felt from Ghostware Tokyo was how much it stuck close to very deliberate and slow pacing throughout. But I’m glad that I stuck with it, as Ghostwire Tokyo is a game that offers an intriguing and oddly personable world to explore, despite its eerie and unsettling nature.
Ghostwire Tokyo releases on March 25 for PC and PS5.