Ghostwire Tokyo review: Phantom Menace
AKITO is having a very bad day. First, he was just killed in a motorcycle accident on a street in Tokyo. He is then possessed by a strange spirit. Then he was brought back from the dead to find his face smoking as if his eyebrows were on fire. Finally, he realizes that the town’s population has been wiped out by an evil demon. Unfortunately for Akito, this is just the start of his weird night.
headless schoolgirls, faceless workers with umbrellas and a ghost with a giant pair of scissors – Ghostwire Tokyo bombards you with surreal images during its opening hours, but at no point can you truly feel terrified.
It’s strange because it comes from the Tango Gameworks studio created by horror maestro Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame. But Ghostwire — on which Mikami only served as executive producer, not director — strays away from outright scares despite its spooky premise.
The bustling metropolis is devoid of life except for the ghosts of the deceased (plus a scattering of stray dogs and cats) and Akito’s new spiritual friend is a supernatural detective named KK on the trail of the villain. This sets up a bizarre chase through the neon-lit town in which the mismatched pair bicker and joke around while helping each other with brains or brawn.
None of this quite makes sense, but it doesn’t matter because Tango’s world-building skills do a lot of work in conveying the emotional weight of a city stripped of its citizens. Piles of empty clothes lie in every street, apparitions lament their misfortune to no one in particular, and the plaintive sounds of abandoned animals echo around the concrete canyons.
Tango dives deep into Japanese culture with its meticulous cataloging of found objects and encountered ghosts, explaining the mythology of spirits, the origins of rituals, and even the types of oriental food that act as buffs. It’s fascinating in a nerd way.
But if that elaborate staging doesn’t pique interest, Ghostwire might walk right through you without establishing a hold. KK grants Akito a range of supernatural powers to fight ghouls. Mixing kung fu with magic, he throws fireballs and gusts of air to weaken specters before removing their souls.
Still, the combat is never so cohesive, in part due to the flabby aiming and the tendency of most enemies to rush at you. Tango also relies on open-world gaming cliches, such as giant walkways that function like Ubisoft towers, clearing fog from the map to reveal clusters of icons such as side quests.
Nevertheless, Ghostwire exerts a mysterious attraction. Its Japanese voice acting and authentic setting give it a real sense of place that emphasizes the viciousness of wiping out the people of a city. The nooks and crannies of the alleys are home to a multitude of stories incidental to the main quest. And while the experience can’t be described as scary, many of the moments are truly unsettling for their sheer weirdness.
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So congratulations to Tango for creating something truly new, something supernatural. Don’t try to figure it out, just surrender to its bizarre portrayal of Toyko’s afterlife.