There is absolutely no mistaking where Ghostwire: Tokyo – which just confirmed a March 25 release date – takes place. LED billboards beam down from the tightly packed skyscrapers. Torii gates, sheathed by leafy trees, pockmark the urban sprawl. A convenience store beckons to the player on every street corner, offering a bright jingle and a catalog of processed sweets. At last, after a decade spent in American suburbia with The Evil Within franchise, Tango Gameworks is returning to their beloved homefront. After watching a 20 minute gameplay demo of Ghostwire: Tokyo at a recent preview event, I don’t think the megacity has ever been rendered more accurately… you know, save for the marauding evil spirits and the psychedelic geysers of dark energy. In Tango’s vision, the Japanese capital has gone to hell, but at least you can still pick up some plastic-wrapped onigiri before your next fight.
If you wish to be reductive, you can call Ghostwire: Tokyo a first-person shooter. Our protagonist is a young man named Akito, who wakes up one day to find that all of Tokyo’s 14 million residents have gone missing. Even stranger, a voice emanates from deep within his soul. It’s a spirit named KK who has taken up residence inside Akito’s mortal shell, blessing him with the flickering magical powers that now pour from his fingertips. That’s good news, because a cackling villain in a demonic hannya mask has kidnapped his sister, setting Akito on a warpath to purify Tokyo, rescue his family, and hopefully, obtain a better understanding of the eldritch corruption now coursing through the metropolis. You will accomplish these tasks by unloading payloads of supernatural damage towards the spectral, menacing “Visitors” who’ve taken up residence around Tokyo. In The Evil Within, Sebastian Castellanos fought back against the beasties with conventional munitions. But in Ghostwire, our weapons have become a little more divine.
From the opening minutes of the demo, it became clear that Tango did not put all of this work in their gorgeous cityscape for it to be simple window dressing. This is an open-world game, and as such I spent a lot of time watching Akito wander this gloomy, bereft Tokyo, one eye on his mini-map, scarfing up a standard suite of side-quests. He absorbed clouds of spirits from distant rooftops, he cleansed newly-tainted torii gates, and yes, he purchased some lunch from a convenience store that seemed to be staffed exclusively by enchanted talking cats. (In fact, much of Ghostwire: Tokyo appears to be deeply steeped in Japanese folklore.) I’ll need to get my hands on the game to get a precise sense of the gameplay loop, but I did notice that upon entering a pay phone, Akito was asked if he wanted to transfer his accumulated spirits into cash and experience points. Does that hint at a quasi-Dark Souls system? Only time will tell.
It reminded me a bit of some of the most mind-bending moments of Control, which should be taken as a huge compliment.
These sorts of waypoint-heavy adventures can be fairly banal in the wrong hands, but I was immediately struck by Tango’s perfectionist emphasis on presentation. In those phonebooth checkpoints I mentioned earlier, Ghostwire: Tokyo doesn’t fade into a limp menu; instead you watch Akito bang in a code on the dial before prying open a secret compartment that sucks the life force out of an enchanted paper doll. His bolts of magic don’t fly out of the crosshairs like a peashooter; Akito’s fingers are constantly flexing into different contortions — like Aang orchestrating some heavy airbending — before smiting his enemies with holy fire. In fact, the highlight of the whole demo was a story mission where Akito needed to escape his apartment building. Reality seemed to faze in and out of dimensions, as the player’s perspective is toyed with as we desperately bash through doors and hop through windows towards deliverance. It reminded me a bit of some of the most mind-bending moments of Control, which should be taken as a huge compliment.
Ghostwire: Tokyo – 6 New Screenshots
Tango Gameworks is a studio that’s shown a lot of promise over the last decade, and I think we’ve all been waiting to see if they can finally put it all together and fully actualize the flashes of greatness they demonstrated with The Evil Within series. With its mythic scope, open-world flourishes, and an arsenal of neat level design tricks, Ghostwire: Tokyo appears on the cusp of something special. Let’s just hope its ghostbusting can sustain itself over a full campaign.