Ghostwire: There is a completely dead world in Tokyo, empty for any other humans or people to talk to. It also has a bland and uninspired storyline with rote and repetitive combat. And yet, I like it more than most games, even though I think many people won’t. This might take a while to explain, but it all starts with Ghostwire’s best feature: its cold, lifeless map.
At the start of the game, a supernatural force banishes everyone roaming the Shibuya Ward of Tokyo, Japan. A mysterious man shines on several LED screens around Shibuya Scramble – the famously busy real-world intersection where the game also begins – talking some nonsense about saving people’s souls and so on. The long and short of it is this: that guy stole the souls of everyone around you, except you.
You assume the role of Akito, who escapes death when possessed by a spirit named Keke. The reasons are not clear, KK being in your body also means that you have elemental powers. And wouldn’t you know it? Scary ghosts and monsters are now roaming the streets of Tokyo regardless of the world. Keke needs Akito’s body to save the world from the maniac who terrorizes Tokyo. Akito just wants to save his sister. If you can put your differences aside, you can do both.
It’s a dull story that never does anything unexpected and never reaches beyond OK. I enjoyed Akito and Keke’s pranks, but other than that, I never found myself getting all that invested in their arc. Ghostwire has a small number of side characters – both friends and foes – but none get a lot of screentime or development beyond the purpose of the gameplay, be it boss battles, new objectives, mechanics, etc. . And so on.
However, what the story does is give a descriptive justification for why Shibuya is empty (save for those creepy ghosts). And I think that’s one of the more interesting parts of Ghostwire; Its open world architecture on Shibuya is a spectacular recreation of density – minus the people. Not only are the buildings tightly packed together, but they also feel massive, like actual skyscrapers. Thanks in no small part to Ghostwire being in the first person, it’s immediately obvious. I loved raising my neck in the buildings around me, feeling the game’s space and sense of scale. The scale extends far, as it captures the urban sprawl of Tokyo; It takes time to traverse the map, though I rarely felt bored walking around like a virtual tourist.
Ghostwire is obsessed with the idea of urban isolation, so even in a city where millions of people live on top of each other, you can feel lonely. Ghostwire achieves this feeling by taking people away completely. There’s a terrifying quality to walking around a city without its population knowing there’s no one to talk to beyond yourself and (literally, in this case) the voice in your head. More often than not, I found myself wishing there were people – or even just a friendly person – I could find on the streets of Ghostwire. Not because I was ever bored roaming an empty world, but its sense of isolation and loneliness was incredibly effective and haunting.
And I really mean nagging. Ghostwire takes every opportunity to sell its spiritual apocalypse. Sometimes, the game will mess with you. Walking around, I saw the painted lines on the road swaying in the wind, as if they were thin pieces of paper. Or I would turn a corner and realize that, perhaps in an alleyway or a small city block, the rain was now blood, soaking the surrounding buildings and alleyways a dark, muddy red. More dramatically, over the major story elements, the world breaks up around you. In spectacular set-piece moments, the levels twist, warp, and radically change before your eyes, as if MC Escher took over as art director. It’s insanely impressive and fun to watch, and I loved using the photo mode to capture the weirdness around me.
Recalling classic Rapture imagery, personal items scatter the map exactly where they were left—you can’t take your purse or cellphone with you. The most important thing is that clothes are everywhere. Especially in high-population areas, huge seas of clothing often lay on the floor where people disappeared. It’s imagery like this that affects not only the scale of the game’s excitement, but how terrifying something like this would be. Add to that the city is still functioning – the lights are on, the speaker systems go on, you can walk on the subway or inside a convenience store – and Ghostwire has a world that isn’t hampered by a paucity of things to do. , but is stronger than its commitment to being desolate.
Desolate, of course, except for those creepy creatures. The antagonist of Ghostwire is connecting the worlds of the living and the dead. This sets the stage for much of its gameplay and combat.
Bringing this world with the next leaves Shibuya is filled with spirits. The vast majority of Ghostwire is running from point A to point B, fighting a variety of hostile yokai who are littering the streets along the way, reaching their destination, and then fighting some more. There’s a solid weight and crunch to combat that’s satisfying from an audio and visual perspective. All of Akito’s elemental powers also have their own unique benefits. I enjoyed swapping between my fire attack, which delivers a high-damage blast, and my water attack, which sends out a wide arc that hits multiple enemies at once. Other fun powers, such as air attack with a high rate of fire, magical bow-arrows, and talismans that free up enemies, among others, are all fun to experiment with. And using the ether weave—which is basically a magic coil—to rip off enemy cores always feels great.
Even though it doesn’t have guns, Ghostwire effectively plays like a first-person shooter. But not very good. Aiming is often clumsy and unremarkable, and I found myself not remembering as many attacks as I could. The design of the encounter also rarely changes: there are a handful of enemies around this point of interest, kill them, move on. It’s not necessarily bad because it gets the job done, but the combat quickly repeats itself. The game’s handful of bosses don’t do any better, often feeling awkward and lethargic to fight.
However, not every spirit is out to kill you. When you’re not blasting your way through Shibuya, you’re rounding up souls trapped between two worlds. There are over 240,000 lost souls that you need to help get back to the mortal coil, which means spending a ton of time wandering around to collect—which boils down to holding a button, or very rarely , solves a small puzzle – and collects on various payphones throughout the map. Luckily, you get to raise a massive amount of souls, so you don’t have to collect all 240,000 individually, but it’s still a tedious side-objective.
But I don’t find myself getting down on the basic ends of the game too hard. On the one hand, it’s gentle enough to be repetitive on the tired Far Cry formula. On the other hand, on top of loving the world of Ghostwire, its yokai design stands in a league of its own—it has some of my favorite enemy designs over the years. Combining traditional Japanese folklore with its contemporary setting, watching terrifying enemies never gets old. My favorites include Lament and Shiromuku, whose long dark hair is reminiscent of classic Japanese horror movie characters Sadako (ring) and Asami Yamazaki (Hearing), as well as various kuchisake-ona, the woman with the sly mouth, which borrows heavily from her design in 2007 Carved, For a horror fan, especially one who grew up watching Japanese horror movies, I can’t help but pay attention to the designs of all the different creatures, no matter how many times I fight them.
It also helps that Ghostwire is really small. I finished the campaign in about 14 hours, though I’ve spent some extra time cleaning up the side stuff afterwards. Bland as its gameplay and story can be, Ghostwire never wastes your time. It gets in and out long before anything gets too old, so you can enjoy everything you love about the game, without the things that bug you.
Which makes Ghostwire an odd game to review—at least within the often-restrictive confines of the scoring system. The things I really like about GhostWire are those I really like. I’d even go so far as to say that some of the elements – its world, enemy design, etc – are among my favorites in a game over the years. That said, there are a lot of elements, like story and gameplay, where Ghostwire is hardly up to snuff.
I fully expect that some people won’t be impressed by the game the way I am, and I think it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to forgive the game for that. But if Ghostwire joins you, I think it will really connect with you. It’s weird and unique, and I think it’s great to have a game like this to get this kind of budget, put it all on the table, and use that money for some shocking and great art. And for that alone, I can’t help but love Ghostwire.