Forget Ray Stantz, here’s some Ray Tracing!
Who remembers Ghostwire: Tokyo’s reveal? Shinji Mikami coming out at Bethesda’s E3 2019 showcase, with the delightful Ikumi Nakamura unveiling a strange tale set in Tokyo, with people disappearing en masse, ominous figures in masks, and imposing figures holding umbrellas. A city cloaked in the blackness of night, save for the neon lights piercing the darkness and pinging up off the rain slicked streets. It was a striking trailer, and one that set up an intriguing wait for the game to finally drop. But the question remained. What was this game? Would Shinji Mikami’s influence extend to making it a full-on survival horror title?
Well, let’s tackle the last question first. Ghostwire: Tokyo is absolutely not a Survival Horror game. In fact, the parallels are there to something like Control. A full blown paranormal smorgasbord of questions, action and graphical grunt, Ghostwire: Tokyo reveals itself as an action game with some deeply disturbing moments.
The game takes you through the story of Akito. A man involved in a traffic accident, he’s seemingly clost to death, when he’s joined by the soul of a deceased police officer called KK. Springing back to life, Akito finds himself with a new ability, to fling green gusts of wind based “ethereal energy” out of his fingers. Immediately after he’s awoken, Akito suddenly finds himself as the only human left in Tokyo, surrounded by piles of crumpled clothing, with everyone else disappearing into thin air, leaving only their souls floating behind.
It’s here that you’re let loose in Tokyo, with your only barriers to exploration being the thick, supernatural fog that’s permeated every inch of downtown Tokyo, harming you if you venture too far into it. Heading to corrupted Torii gates around the city removes the layers of fog. At that stage, the fear is there that it’s another Ubisoft-style collect-a-thon. Thankfully, this is somewhat unfounded. While the map does look a bit like icon soup after uncovering certain things, the map is definitely tighter than it looks, making the game feel like a smaller undertaking than it potentially should be. Cats and dogs still roam the streets, allowing for some friendly faces, and the random shops in the world are run by Yokai cats that float in mid-air, adding to the comedic aspect of the game as well.
The gorgeous world is full of unsettling enemies…
The obvious thing to state at this stage is that Ghostwire: Tokyo looks astonishing. As always, we’ll have a performance video coming shortly, but the desolate streets of Tokyo feel incredible thanks to the level of detail that’s been poured into the game. Whether you’re stood on the Shibuya Scramble crossing and looking up at the screens or running from the faceless entities that have invaded the world down some back streets, the level of immersion is incredible. This is helped by the addition of Ray Traced reflections in the game’s quality modes. The performance modes use screen-space reflections, but they’re of such high quality that you may not notice the difference in some of the spots until the telltale signs are pointed out for you. And yes, I did say “quality modes”. The game has not only a standard “4k30” performance mode, but it also has two additional modes, unlocking the frame rates and either implementing v-sync or leaving it completely unlocked. For posterity, most of my time was spent with the v-synced “HFR Quality” mode, for reasons I’ll describe in the performance video.
The gorgeous world is then filled with unsettling enemies. Faceless Slender Man type figures in black suits, headless schoolchildren, and floating ghosts all morph into existence throughout the streets, along with random “corrupted areas”. These need you to use KK’s “Spectral Vision” – a sort of Arkham-esque visual guide aid to pinpoint ghostly elements in the world that you can remove and eliminate the corruption you encounter. Most of the enemy designs are downright creepy, and some are legitimately terrifying. One jump scare introduction had my pulse racing, and a genuinely flustered fight ensued. There are some additional boss fights, which sort of insinuate that the game’s designers have been playing some Souls games, they’re that out-there in terms of design.
Where the game starts to fall down a little though, is in the combat. You obtain a number of new Ethereal Weaving powers throughout the game, as well as a bow and arrow, but the general flow of combat doesn’t move beyond the realms of feeling a bit simplistic, and quite stilted. I found that I needed to increase the controller sensitivity to get it feeling better, but the targeting feels extremely limited, and a little stiff. It leads to some of the shots you take missing the target by quite a distance. When things do click, the combat feels really fun, but these moments are few and far between, with some enemies feeling like damage sponges. You do have limited ammo for your powers, but there are plenty of spots in the world which can refill it by breaking them, or by killing enemies. It’s a shame, because with the combat being the core of the game, it feels a bit of a letdown when it doesn’t quite come together.
Who ya gonna call?
What pulls the game through though, is the story, the world and the side missions. While some of them are cookie-cutter fetch quests, some of them are quite interesting, and the hidden trinkets throughout the world offer up a great insight into elements of Japanese culture that I will fully admit I’ve been somewhat ignorant of. The more you dig, the more you find, and it’s a great environment to work through. One of the other core elements of the gameplay loop is to find Spirits throughout the world, absorbing them in Katashiros and transferring them by a series of payphones around the world. These will allow you to level up, and there are a LOT of them. Seriously, if you’re after the platinum trophy, this one will be a hell of a grind.
Finally, the story in Ghostwire: Tokyo is one that definitely falls into the “intriguing” category. A strange mystery that involves a big bad of the man in the Hannya mask, some conspiracy in the mix, and a sprinkle of family drama, then you’ve got your narrative wrapped up nicely. In a nice touch, the default option for dialogue is Japanese with English subtitles. This made for a more natural feeling environment, although I did end up switching to English VO around halfway through. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that the game was a little shorter than I anticipated it being. I managed to wrap the whole story and a bunch of side quests in under 12 hours, with the “point of no return” arriving with a bit abruptly, which I was taken aback by. Given the initial panic that this was going to be a sprawling open world with millions of collectibles, it was quite refreshing, and let’s face it, we get through a lot of games here, and it’s nice to see an ambitious, big studio game going for a more manageable length for people. It’s a nice, tight narrative that pulls you along with enough intrigue to get you hooked in and see it through.