Ghostwire Tokyo is a fascinating concept. A first-person adventure game set in a supernatural Tokyo where the population has vanished and only spirits remain (some good, some evil). It sounds like it should be the right ingredients for a great time. Throw in combat that makes you feel like a badass and a city that’s fun to explore and, on paper, Ghostwire Tokyo looks like a home run.
Does what seems like Bethesda’s swan song on PlayStation pull everything together to make it one of their best? Or do the cracks in its core make it a game with spirit but no soul?
Ghostwire Tokyo plays superbly. Whether you’re sneaking around behind enemies to take them by surprise or going in finger guns blazing the game does a great job in making those moments feel exhilarating. This is partly due to the DualSense and the use of the speakers.
Get close to an enemy and the speakers will play a sound that gets louder the closer you get. It is a really effective way to use the DualSense. Something that can’t be said about the use of the touchpad when it comes to drawing signs. It’s a concept that, once or twice, is intriguing and makes you go “ooo that’s fun, but doesn’t quite work”. It’s done so many times though that you’ll soon just give up and start pressing the “autocomplete” button. Especially if you decide to explore.
Minus that, everything gameplay-wise in Ghostwire Tokyo comes together nicely. There’s a surprising level of verticality to the game that makes exploring the map far more interesting too. It’s not just a case of running through the streets. With collectables to hunt down all over the place, you’re encouraged to explore high and low. It makes it much easier to scout things out and choose your plan of attack. Not only that but it’s a good way to keep away from enemies too.
When taking on enemies, if you’re not lucky enough to sneak up to them and take them out, you have a range of powers you can use. These are called ethereal weaving. It makes you feel like Doctor Strange delivering a smackdown. If you find yourself out of these powers there’s also a trusty bow and arrow you can use to take down enemies. The bow is also a great way to take out enemies from a distance.
This range of powers leads to a really fun combat loop. Enemy types can get repetitive but the way they’re used helps keep things never feeling like a chore. Boss fights also feel unique. You should be able to figure out quickly where to hit and what to dodge from what the game has already taught you. Even with that though they still offer a fresh challenge that makes them stand out. Although I didn’t find any of them particularly hard during my Normal run of the game.
As you progress through the game you’ll discover various side quests as you slowly unlock each area. At times the map can get a bit overwhelming. Luckily you can toggle off and on any icons, you don’t want to see. Unlocking each area is surprisingly fun. Figuring out where the enemies are and whether it’s worth taking them on or avoiding them as expand the map adds a nice bit of strategy to the game. This is very much like other games with a map that needs exploring but, if it’s not broken, why fix it?
When the game takes away these more organic moments of exploration it starts to show some weaknesses. Normally this is done in the name of progressing the story and sees the game become more linear. For the most part, though there’s a lot of Tokyo to explore… so get exploring!
A Ghost Story
This is where Ghostwire Tokyo starts to fall apart. The story is fine, if rather unremarkable. It feels like it’s mainly ticking boxes of “this is what a supernatural story needs”. The world that is built around the main story is far more interesting than the story itself. If you’re someone that ignores side quests then you’ll breeze through the story quickly. Doing so though will leave you with a far worse experience than if you took your time.
I did a fair few side quests but still had several left on the map when I finished and my completion time clocked in at around 21 hours after a leisurely style of play. The main story is easy to brute force your way through but it’s also not the most interesting part of the game.
One thing that really does the story no favours is how it is delivered at times. It’s done in a way that completely pulls you out of the game. Despite being a first-person game a big chunk of cutscenes are in the third person. The game dips to black and slows down the pace in a way that just feels jarring. The cutscene direction feels too safe a lot of the time. Shots feel like they’re there more to get coverage than to make you connect with the characters more or to show off something that justifies the change of perspective.
Do Talk To Strangers
In the first person, the game looks superb. Once everything is moved to third person though it just loses some of its pizzaz. This is probably partly why I found myself far more interested in the side quests and just exploring the city. The side quests range from something taking a few minutes to the best part of 15-30 and help add a bit more character to the ghost town and to the main characters. Some of the quests are funny, some are pretty haunting and there’s plenty of them to pick up to keep you busy.
In first-person Ghostwire Tokyo looks great, especially when additional visual effects are in play. For the majority of my playthrough, I played in Quality Mode. This was a high-fidelity rendering mode with Ray Tracing but framerate was capped at 30fps. Personally, the capped framerate rarely bothered me and it was definitely worth the increased quality of graphics.
The way the game looks as you’re diving into combat and throwing out all your moves adds colour to the game that really helps it pop. The enemy and spirit design is great for the most part too. A lot of them are inspired by real folklore so there is a chance they may seem familiar but that doesn’t make them any less creepy. Grabbing the core from an enemy and having its face fill my screen still made me slightly uncomfortable no matter how many times I saw it.
When the game does dip to third person, as previously stated, it does lose some of its “wow” factor but it’s by no means a bad looking game then. The graphics keep up to help make everything you do feel cool.
By default, the game is maybe not the most accessible but there’s a nice level of customisation that can help make the game closer to what you may find useful. A lot of the actions are tied to the left trigger which is fine for the most part but can make it a bit awkward at times. UI, graphics and controller menus help you fine-tune a lot of your experience.
You can customise the controller layout as you want, as you can with a lot of what you see on screen too. You can also filter your map to have as many or as few icons as you’d like. Sound sliders allow you to move different parts rather than just one master volume and there are customisable text and subtitle size sliders too. Subtitles, even at max size, aren’t that big though.
Ghostwire does a lot right. It’s just a shame that the main story and its delivery struggle to match the positive parts of the gameplay and exploration. It’s such a solid foundation that I hope we get a sequel or spin-off at some point in the future.
For those that like the supernatural and action-adventure games you’ll have a great time with Ghostwire Tokyo. If you’re coming into the game expecting a terrifying horror experience you’ll be disappointed. There are still moments there though that will get under your skin. Bethesda’s PlayStation swan song might not hit all the right notes but it still delivers a melody that’ll be stuck in your head for a while.
For our Ghostwire Tokyo review, a digital PS5 copy was provided by Bethesda Softworks.
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Featured Image: Bethesda / Tango Gameworks
For a second opinion, check out Olly’s video review over on FragHero!