Ghostwire Tokyo Review: A Great Core Gameplay Loop That Sadly Loses Steam Quickly

Ghostwire Tokyo is the latest offering from Tango Gameworks, the studio responsible for two of my favourite under-appreciated horror titles from the last decade – The Evil Within and its sequel. Led by legendary game-maker Shinji Mikami, the creator of the Resident Evil franchise, it is safe to say that Tango Gameworks have a solid idea of what makes a game truly terrifying.

The Evil Within and its sequel are the only two games under Tango Gameworks’ belt before this one but Mikami’s legacy of solid horror titles in the games industry should be enough of an assurance of quality. The original, even with its flaws, was a good start for the studio and proved Mikami is still capable of delivering a solid horror story paired with decent gameplay. The sequel was a much more polished affair, tightening up the gameplay loop in a big way and even ramping up the horror to a level that was truly unsettling.

Now, with Ghostwire Tokyo, the studio seems to have taken a bit of a left turn. Despite the horror stylings when it comes to the atmosphere, the name, character designs, and the general sense of dread to most affairs – this is not a horror game. Now that I’ve played through the game and got to see a large chunk of what the game has to offer, it is clear that Ghostwire Tokyo has all the markings of the perfect horror game packaged as an action-adventure game.

Ghostwire Tokyo: An Action-Adventure Romp Through the Most Perfect Horror Setting

When Ghostwire Tokyo was revealed to the world during the PlayStation 5 Reveal Showcase, it instantly became one of my most highly-anticipated titles. As a huge fan of the horror genre, especially Asian horror, the game seemed to be hitting all the right notes in terms of atmosphere and character designs, to the point it felt like the game was tailor-made for horror buffs such as myself.

However, my spirits were dampened ever so slightly when I learnt, through subsequent trailers and gameplay deep dives, the game was primarily an action-adventure title than a straight-up horror game. Even with that knowledge, I was pretty excited for Ghostwire Tokyo given that I enjoyed a large portion of what I saw in the trailers and gameplay.

Despite the seemingly creative left turn, it didn’t feel like Tango Gameworks was sacrificing the horror elements in a bid to widen the target audience – it felt like a creative decision motivated by a search for the right tone for the game. It wasn’t like the game was a horror title and then the publisher came in and demanded it be turned into an action-adventure game, or at least it doesn’t feel like it was.

More than anything, the feeling I came away with after I finished the game was that the game’s narrative and gameplay mechanics seem to favour a title that leaned more towards action rather than horror. The game simply wouldn’t have been the experience that it ended up being if it was passed through the lens of horror.

As I mentioned earlier, the reason why this had to be an action-adventure game lies in the core gameplay loop of Ghostwire Tokyo. The player character is Akito, a guilt-ridden brother attempting to save his sister from a dark fate. Right at the start of the game, the player is possessed by a wraith, which in turn, grants Akito all kinds of ethereal powers and abilities.

The player essentially has at their disposal a variety of elemental powers, including Wind, Fire, and Water; referred to in this game as ‘Ethereal Weaving’ (I choose to call a spade a spade and call it ‘Bending’ in my headcanon). Akito can shoot from his hand elemental bursts that can be charged up to do more damage at the cost of speed. Simple? Yeah. But also effective.

There is a skill tree that players can dump points into to upgrade their Ethereal Waving, but don’t go in expecting a massive skill tree that the players can re-spec to suit their preferred elemental power. This isn’t an RPG. The effect of dumping points into these ether categories is limited only to fast the player can shoot these out of their hand and how much damage they do.

There are also additional abilities that come into use often enough such as Gliding and Perfect Blocks, but they aren’t anything to write home about. The game keeps it pretty simple when it comes to the gameplay, which is both positive and negative.

The reason why it’s positive is that it doesn’t overburden the players with a thousand abilities and power-ups, making them feel like they need to read an entire glossary of terms and watch a 15-minute video to figure out the right build. On the other hand, it doesn’t take long for the game’s combat loop to start feeling repetitive and perhaps just a tad bit more variety would’ve really gone a long distance in breaking up the monotony.

Most of the player’s time in the game will be spent looking for Torii gates to free up parts of the map and discover new side quests and free up ‘Spirits’ along the way. The game introduces a certain level of verticality to things by introducing these little flying imps that you can grapple onto to access the city’s rooftops. This is a nice change of pace as I couldn’t help but feel like the character’s movements were painfully slow. I refuse to believe that my action-adventure protagonist can’t outrun an old sportscar when they’re running full-sprint, but maybe that’s just my thing.

The city essentially is populated by ‘Visitors’, but thankfully, they choose to roam around in pockets and their presence is graciously telegraphed by a sound on your Dualsense controller, which is one of my favourite aspects of the game. Even though it’s not a horror game, there are parts where I forced myself to play in stealth and it was genuinely unsettling when I could hear the static in my Dualsense but I could not see the enemy just yet.

Exploration is tied to cleansing Torii gates, similar to the way you’d climb up a tower in Assassin’s Creed to populate the map and open Fast Travel. While it is true that there is a level of verticality to the open world, it isn’t really integral to the game experience as you can pretty much sprint to most places, except, of course, when there is poisonous fog taking up space.

In one absolutely bizarre instance in the first few hours, the game tutorializes the players about the poisonous fog while on the way to a certain objective. In an attempt to test the limits of the non-linearity and the open-ended nature of the world, I just simply made my way through the fog and healed when I was low on health. Lo and behold, I made it to the other side but my quest just won’t trigger. Simply because I didn’t take the path the game thought I’d take and I ended up staring at a door that won’t open for several minutes.

The exploration is complemented well by the combat as players will encounter pockets of enemies spread through the map, usually around Torii gates. The combat involves the players attempting to dodge, back away, and in the worst case, block enemy attacks while dishing out their own through Ethereal Weaving and occasionally, Talismans. To heal, players can eat items from their inventory. There is a Bow around, but it’s practically just there to act as a last resort in case the player runs out of all other kinds of ammo.

The regular enemies in the game are called ‘Visitors’ and they’re the standard action-adventure fodder players might expect. Some of them have ranged attacks while others will woo you and kick you in your face with impressive kung-fu, while others are just dastardly tall and will separate you from your all-powerful buddy that gives you your Ethereal powers.

This simple gameplay loop remains unchanged after the first couple of Chapters after the player has gained all Ethereal Weaving abilities and discovered shops that sell Talismans. There is stealth in here but given everything that your main character can do with their hands – why bother. Plus, the snail’s pace at which the character moves when crouched makes stealth extremely unappealing, even despite upgrading that skill.

All of this is thrown to the side during particular gameplay sections where Akito, and the player, have to ‘Work Solo’. This occurs when the player is separated from the Wraith possessing their body (named KK), and the player has to rely on getting past enemies using their bow or stealth. On lower difficulties, this meant just legging it past enemy groups and to the checkpoint. On higher difficulties, it meant stealthing for a little bit until you’re at a safe distance to absolutely gun it for the checkpoint.

Rather than being a welcome change of pace, ‘Working Solo’ was something I did not look forward to. The instant I was ‘working solo’, Ghostwire Tokyo became an exponentially less interesting game. Instead of ramping up the challenge in any significant way, it simply brought down the pacing massively and made parts of the game feel like an exercise in tedium.

Suffice to say, the gameplay is strong, but there just isn’t enough meat on the bone as compared to other action-adventure games in the same vein. Once the player is through the first couple of chapters, they’ve likely seen much of the gameplay loop and its rinse-and-repeat for the next few hours until there’s a boss fight or you’re ‘Working Solo’.

Ghostwire Tokyo Review: A Great Core Gameplay Loop That Sadly Loses Steam Quickly

Speaking of boss fights, there are some. However, they’re far from the highlights of the show. Despite the inspired character designs, the boss fights themselves are quite underwhelming. Apart from a cool, Mister Freeze from Arkham City-style boss fight that involves sneaking up on a boss, there isn’t really much of variety or creativity when it comes to these boss fights. Most of them boil down dodging their attacks by jumping over their AoE attacks or blocking a swipe and then spam Ethereal Weaving. There’s not much thinking or tactics involved in besting these bosses and that’s the case on higher difficulties as well, which is a real shame since I was really into these character designs.

On the topic of character designs, a minor nitpick: I would’ve really appreciated some kind of enemy health bar when it comes to some of these larger bosses. I kept chipping away with my Wind Weaving and I had no way of knowing (apart from my bursts occasionally bouncing off of their skin) if I was doing any damage at all. This resulted in me spamming R2 until I saw the prompt to press L2 to finish off one phase of the fight.

In my eyes, Ghostwire Tokyo’s strongest aspect is Shibuya, the primary setting of the game. The vibrantly busy streets of Shibuya are now replaced by a stark sense of dread and horror despite the beautiful lighting and intricate architecture. Simply running about the streets and spending hours upon hours in Photo Mode was one of my favourite aspects of the game, but one that was also a little bittersweet.

As I made my way through the city, I couldn’t help but wonder what an absolute banger a horror game in this same exact setting would be. Ghostwire Tokyo occasionally dips its toes into horror in some of my favourite sections of the game. While the exteriors are starkly beautiful and well-realized, it’s the environmental-morphing, hallucinatory indoors that make for some of my favourite parts of the game.

During certain sections, enemy forces might morph Akito’s sense of reality, forcing him through interiors that are turned on their head. Soon enough, you’re walking sideways, climbing down a shaft and mysteriously landing on the ceiling, or watch as a creepy projection walks right into the fire. It is during these sustained moments of environmental horror that I feel Ghostwire Tokyo shines the brightest.

The open-world itself is pretty standard and dare say, a little less inspired than the actual design and visuals of the open world. There are plenty of great side missions here to flesh out the story and add a little bit of flavour to affairs, but they’re more or less there to provide players with a bit of XP farm activities, and the occasional humour. In my playthrough of the game, I didn’t feel like the side missions added much to the experience apart from the odd chuckle and a couple of really surprising heartfelt moments, however, their absence might not be the addition by subtraction one might feel like they could be.

Right off the bat, in case players haven’t yet played the Ghostwire Tokyo Prelude that is available for free on both Steam and PlayStation Store – I’d highly recommend that they do before playing this game. I began playing the game without having played the Prelude and about 25 minutes into the game, I had to quit and go back and play through the Prelude to have some sort of an understanding as to what was happening and why I should care.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto the actual story of the game. You play as Akito, a guilt-ridden brother on a quest to save his sister from a dark, supernatural presence. The quest begins when Akito is possessed by a wraith named KK and the pair form an alliance in order to serve both their purposes by defeating the forces behind the complete obliteration of Shibuya.

Maybe it’s the fact that I recently finished another game (the name rhymes with ‘Fiberbunk 2077) that had the main character sharing a body with another and through the game, the two would form a bond and a dual-narrative would make the player care for both the characters – this was rather familiar territory. However, unlike the other game I mentioned, I bought into KK’s narrative, perhaps a little more so than Akito’s, but in fairness, the game did make me care about both characters’ fate in a pretty organic way.

I’d put forth the notion that the first half of the game is entirely dominated by KK’s narrative arc and motivations, carrying over from the Prelude and the second half is more so Akito’s. KK is easily the stronger of the two characters, both in terms of his actual powers and writing. He is commanding, he has an edge to him that doesn’t feel hammy, and he has a backstory that I genuinely was interested in.

Akito, on the other hand, for the lack of a better term, is a ‘charisma vacuum’. Other than the occasional outburst of emotion, Akito’s job in the story is to ask questions and occasionally be subject to KK’s tirades and frustration. Although he has an arc that I cared about towards the end – there is a lot of game to get through before you get to that point.

Ghostwire Tokyo wants you to care about your characters and believe in the urgency of the situation – yet, it will provide you with a couple of dozen side quests you might want to check out along the way. The inclusion of the numerous side quests doesn’t quite fit with the narrative and while they would feel right at home in an RPG a la Skyrim or Cyberpunk 2077 – they feel like distractions. Because, if the game wants me to believe Akito’s sister is truly in mortal peril and we don’t have much time to save her – I really don’t think my time is better utilized looking for.

The game is roughly a solid 15-hour experience, that is, if you focus on the main story and do a couple of side quests. My playthrough clocked in at 16 hours and I spent a considerable amount of time doing side quests and other shenanigans such as cleansing additional Torii gates and freeing up spirits.

My biggest complaint with the game is the fact that despite that the brevity of the game’s actual story – it has way too much padding. The game could easily be a solid 12-hour experience that features only the best bits – the meat of the game. The game runs into issues when it hands the players the most quintessential of video game quests such as looking for parts to fix up a machine, adding another 2 hours of uninteresting gameplay and bringing down the overall pacing of the game.

The story itself, minus the horrid pacing issues, is fine. It isn’t anything to write home about, but at least it features interesting characters and designs that will keep you engaged. KK’s narrative arc hits home way closer than Akito’s, which I don’t think is a product of intention. The writing can often feel dreadfully convenient when this one specific character leaves incredibly-detailed voice messages for uniquely singular issues. When the game isn’t driving home a touching story about guilt through interesting visuals and gameplay, it is pummeling the player with drab exposition that feels painfully tedious.

Ghostwire Tokyo ran well on my PS5, although I did experience frequent framerate drops during some especially busy sequences or when I got hit by a big attack from the enemies. Apart from these occasional stumbles, there isn’t a single complaint I have regarding Ghostwire Tokyo’s visual and audio presentation and performance.

The game features visual modes that I haven’t yet seen in any other PlayStation 5 title. These include the standard Quality and Performance Modes, but additionally, the game also includes ‘HFR Quality’ and ‘HFR Performance’ modes. These modes essentially have uncapped framerates, which is sure to be a joy for gamers with high refresh rate monitors or TVs. I, unfortunately, am not one of those gamers and I couldn’t experience the uncapped framerate joy of the game. A nice touch that I appreciated was the inclusion of HFR modes with Vsync, which meant no visual tearing on the screen when this mode was turned on.

Visually, Ghostwire Tokyo is probably one of the best games I’ve ever played and Shibuya is now easily in my Top 5 favourite locations in any game ever. The distinct art-style of the game is what truly pushes it past several other games with perhaps much better production value as it looks like Tango Gameworks were able to extract the best out of what they had with an effortlessly beautiful art-style.

Ironically, the streets of Shibuya can feel truly alive, despite all of the human population having been turned to spirits. The constant rain paired with the beautiful soundtrack and music of the game makes for a surprisingly tranquil experience. The aforementioned Dualsense effects also go a long way in making the combat of the game, despite being repetitive, quite fun because of the wonderfully tactile experience of the Adaptive Triggers.

Ghostwire Tokyo – Final Score

Ghostwire Tokyo is a solid 15-hour experience, a perfect palette cleanser for players perhaps coming off of long, AAA experiences such as perhaps The Last of Us Part II or more recently, Horizon Forbidden West. Even with its brevity, the game’s choppy pacing can often make the game feel far longer than it actually is and feels like it has at least 4 missions too many.

In many ways, the game feels like it could use a bit of trim and if it cut out some of its more tedious missions – the game would clock in at a respectable 10 hours. But, it would’ve been 10 hours of solid, fun gameplay that doesn’t let up for a single second. The side-missions alone could help the game cross that 15-hour mark if it makes the game an easier sell to mainstream audiences.

The story at its core is one that excels in a number of areas but ultimately feels to hit that emotional high point that it was reaching for. That is not to say that there isn’t any emotional payoff in the game as I found KK’s narrative to be consistently enjoyable albeit a bit contrived.The game’s biggest issues come down to pacing and a lack of any real variety when it comes to the gameplay. The core gameplay loop can start to feel repetitive only a few hours into the game and the occasional change of pace (‘Working Solo’) is more tedious than welcome.

Ultimately, it is not that difficult to forgive the game for its failings with regards to pacing and repetitiveness as the game is consistently earnest in its attempt to be interesting – either visually or through gameplay. Ghostwire Tokyo is a decent title that has a couple of really interesting ideas and one of the best locations in any video game ever but it ultimately fails in a few key areas and fails to hit the high point of Tango Gameworks’ previous horror outing in The Evil Within 2.

The game comes out March 25, 2022 for the PS5 and Microsoft Windows. The game is available for purchase on Steam for Rs 2,499 and on the PlayStation Store for Rs 3,999. PlayStation Plus subscribers will get a 10% discount on the game.

Review copy provided by Bethesda Softworks and reviewed on a PS5.

Ghostwire Tokyo

Rs 3,99976.0/106.0/107.0/109.0/10

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