From The Elder Scrolls and Fallout to Dishonored and Wolfenstein, the Bethesda catalogue has been a staple of many a PlayStation console’s third-party lineup. Its games are unique and varied. And while not all of them land, you’re always in for something a bit different. Microsoft’s acquisition of the company means that’s all set to end, and Ghostwire: Tokyo represents one final taste of the publisher’s distinctive blend. We’re sad to report, then, that the firm departs with a whimper rather than a bang.
The latest game out of The Evil Within developer Tango Gameworks isn’t a bad one, but it’s not particularly good either. It’s just, well, fine — which, unfortunately, represents a significant drop in quality after The Evil Within 2 really put the Shinji Mikami led studio on the map. Taking place in downtown Tokyo, the game becomes repetitive, full of open world busywork, and peppered with colourless optional content.
The usual hustle and bustle of the Japanese capital is gone, however, as a supernatural occurrence disappears the local population. All that’s left behind are their clothes and you: protagonist Akito. He’s able to survive the paranormal attack thanks to the efforts of KK, a friendly spirit lending him life and elemental powers. Together, the pair must rid Tokyo of its occult coup.
It’s safe to say the narrative that follows fails to live up to that promising premise, never reaching the heights of what it has on paper. Akito and KK are essentially the same character; both annoying and tedious to listen to. They’ll babble on at one another, arguing for multiple scenes and then make good when the going gets tough once again. Fortunately, both Japanese and English voiceover is available, and the pair are less of a chore in their native language. Sadly, however, none of the story beats their dialogue pertains to hit.
Focusing on the main objectives will see you beat the game inside roughly ten hours, and very few of the core tasks are particularly engaging. The coolest moments occur in cutscenes, with actual gameplay relegated to cleansing Torii gates to unveil more of the map, eliminating waves of enemies, and tracking down items. Separated from the action, the story is nothing to write home about whatsoever.
Thankfully, the combat in Ghostwire: Tokyo is enjoyable, and propelling elemental spells out of your fingertips to send the ghostly entities haunting Tokyo back to their graves is satisfying. Fights revolve around breaking through an enemy’s outer layers and then taking its core, with three powers allowing you to do so. Wind attacks are the most basic: they fling balls of energy at the phantoms to slowly break them down. Then there are fire attacks which act like bombs at their best, and water spells that require upgrading to feel even slightly useful. Your arsenal is then rounded out by a bow and arrow for headshots and talismans that have various effects on ghosts.
In combination with some excellent support of the PS5’s DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers, firing off spells and grappling with enemies for their cores feels fantastic. There’s a small bit of resistance upon launching each attack, which gradually increases once you’re tethered to a core and trying to pull it out. At the height of the action, the adaptive triggers push your grip to its maximum, increasing satisfaction once the item’s finally in your grasp. The feature adds that little magic touch to combat, which would feel sorely lacking after a time without it.
You see, while engagements remain relatively fun throughout, the mechanics that make them tick are never built upon. The fights at the end of the game are exactly the same as the ones at the start: all you need to do is essentially spam the elemental powers until you can rip out an enemy’s core and move on. This concept never, ever changes. As such, combat eventually succumbs to repetition. You’re either mindlessly firing off incantations or targeting an obvious weak spot — mind-numbingly dull stuff despite the brief stretches of fun.
You could probably say that about the whole game, to be honest. Compared to other open world titles, the map is fairly small, but Tango Gameworks still manages to stuff it with the usual busywork we grew tired of years ago. Icons flood the map, with flat side quests to force your way through and various collectibles that offer minuscule improvements to your stats. You can’t even freely explore the city either; a thick fog blocks off parts of the map until you’ve cleansed the corresponding Torii gate.
It makes exploration more of an annoyance than a joy since you start to take damage if you cross the boundaries. At least some verticality extends the potential of Tokyo, with a grapple and limited glide letting you cover ground faster. Up on the city’s rooftops, you’ll find more spirits to cleanse and activities to complete. Without even a hint of fall damage, it’s a great way to get about. When your feet are on the ground, though, Ghostwire: Tokyo does very little to inspire.
General quality aside, the game isn’t entirely unlike past Tango Gameworks efforts. While it’s not straight-up horror, it’s still pretty spooky. Effective sequences turn reality and closed spaces on their head while haunting imagery is plastered along walls. This happens randomly out in the open world just as much as during scripted story scenarios, so it’s a well-implemented feature. Nothing here will give you a genuine jump scare or really get under your skin, but what it does do is unnerving enough to unseat any sense of comfort.
Again, though, there always seems to be something to bring you back down to Earth in Ghostwire: Tokyo. If the city itself is unsettling and spooky, the enemies themselves are anything but. All of them follow very similar attack patterns, either rushing you to try and land a hit or using a few of their own spells. The design of them leaves a lot to be desired, with just a few variations scattered across Tokyo. You’ll encounter the same enemy types over and over again, which only reinforces the repetitious nature coursing through the game. The most baffling choice, however, is to not give you a dodge button. Based on the move sets of certain spiritual foes, the game is practically screaming for one.
We’d have taken less damage had it been implemented (even if we hardly died across our entire playthrough), and as such, had more time to appreciate our surroundings. Since the place is completely deserted now bar yourself, stray cats and dogs, and the supernatural army, all you really have to admire are the buildings and alleyways, but they still look good with a current-gen shine. You could do a good bit of virtual tourism here, visiting famous Tokyo landmarks and having the time to appreciate them without anyone around.
They look their best in the 30 frames-per-second capped Quality Mode, which runs smoothly without any real drawbacks. Raytracing is also used to great effect, reflecting light and shadows wonderfully off the high-rise buildings of the capital. But if you need the extra frames, Performance Mode doubles the frame rate and delivers a minor hit to the visuals. While it may be a noticeable one, a smooth 60fps makes up for it with crystal clear combat and exploration.
Interestingly, the game comes packaged with a further four modes for a total of six. You can choose to uncap the framerate in both the Quality and Performance Modes, which yields varying results depending on how intense the action is on screen. Then there are the same two modes with VSync enabled, which aims to eliminate any screen tearing. It’s an impressive range of modes, allowing you to fully customise the game to suit the sort of experience you’re looking for. No matter which one you pick, though — at least in terms of the default Quality and Performance modes — you’re in for a smooth ride that looks pretty darn good to boot.