Ghostwire: Tokyo is a game that simultaneously manages to look as great as any PS5 game while, somehow, feeling like a first-person shooter from the early 2000s. It’s an unfortunate combination that takes away from some truly phenomenal aspects of the game. Despite not being released on last-gen consoles, it almost seems as though Ghostwire: Tokyo has been held back by them somehow. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that developer Tango Gameworks hasn’t released a game since 2017’s The Evil Within 2. Ghostwire: Tokyo finds itself in the strange position of releasing exclusively on next-gen hardware, and it benefits from that in some departments. Yet, it plays like a game from early in the PS4 generation, or even before that.
Ghostwire: Tokyo was played on PS5 for this review. The game is also available on PC.
Is it 2005 Again?
There’s no need to look much further than the gameplay when dissecting where Ghostwire: Tokyo goes wrong in this review. Immediately upon starting Ghostwire: Tokyo, the issues are apparent. Starting with the controls, from the offset, it’s clear that something is wrong. Controlling the game’s protagonist, Akito, feels like maneuvering a barge through sludge. Looking left/right and up/down is painfully slow, and the controls feel incredibly heavy. Movement is the same story, with Akito walking and running like someone 30-40 years his senior. It took a lot of tweaking the controls for this review to make Ghostwire: Tokyo even marginally playable. That included turning the X/Y axis sensitivity up to 70/100 and the camera deceleration/acceleration to the maximum from its initial setting of zero.
Even after making the controls bearable, no amount of tweaking can fix the combat and movement of Akito. Ghostwire: Tokyo cries out for a roll/dodge mechanic because of how painfully slow Akito’s movement is. That, or he needs to be sped up pretty significantly. The lack of movement options other than walking while fighting enemies highlights another weakness of the combat system. Ghostwire: Tokyo has players using different forms of magic to attack enemies from range. Essentially, Ghostwire: Tokyo plays like an FPS for much of the game. Except instead of a gun, players are shooting spells out of their fingers, Sabrina the Teenage Witch style. Instead of ammo, players have SP, magic points that run out and can be recovered throughout the game. Alas, the places where SP can be recovered are wildly unbalanced. Traveling through the world, there will be items with a magical aura that can be destroyed. Each one provides an amount of SP to replenish some of the player’s ‘ammo.’ While these objects seem to be almost everywhere in the world, they are frustratingly absent from areas where actual fights occur. It leaves players in a situation where SP is depleted far too quickly, and there’s almost nothing else that can be done to kill enemies once it has run out. Akito gets a bow, but arrows are limited, it doesn’t do much damage, and with how badly the game controls, it is far too difficult to aim accurately. Akito also has a melee attack, but it’s woefully useless with how slowly he moves.
The issue with using Akito’s powers in Ghostwire: Tokyo and running out of SP might not be as much of an issue if the game played better. If players could control Akito more quickly, it might not be an issue that SP is limited in areas with enemies. However, since the game controls so poorly that half the spells miss completely, the issues are compounded when ‘reloading’ is so limited.
An Incredible Standard For Realistic Open-Worlds
Where Ghostwire: Tokyo excels, it really excels. The game’s main story is a fairly middle-of-the-road, save the cheerleader, save the world trope. It’s everything surrounding the story that makes Ghostwire: Tokyo stand out. The world created by Tango Gameworks is quite simply astonishing. As near as it makes no difference, the world is a perfect recreation of Tokyo. Anyone who has been to Shibuya will be able to recognize shops, signs, and streets. The team at Tango Gameworks has also captured the atmosphere of Tokyo incredibly well, despite this being an apocalyptic version of the city. Subway stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues all add to the eerie liveliness of this abandoned area of Tokyo. Even with no people, the city is still very much alive. For example, players can stock up on supplies in convenience stores that are still lit up and playing music to entice customers. Ghostwire: Tokyo feels as close to being in Tokyo as any game, video, or virtual reality experience out there.
The Tokyo Tango Gameworks has created something special with spirits and animals from Japanese folklore. There are many creatures and spirits in the game that add to the story experience. The wide variety of creatures ranges from those Western audiences may be familiar with, like Tanukis (think Mario’s Tanooki suit), to the downright strange for those who aren’t familiar with Japanese folklore. Some of the stranger beings often make their way into the game as the enemies players will need to fight. The cute Tanukis, Nekomata (floating cats who run the convenience stores), and other less mythical animals in the game bring a sense of fun and whimsy to what would otherwise be a downright terrifying city. Contrasted with the demons roaming the streets, it makes for a fun experience that goes from cute and fun to horrific and terrifying in the blink of an eye.
Add in the interesting side missions, and players will find plenty to love about the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo and the stories within it.
Visually Pleasing, Bizarrely Unstable
The graphical presentation in Ghostwire: Tokyo is top-notch. Sure, it isn’t the best-looking PS5 game we’ve had to date, but it very much looks like a next-gen game. The presentation is very well put together. It’s just a shame that the package it is in is lacking so much. Ghostwire: Tokyo has a whopping 10 graphic/frame rate settings options available to players. These include the typical quality and performance modes and higher frame rate options with v-sync, turned on or off. Most console players will likely be choosing one of the first two modes, quality or performance. The higher frame rate modes are designed for those with 120hz displays. For this review, performance mode was used in Ghostwire: Tokyo for the majority of the playtime. Unfortunately, performance mode is, quite frankly, a complete mess. Performance mode is incredibly unstable and spends way more time dipping significantly below 60fps than it ever spends actually hitting the advertised frame rate.
The frame rate is so alarming that the game becomes nauseating due to the instability of it jumping all over the place. In short, the performance mode is clearly not ready. The higher frame rate modes we tried caused terrible screen tearing on the 4K 60hz display the game was tested on. Perhaps with a 120hz monitor, the game would play better. Since most console players will likely be playing on a 60hz TV of some kind, it’s difficult to recommend the game to most people. Particularly anyone who expects a smooth 60fps experience, as has become standard on the PS5. It’s possible that Tango Gameworks will be able to patch the frame rate issues with performance mode. However, there’s no word on a fix at the time of writing.
So close, yet so far
Ghostwire: Tokyo has so much going for it. The incredible world alone almost makes the game worth purchasing. However, with each significant positive, something else seems to ruin the experience. Sure, the world is beautiful, fun, and incredibly detailed. But it isn’t much fun to explore with the terrible unstable frame rate. The gameplay could be fun with the excellent side missions and exploration, but combat is ruined by the controls and limited movement of Akito. The one central area of the game that doesn’t have a negative attached to it is the abundance of Japanese folklore. The creatures roaming the city in all shapes and sizes are entertaining.
For people who love Japan and are interested in Japanese folklore, Ghostwire: Tokyo is probably still worth picking up. Those areas of the game are just that good. For someone who wants a good open-world action-adventure game, Ghostwire: Tokyo is likely to be more frustrating than fun. If Tango Gameworks can fix some or all of the issues mentioned in this review, Ghostwire: Tokyo could be a truly fantastic game. As it stands, it’s mediocre as a whole package.
- A vibrant, lifelike recreation of Tokyo.
- Tons of interesting creatures from Japanese folklore.
- Side missions, collectibles, and exploring the city are super fun.
- Frame rate struggles on performance mode in particular leaving no good fps option for people with 60hz displays.
- Combat is frustrating.
- Controls need serious tweaking to be palatable.