Ghostwire: Tokyo review-in-progress — Explore a gorgeous but linear Shibuya

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Ghostwire: Tokyo is an open-world action game where players utilize Kuji-kiri hand cuts to manipulate fire, water and wind against yōkai wandering the barren streets of Shibuya. The game’s story begins after a dense fog washes over Tokyo and causes the disappearance of over 200,000 civilians. We follow KK, a spirit detective, inhabiting the body of Akito, a civilian with cryptic ties to the spirit world, in a quest to undo the work of a mysterious specter responsible for the aforementioned phenomenon.

Prior to Ghostwire: Tokyo’s launch on March 25, we got the chance to play through the game’s first two chapters. Over the course of six hours, Tango Gameworks’ gorgeous rendition of Tokyo makes this open-world feel unlike any other. Akito’s stylish elemental manipulation and the hectic nature of enemy attacks keeps the action engaging, while a series of novel yōkai types inspired by Japanese mythos elevates the suspense.

Unfortunately, the game is hindered by an unexciting foundation. Thematically detached progression, an open-world that arbitrarily limits exploration, and uninspired secondary objectives (including its mediocre side-quests) take away from its accomplishments. Ghostwire: Tokyo is fun so far thanks to its presentation, but the game’s base systems are rarely memorable.

We’re going to wait until we finish the game before deciding if it should or shouldn’t find a place on our best PS5 games and best PC games pages.

The flow of battle 

In Ghostwire: Tokyo, the player utilizes the elements of water, wind and fire to battle yōkai, each of which boast individual advantages. Water is excellent for striking within a wide area, wind can deal swift long-range blows, and fire is a great last resort for doing explosive damage. There’s an active and stylish component to how these elements form in Akito’s hands. Fire is specifically shaped as a blazing lance, and when holding down the attack button, it slowly coalesces into a fiery sphere. 

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

These abilities are brought together by the specific hand movements that originate from a Taoist practice called Kuji-in. Kuji-kiri is what Akito uses in battle, specifically referring to making cuts in the air as a method of protection against unwelcome influences. These movements look fantastic in-game, and even when swiftly switching from one element to another, the natural transition between different gestures adds a great deal of excitement to every struggle. Talismans are also introduced a bit further along, allowing players to toss these objects imbued with power towards yōkai to stun them or obscure their sight.

Tango Gameworks did a great job ensuring that the method in which the player ward off yōkai is deeply linked to the themes of its world. This connection not only makes the experience more convincing, but it ensures the game’s combat feels unlike any other.

Yōkai exhilaration 

Ghostwire: Tokyo elevates the intensity when you’re rushing up a flight of stairs and turn the corner only to see an unexplainable, faceless thing with crimson skin wielding a flaming hammer. It’s jarring to see these creatures roaming around a modern setting like Tokyo, as the mix of supernatural and reality adds an additional creepiness to the aesthetic. 

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

The introduction of each novel enemy will stagger you, as their monstrous designs and unfamiliar attack patterns feel fresh and exciting. A lot of them share a specific humanoid base model, but there are mechanical shifts between the dozen-or-so versions of these foes that change the tide of battle. And when surrounded by five or six enemies at once, these exchanges get hectic.

Ghostwire: Tokyo is at its most fun when it’s challenging, throwing waves of yōkai in the field and forcing you to utilize every last elemental power, arrow and talisman left in Akito’s inventory. It’s incredibly satisfying when using the block at the right time, as pressing it briefly before an enemy attack results in a perfect parry. Yōkai aren’t afraid to launch a slew of projectiles towards the player at once, and you will feel like a badass if you can parry every single one of them. This tight balance between defense and offense is what makes these engagements so exciting, especially on a harder difficulty where the consequences are more dire.

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

On the other hand, I’ve found myself avoiding the game’s stealth mechanics. Enemies lack interesting movement patterns, occasionally getting stuck in objects or just patrolling in a straight line. In one major stealth encounter, I saw two yōkai get trapped in a tōrō (stone lantern) and I quickly hid behind a building to reset their aggression. Yet even when I came back out and they were no longer stuck, they couldn’t seem to follow me a few inches when I went back to hide behind that same building. However, it’s possible that this could be addressed by an upcoming patch.

Unimaginative progression 

Progression through Ghostwire: Tokyo is detached from its stylish presentation. Gaining skill-points and experience for protecting lost souls feels thematically irrelevant to making Kuji-kiri gestures and warding off demonic influences. Interacting with phone booths allows players to deliver the spirits they’re carrying to a safer place, awarding a certain amount of experience and currency to unlock new abilities or buy special items. While this is a fine excuse to get cool stuff in the player’s hands, it’s never exciting. Tango Gameworks’ explores how Kuji-in and Taoist practices can offer a presentation unlike any other game; this calls for a progression system similarly embedded within these distinct ideas. 

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

Leveling up and gaining 10 skill points does not evoke joy. I often put this part of the game off and just continue running around Tokyo, exploring the potential of its verticality or getting into bouts against yōkai. Gaining new abilities could have been intrinsically linked with exploration of the game’s world by offering new skills or powers through side-quests or the discovery of secrets. It’s difficult to see why this game needed skill trees and an experience system, beyond fulfilling an open-world tradition. KK even makes references that players should upgrade their skills whenever they do level up, which adds onto the forced nature of this exchange.

Visions of Tokyo 

Ghostwire: Tokyo’s excellent vision of Shibuya is a considerable force behind the excitement of exploring its world. It’s lovely to feel involved in this city, whether it be taking a fortune at a Japanese shrine, browsing a convenience store for its most interesting snacks, or casually strolling through city streets to absorb its iconic neon-glow.  

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

The placement of abandoned vehicles, litter, cones, piles of clothing, signs, trees, little lanterns strewn between buildings, bicycles, and best of all, pettable dogs, offer an impressive attention to detail that ensures no street corner feels empty. And from what I played, many buildings were externally varied with their design and advertisements, with some even blasting music as you pass by them.

The game’s elevated sense of reality meshes wonderfully with the realistic portrait of Tokyo’s dim-lit streets. Players will realize what they see might not actually be there, as certain quests shift the physics of the game by having space expand and rooms turn. Yet even when exploring the limits of tangibility, there aren’t many aspects of Shibuya that are ethereal or detached from reality.

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

Accompanied by the ever-present crimson moon hanging above players heads at all times, Ghostwire: Tokyo gives us a great excuse to run around this gorgeous corner of Japan. Hopping across rooftops and taking in the symphony of neon screens, billboards, and tightly packed city streets that encompass Shibuya is what makes this game stand apart from others in the genre.

Exploration could be more exciting 

Shibuya is overwhelmed by a mysterious fog that has caused every civilian to vanish. Players need to cleanse torii gateways to rid the city of this mist, and until they do, stepping into the fog will offer a swift death. Limiting exploration to story-progression hinders players’ agency, forcing us to explore a certain subset of blocks at a time. 

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

I’ve accidentally stepped into this fog while getting lost in the world, and suddenly, the game is aggressively nudging me to go elsewhere. Open-worlds are most effective when they’re truly open, and although Ghostwire: Tokyo is gorgeous, it’s frustrating when I can’t interact with a point of interest in my sight. This could exclusively be an early-game issue, as I’ve only played for six hours, but it’s been a problem so far.

On the other hand, it’s nice that players can freely explore the verticality of Tokyo, whether it be by grappling onto a tengu, escalating a fire escape, or hopping off of a rooftop and gliding to another. And when players acquire an ability that allows them to grapple onto whatever rooftop they see, this freedom is even more satisfying.

Open-world complaints 

Ghostwire Tokyo’s open-world structure is hampered by its predictability. Cleansing torii gates removes the fog from an area, revealing collectible items and side-quests around that part of the map. Interacting with these elements is enjoyable thanks to the game’s tight combat and fantastic aesthetic, but going from one guided point of interest to another offers little excitement. 

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

Much of what the player engages with lacks inspiration, whether they be fetch-quests, fighting off waves of enemies in a limited arena, chasing a flying collectible across rooftops, or following slow-specters to new destinations. The best part of these quests are intertwined with the game’s personality, as certain elements allow us to explore buildings with reality-shifting properties and interact with new types of yōkai.

However, you’ll be spending a lot of time collecting loose spirits before depositing them into a phone booth, or mindlessly following the green side-quest marker forced onto the screen. These side-quests are usually uninteresting, but some offer memorable moments, like having to run around temple grounds looking for an inanimate object with a fuzzy tail sticking out of it. I can only hope the game’s world offers more engaging things to naturally interact with when we get the full experience.

Bottom Line 

Shibuya is overwhelmed with aggressive yōkai, but Ghostwire: Tokyo is rarely scary. During the first few hours, I wasn’t too fond of how the game’s flashy presentation took away from the creepiness of its desolate streets and disturbing enemy designs. But these expectations obscure what Tango Gameworks is attempting to accomplish.

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

This disturbing setting is the basis for what is actually a traditional open-world experience. Although fear is almost never invoked, the bizarreness behind each monstrous yōkai and the trippy environmental effects make it clear how the game benefits from merging an action-packed foundation with backdrops rooted in horror. This isn’t a survival game, and it won’t make you jump out of your seat. Instead, Ghostwire: Tokyo is a fun trip through Shibuya, with little sprinkles of terror placed throughout the journey.

This gorgeous vision for Tokyo possesses an exhilarating approach to psychedelic style, and if you can get over the many elements that make this open-world mechanically trite, Ghostwire: Tokyo will be an entertaining experience.


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