Ghostwire: Tokyo Review- A Divisive but Daring Open World

Ghostwire: Tokyo is a game that I’ve had a strange relationship with for a while now, through production and now as a player of this game. Throughout the entire lead-up to this game’s release, I was never sure what to expect. At one stage, I was sure that this game would be a new IP that leaned into the horror genre and offered a new AAA horror experience.

Then as more gameplay surfaced, it became clear that this game would be yet another open-world game, and being the cynic that I am, I scoffed and put this game in the back of my mind. The gaming industry has made me a long-term sufferer of open-world fatigue, and another one on the docket just didn’t excite me. However, as this game rolled closer to release day, I found myself curious about what this game would offer, as no matter how I felt about open-world games, I could see that this one was at least trying to be different.

Perhaps it was Elden Ring that cleansed my opinion on modern open worlds, but I went into this game with an open mind. I felt that this game had the potential to be like Deathloop from last year. A game that subverted all expectations and achieved huge success. However, I also felt that this game had the potential to be another game like Farcry 6 or Dying Light 2. A game that sticks rigidly to the open-world formula and bores me to tears.

In the end, Ghostwire: Tokyo is a little bit of both. In some areas, it shines, whereas, in others, it is exactly what you would expect. I imagine this will be one of the most divisive games of the year as there is a lot to love and a lot to loathe about this game, but I’ll try and give you as full of a picture as I possibly can. So without further delay, here is our Ghostwire: Tokyo review, reviewed on PS5.

Shibuya is Stunning!

Okay, so let’s get the obvious area of praise out of the way nice and quick; Ghostwire Tokyo’s haunted iteration of Shibuya is visually stunning. We can see why they created this eerie world where it’s always raining as the way the neon lights bounce off the sodden ground is captivating, and the attention to detail throughout this world is clear to see. This is apparent through the set dressing of the world, like the reams of manga books that line shelves or the abundance of Asian confectionary that fills shopfloors.

Then as for the world itself, it is a joy to behold. The textures, the vistas one can take in when on rooftops, the way each street looks different from another, even in this tight, claustrophobic setting. It’s all worth praising, and in terms of visual appeal, we can’t really find too much fault with this game. The only issue we would raise is that frame rates do drop quite a lot, but we can only assume that patches will clear this issue up.

We also need to touch on the overall atmosphere of this world. This game plops you into a deserted Shibuya, where aside from the Visitors, the enemies of this game that walk the same streets, you are the only survivor of this mass exodus. So the fact that this game’s setting doesn’t feel barren or dull is a testament to the design team and the way they have presented this world.

The eerie, chilling atmosphere is palpable, and even though there aren’t many NPC’s or interactable entities within the game, the player always feels engaged. Through Akiro and KK’s exchanges, the constant need to collect souls, the consistent replenishing of side quests, and regular batches of enemies to take care of, there is never a time in this game to feel alone, and thanks to the pseudo-horror approach, by design, you always feel like someone is watching.

Then we also have to praise the use of the Dualsense controller here. Tango has done an incredible job of utilizing the hardware and making players feel like they are part of the action. The haptic feedback is superb, and the use of triggers during thread attacks and seal breaking is so satisfying. It makes you feel like every action you perform has weight and power behind it, and when you weave these elemental attacks, like the elements are shooting from your fingers. It’s a shame non-PlayStation players miss out on this aspect as it really brings the action to life.

Breaking out the Ninjitsu

Now, let’s touch on the part of the gameplay that will probably get the most plaudits, the combat. These combat mechanics are the reason why this game is neither a survival game nor a horror. The player from the offset feels like a supernatural being who can rip out the hearts of these imposing Visitors and can shoot wind, water, fire, and cast ethereal arrows at their foes, all before you have completed the first few hours of the game.

The ammo for these abilities are in such abundance that you never feel like you will be caught with your pants down in battle and the abilities themselves give you the ability to dispatch multiple enemies in seconds without too much effort from the offset, so yeah, this isn’t a survival horror by a long shot. It’s honestly more like an FPS.

That being said, the combat succeeds in the game because of its simplicity. Players have a couple of elements to channel, and they simply cast at will, replenish as they go, block when the going gets tough, and there are some elements of combat that lend themselves to stealth. The combat feels fluid and responsive, and while the upgrades available are rather arbitrary, they do allow you to become more proficient with your various skills. As I said, it’s the simplicity of this approach and the clear desire not to overcomplicate combat that has made it a success.

I wouldn’t say it’s a complete success, however, as this accessibility and simplicity does make the combat feel rather repetitive, especially in the early game when you are only fighting basic enemies. Plus, the mechanics aren’t as polished as they could be. The aiming function is janky at times, the turning circle is slow, and some of the abilities are a little underwhelming.

Plus, as someone that loves to be a stealthy assassin, the game doesn’t really facilitate this approach. Don’t get me wrong, stealth combat exists in the game, and you can perform silent takedowns. However, almost every time, the enemy will spot you, and a huge firefight begins. The bow is a great answer to this problem, but the ammo for this weapon is in desperately short supply, so the game almost funnels the player into fighting with their elemental powers rather than with stealth.

Honestly, the game feels like it is at odds with itself at times, toying with the idea of being a survival horror and then switching to an all-action FPS experience. I truly wish it would have picked a lane and stuck to it. I feel that the game would have been so much better as a whole if they did.

What we do have to praise is the variety of enemies, as this variety does a lot to alleviate the problems listed above. After the initial stages, the game introduces a series of enemies, and they all have different attack patterns, different gimmicks and really help make combat less repetitive. The game has tank enemies, super-fast enemies that close the gap in no time, flying enemies, shielded enemies, and much more.

However, the combat in this game is at its best when you get paired up against a boss enemy. These aren’t super detailed and meticulously crafted encounters like in a Souls game, for example. However, this added need for tactical combat and a need to analyze and react to their unique attack pattern and skill set is great. This is when the combat shines brightest.

A Lack of Flow

While the combat does deserve modest praise, there are a lot of aspects to the gameplay that falls flat, in my opinion. The most poignant example of this is the lack of flow within the game. One thing that players will notice is that the game takes forever to let you off the leash. The first three hours feel like an unnecessary tutorial that keeps things very linear and explains rudimentary aspects of the game.

Until you have cleared a large amount of the killer fog that boxes you in the starting area, this game won’t feel like an open-world adventure at all, and it’s very much to the detriment of this game, as when it gets going, and the player is granted this freedom, the game begins to show its best qualities. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if this game has a huge early drop-off rate for this reason alone.

Also, one thing that kills the flow of this game’s experience is the traversal. In open-world games, making getting around within the world fun is essential. Just look at games like Dying Light or Infamous. There is little need for fast travel as wandering around in the world is such a joy, which in turn makes the whole experience more immersive.

Well, Ghostwire’s traversal has a lot of flaws, which admittedly apply exclusively to the opening 5-10 hours specifically, but that’s a long time to suffer in the hope of things getting better. Getting around is slow, and even with fast travel, it feels like you are plodding around from place to place. The climbing/parkour aspects of this game aren’t fluid and don’t get me started on the grappling mechanic.

The player will need to use a Tengu, which is a flying dragon/bird spirit, to shoot themselves into the air and reach the rooftops. However, these birds are hard to locate in the sky, leading to the player aimlessly looking up until they come across the thing squawking above.

The amount of time I spent looking at the sky to no avail is criminal, and it really pulled me out of the experience. Like I said, though, once the player opens up the map and hopping/gliding from roof to roof becomes commonplace, the game world feels much more fun to traverse, but for quite some time, you will find this aspect of the game a chore.

A Cool Concept, a bumbling delivery

Now, let’s talk about the narrative here. The game really drops you in the deep end here. You play as Akiro, a resident of Shibuya who, like all others in this supernatural purge, has died. However, KK, a supernatural spirit enters his body, and after some initial squabbles, you decide to share a body and work together to take down the man in the Hannya mask, who has caused this event to happen in the first place. Oh, and the villain also kidnapped your comatose sister. As I said, it’s a lot, and it’s a typical, over-the-top Japanese presentation of this story that serves as the hook that draws the player’s in. It’s a pretty killer concept, all things considered; however, the story feels poorly paced, uneventful and lackluster throughout.

The player never feels emotionally invested in saving Akiro’s sister as we have never met her and have no attachment to her. It’s like in Fallout 4 when you have to rescue Shawn, the baby. It’s just a random baby we have barely interacted with; why would we go chase the thing down? That same logic applies to someone in a comma; they can’t exactly talk and make any sort of impression on you.

We also never feel at odds with the Villian as he is a very forgettable character, and throughout your time within the game, the main story never really feels cohesive. It just feels like you are going from place to place, never really learning anything about the antagonist, the supernatural situation, or the spirit that inhabits your body.

The only saving grace is that the relationship between Akiro and KK does become a jovial one that develops with time, kind of like V and Jonny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077. Plus, the side quests on offer, while not the most fleshed-out ever seen in the medium of gaming, serve as moments of levity and help provide breaks from the underwhelming main plotline. Overall, I feel like this is the area of this game that lets the side down the most. With a very strong story, this new IP could have been a mainstay in the industry. However, I cannot see anyone greenlighting this game for a sequel.

Where I do have to give praise, though, is in the casting department. We have seen lots of games over the years that focus on different cultures and represent them front and center. However, in a lot of these projects, we often see voice actors like Nolan North or Troy Baker lend their name to the project and have these characters born in distinctly non-English speaking regions speaking fluent English for our benefit. So I love that voice actors from this region were given the nod and that the game doesn’t Americanize the project as a lot of games try to do. Just to clarify, you can switch to English if you choose, but it isn’t the default setting, and I love that approach.

Breaking the Seal

Let’s talk about the UI here, as I feel that this game really misses the boat here. The best example of this is the hand signal mechanics that players must use to break seals. The player will have to engage in a short minigame where they have to copy the hand movement like Simon Says. However, the interface on this is super clumsy, to the point that the developer has included an auto-fill mechanic. This leads me to question why they even make that a player interaction at all, as it only serves to infuriate and slow down proceedings.

Then as for the HUD of this game, I feel like there was a missed opportunity here to clear up some space on the screen. The Spectral vision was the ultimate opportunity to do away with quest markers and have players follow a pathway that they could follow to their goal and only engage with as they chose, as seen in games like Dead Space and The Ascent. However, the game still litters the screen with quest descriptions, ammo counts, map markers, and more. It’s a busy screen, and when the game is this atmospheric and ominous, the least amount of HUD possible is always the best option. It’s not a huge problem, but it is a missed opportunity for sure.

Collect-a-Yawn

Despite all the things that Ghostwire: Tokyo does to set itself apart from the cavalcade of modern open-world games, it seems that the studio couldn’t resist the temptation to load up the map with tonnes of optional markers and collectibles to source. Honestly, I think developers have a set quota on projects and have to cover their sprawling map with markers and cover up that real estate just to justify making an open world.

The phrase ‘less is more’ springs to mind. In this game, you will be tasked with finding all the Tanuki’s, all the regional oddities and trinkets lying around, all the prayer statues that boost your stats, all the musical tracks, all the food items available, all the elemental bracelets. You get the idea; there is a lot of busywork here, and while this is fine if you are just doing it casually as you play, but it can zap all the enjoyment out of the experience and make players feel like they are ticking boxes. It’s just not the way to provide your players with emergent gameplay, which is exactly what open-worlds should provide, and while some players, mainly Ubisoft sympathizers, will like this approach, I can’t help but be critical of this.

FAQ Section

Question: Who is Shinji Mikami?

Answer: Shinji Mikami, for those coming to Ghostwire: Tokyo blind, is the creative mind behind such projects as Resident Evil, God Hand, and The Evil Within, to name a few. This creative goliath is one of the best Japanese developers around, and while not as well known as entities like Hideo Kojima or Tetsume Nomura, to name a few, their resume speaks for itself, and this Japanese horror buff has created some beloved games.

Question: Is Shibuya Real?

Answer: Yes, Shibuya is a popular region within Tokyo and is one of the main tourist hotspots for those visiting the city. It’s become a popular area for game developers to set their games. Shibuya was the setting for popular titles like Persona, Yakuza, Shibuya Scramble; The World Ends with You, and quite a few more. However, Ghostwire: Tokyo may be your only chance to watch Shibuya’s streets without thousands of people around every corner.

Question: What is a Hannya Mask?

Answer: The main antagonist within Ghostwire: Tokyo conceals their identity through the use of a Hannya Mask and makes themselves look really imposing and creepy in the process. A Hannya mask is a mask that is commonly seen in Japanese Noh theatre and is used to represent a jealous female demon. This type of mask has actually been seen in other recent modern AAA games too. This type of mask can also be found within Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

The Verdict

Score: 7/10

Overall, while I know in my heart of hearts that Ghostwire: Tokyo is a game that panders to the open-world fanatics out there and follows the Ubisoft formula almost to the letter, I can’t help but feel that there is something inherently different about this game. When I review games of this nature, I usually have to argue and plead with myself to push through the boredom barrier and see enough content to make a critical assessment, but this time, that internal bargaining wasn’t a factor.

Dare I say, I actually enjoyed my time in this haunting reimagining of Shibuya and relished the opportunity to return. Sure, it’s far from perfect. The story is poorly paced, generally quite uneventful, and if it weren’t for the relationship of Akiro and KK, I would have tuned out altogether. The gameplay has peaks and valleys, and when it dips in quality, it can really be offputting. Plus, even in terms of performance, I found that the game’s frame rate stuttered a lot more than I would have liked, and I tend to be very forgiving when it comes to FPS.

However, the incredible setting, the visuals, the good parts of the gameplay, the varied enemy types, the inventive overall concept of this world, and the fact that you can read animals’ thoughts through spectral vision all do an awful lot to keep the player engaged in spite of these flaws. Is it game of the year? Not by a long shot. Is it Shinji Mikami’s best work? Again, absolutely not. However, it’s a great new IP, a good open-world game that feels like an outlier amongst the abundance of modern examples out there, and it is well worth checking out. We hope that this review helps give you a clear picture and as always, thank you for reading RPG Informer.

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