Tango Gameworks’ latest is “karate meets magic” as players explore a digital Tokyo devoid of life.
It’s refreshing to see a developer like Tango Gameworks draw inspiration from its own history and culture. Founded by Shinji Mikami, of Resident Evil fame, Tango Gameworks has a horror pedigree, extending back to Mikami’s days at Capcom and with its first two releases; The Evil Within and its sequel. However, these games have all taken inspiration from outside of Japan. B-Movies, John Romero, The Walking Dead and even Inception have given rise to the games associated with Tango Gameworks and while some Japanese influence may have been included, it was not the driving force.
All that has changed with Ghostwire: Tokyo.
It’s unapologetically Japanese. For a western audience, especially those less familiar with Japanese culture, this makes Ghostwire: Tokyo harder to grasp, more alienating and stranger. All of which works in the game’s favour. You’re not supposed to be comfortable when you play a horror game anyhow.
After observing a hands-off demo of gameplay from Ghostwire: Tokyo, it’s fair to say there’s (so far) very little to find familiar, comforting and safe…and I couldn’t be more excited.
Ghostwire: Tokyo Preview
What little we know of Ghostwire: Tokyo’s plot is what’s already been made public. A young man named Akito finds himself in Tokyo after the population has vanished in mysterious circumstances. During this event, Akito becomes fused with the spirit of an experienced ghost hunter named KK. Together, they need to use the power of Ethereal Weaving to rid Tokyo of the ‘Visitors’ who’ve arrived while saving the city’s spirits and Akito’s family.
The mastermind appears to be a figure known as Hannya. Tango Gameworks refers to Hannya as he and him, however, a hannya is traditionally a mask depicting a jealous female demon. Hannya certainly seems male in everything we’ve seen thus far, though the choice of the mask suggests otherwise. We’ll have to wait and see if there’s anything more to this or if we’re just being extra suspicious.
In addition to the Visitors, Tokyo has seen an influx in yokai which players can catch to gain power or use in various ways to assist in their adventure. There are also some special yokai who assist in other ways. Nekomata, two-tailed cat yokai, are Ghostwire: Tokyo’s shopkeepers who will help Akito and KK out, for a price. We also spotted a Shiba Inu on the street who didn’t seem to be a spirit, so it looks like the doggos weren’t affected by Hannya’s plan.
The gameplay demo begins with Akito and KK cleansing a Torii Gate in order to remove the dark presence from one area of Tokyo. Corrupted Torii Gates are the source of power for the Visitors and by cleansing them, players are more easily able to traverse and explore. After cleansing this first Torii Gate, Akito comes into possession of the Katashiro, a paper doll used to absorb spirits. Spirits appear all over Tokyo and it seems like fans of collecting are going to love Ghostwire: Tokyo.
The map screen shows a total of 240,050 spirits to collect. Spirits can also be caught within Containment Cubes and there looks to be 2,500 of those to find as well. It wasn’t clear during the demo whether collecting a single spirit contributes more than one to the total number, but regardless, there are a lot of spirits to find and collect in Ghostwire: Tokyo.
After absorbing spirits with the Katashiro, KK directs Akito to find a phone booth and within, it’s revealed that somebody named Ed built payphones to be some kind of paranormal receptacle. Going all Ghostbusters, Akito dials a number into the payphone and it splits in half, opens up and reveals dials, wires, electronics and wave pulses. Through the use of Katashiro and Ed’s special phone booths, Akito and KK are able to store the spirits for their eventual release once the city is back to normal.
KK directs Akito to certain locations and through ‘missions’ and scenarios which seems like the method used to tell the story. However, as an open-world game, during exploration, Akito will, of course, come across side quests, extra activities, bonus missions and the like. The basic structure of Ghostwire: Tokyo plays out like a mystery and the more Akito explores and learns, the more he understands about what has happened.
Ghostwire: Tokyo looks like a fairly slow-paced game giving players plenty of time to stop and look around and explore every nook and cranny of this digital playground. There’s a tonne to see and do (and investigate) and being cautious and taking your time seems to be the best approach. Having only seen a tiny amount of gameplay, it’s hard to tell exactly what players will be doing for the duration of their playthrough, but it’s clear there’s an emphasis on exploration and investigation.
Then there’s the combat.
Whilst exploring and collecting spirits, Akito and KK need to deal with the many Visitors who arrived in Tokyo. These Visitors are otherworldly, paranormal beings who are none too pleased to be disturbed. The few varieties of Visitor we saw include the faceless, Slenderman, headless schoolgirls and other equally strange and disturbing figures. Stealth looks to be a big part of Ghostwire: Tokyo and by sneaking up on enemies, Akito is able to instantly target their ‘core,’ remove it and destroy the Visitor.
When faced with combat, Akito uses Etheral Weaving, which, I’ll be honest, even having seen it in action, I’m not entirely sure how it works. Akito moves his hands to create specific motions and signs, which are used to weave threads (or probably ‘wires’) that attach to the enemies’ cores and removes them. Akito also uses the power of Ethereal Weaving to deflect and block incoming attacks — both melee and projectile — as well as to create blasts of energy and perform special attacks.
During the demo, Akito finds a bow which he also uses in combat and infuses with Etheric power. Honestly, even after having watched Ghostwire: Tokyo’s gameplay, the biggest question mark still remains over the combat. I’m keen to get my hands on the game to fully understand how combat works and how Ethereal Weaving makes Ghostwire: Tokyo stand apart from other first-person horror titles.
Despite not really knowing exactly how the Etheral Weaving works, combat does look really satisfying and dynamic. As Akito does his weaving and enemies attack, the screen is filled with light and particle effects and the whole thing just looks spectacular. It’s like a paranormal fireworks display.
In fact, in general, Ghostwire: Tokyo looks fantastic.
The sense of scale in the game is truly impressive. Buildings extend far up into the sky and way off into the distance. When Akito is standing atop a skyscraper, you can see all the way across the city; neons glowing, lights reflecting in pools of water or the rain-slicked pavement and an eerie fog permeating all of the open space.
It’s odd for a horror game to be so beautiful to look at, but Ghostwire: Tokyo is gorgeous. And I don’t mean that it has “good graphics.” Resident Evil 7 and 8 have good visuals but their settings are creepy and downright ugly in places. No, Ghostwire: Tokyo is beautiful. Tokyo is a beautiful city with its own distinct look and feel and the game really captures that. It features the quirky mix of modern and traditional you can only find in Japan as well as capturing the essence of how it feels to walk the streets of Tokyo.
Even when the strangeness and paranormal Visitors and structures seep into the game world, it brings with it an odd kind of beauty. Ghostwire: Tokyo doesn’t lean on the overused tropes of rubble, destruction, oozing blood or viscera to demonstrate horror. Instead, it puts you inside an extremely pretty digital version of an extremely pretty city and takes away almost everything that makes that city alive, replacing it with devils and demons who both terrify and captivate.
Even this close to release, Ghostwire: Tokyo is still something of a mystery. It’s not very often anymore that a game is released with surprises intact. Marketing, hype and a rabid fanbase mean that most games hit store shelves with every little thing dissected and analysed and discussed to the point where you may as well have already played it…almost.
I love that Ghostwire: Tokyo is an enigma. I love that it’s familiar yet strange enough that even after watching gameplay I’m still confused by what’s actually going on. It makes me more interested in playing it and more excited to learn about it while I play rather than by reading about it while I sit on the toilet.
It’s not long now until we’re able to get our hands on Ghostwire: Tokyo, really come to grips with Ethereal Weaving and learn what Hannya is really up to.
Bring it on, I say.
Ghostwire: Tokyo will be available for PC and PS5 on March 25, 2022.