There’s trouble in Tokyo.
A strange mist has rolled in, and with it comes… visitors. Though they’re not the type of visitors you want to sit down to have a drink and a good chat with. No. They are, in fact, visitors of the supernatural kind, who have a penchant for spirits. And with the citizens of Tokyo just about to mysteriously disappear, many leaving their spirits behind, things aren’t looking too good.
There’s one spirit, however – that of a man going by the name of KK – that’s determined to get to the bottom of the catastrophe that’s just occurred. Quickly moving to inhabit a body nearby in order to give himself a physical form, he suspects a mysterious person wearing a Hannya mask is behind it all. But what he wasn’t banking on was the fact that the body he’s effectively just possessed would put up some resistance. It belongs to a man named Akito, and the two butt heads – but they’re the best hope that Tokyo has got.
The truth of it is, though, that they need each other. Without KK, Akito’s combat options are limited when it comes to fighting visitors. Akito can fire a bow, utilise stealth and make use of talismans, but that’s about it. There will be times where you’re forced to fight without the help of your spirit friend. But thankfully, for the huge majority of Ghostwire: Tokyo, you’ll have the supernatural abilities imparted to you by KK to rely on.
It’s thanks to KK that your hands are now lethal weapons, able to unleash the power of multiple elements. First you’re able to bombard your enemies with projectiles composed of wind. Not long after, fire gets added to your repertoire. And then water. Each have their uses; projectiles of fire are unrivalled in terms of power, for example, while water projectiles are weaker but have a wider area of effect. As such, there’s strategy in working out which element is right for the current situation. You can perform charged attacks with each element, too, bringing more options to the table.
Is Ghostwire: Tokyo a first-person shooter then? Kind of, but not really. Despite nearly all of your attacks being of the ranged variety, it feels more like a first-person brawler, with the majority of your enemies trying to whack you with physical attacks up close. You have a block button to counter such aggression, and pressing it just before an attack hits will perform a parry, giving you the upper hand. Add in a melee move of your own and a slightly cumbersome pace, and you have a combat system that is utterly unique.
Sneaking up on enemies to take them out with a swift execution is always beneficial, but sometimes you’re forced to fight. And while simply bombarding your enemies with all the attacks you have at your disposal may seem like a good idea, it’s not advisable. For a start, you have limited power for each elemental type. So, get too happy with your hands and you might run out, severely limiting your options. It’s beneficial, then, to try and conserve your elemental power where necessary. Or keep an eye out for distorted objects in the environment that can be melee attacked to unleash some energy.
There’s another thing you can do, too: rip out the cores of your enemies rather than kill them with attacks outright. Expose an enemy’s core with your attacks, and then you can simply hold the left trigger to rip it out of them using what looks like a piece of wire. You can even rip the cores out of multiple enemies at once. You have to be careful though, as it’s a process that takes a little time. And so there’s always the chance that another enemy could attack you and interrupt your wire-based finisher.
With combat often taking place in smallish environments, and you frequently being heavily outnumbered, Ghostwire: Tokyo starts out fairly breezy but soon becomes rather challenging. You need to keep on the move to avoid ranged enemy attacks, be prepared to put your guard up to nullify melee attacks, manage your power reserves and dish out your own punishment, all while finding time to rip out cores where possible. It’s unusual and measured, though perhaps not quite as exciting as it should be. The slower pace makes it, yet also holds it back.
Outside of combat, there’s a large open world for you to explore, with more areas steadily unlocked as you cleanse Torii Gates. You might be tempted to take the path of least resistance, heading from one main objective to the next, simply cleansing the Torii Gates that are required. It’s better that you take time to snoop around the nooks and crannies of Tokyo though, as it enables you to more effectively develop Akito’s abilities.
Winning combat encounters will reward you with experience, and so will absorbing stranded souls into paper dolls before transferring them via payphones. Money can also be found, allowing you to purchase items from cat vendors liberally located across the map. Some of those cats will have items they’re interested in acquiring, too, should you be able to find them. And there are many, many side quests to complete, often rather entertaining, and always rewarding. As the primary sources of Magatama, you’ll want to complete a fair few just so that you can fully upgrade at least some skills.
It’s quite easy to nit-pick at Ghostwire: Tokyo. It’s a bit formulaic, with many tasks to complete over and over again; the scenery can be a bit samey at times; the upgrades you can unlock with your skill points don’t always feel as empowering as they should. Nothing is more egregious, however, than occasionally having to recreate hand movements with either the right analogue stick or touch pad to perform certain actions. It’s awfully hit and miss, and until you get the knack of it, it might truly frustrate you.
For all of Ghostwire: Tokyo‘s minor faults though, there’s something about it that keeps you glued to the screen. It’s perhaps the variety of its gameplay, which includes unique combat, exploration, stealth, a touch of investigation, and more. There’s also the fact that the enemies you’re up against are truly a bit creepy, and new foes are wheeled out at a decent rate to keep you on your toes. And then there’s the atmosphere; this isn’t a horror game per se, but it can be unsettling at times. Along with a story that’s surprisingly engaging, there’s just nothing else quite like it.
If you like games that are fast-paced and that don’t bog you down with gameplay elements that can feel like busywork, Ghostwire: Tokyo may not be for you. If you don’t mind the slower pace, however, and are excited by the prospect of busting ghosts with magic thrown from your hands, chances are you’ll love it. It may feel like virtual tourism during a cataclysmic event at times, but that’s the charm of it. And there’s plenty of it to be done as you traipse back and forth across Tokyo trying to thwart a Hannya mask-wearing psycho.
Ghostwire: Tokyo Review – GameSpew’s Score