Tokyo is a psychedelic mishmash of mystical martial arts | Tech Radar
Ghostwire: Tokyo pushes a lot of buttons. Blending martial arts with magic, adding a touch of surreal imagery, underpinning that with elements of supernatural horror, and wrapping it all up in a semi-open-world narrative adventure, the PS5 console exclusive doesn’t mess around when it comes to sculpting a space for itself. It’s a hodgepodge of concepts as enticing for its combination as for its promise.
Set in the titular city, Ghostwire: Tokyo pits the reluctant hero Akito against an invading force of demonic spirits. These “Visitors” have taken up residence in the metropolis after the disappearance of its population overnight. Of course, they’re up to no good and must be stopped by tracking down and defeating the mastermind of their possessive operation: Hannya, the mask-wearing villainess that adorns most of the game’s promotional imagery.
All the while, there are loved ones to save, potential allies to rally to your side, and areas of the city to free from the encroaching darkness. Oh, and Akito is possessed by a spirit himself – a friendly spirit, however, and a former “ghost hunter” who chased after Hannya before kicking the bucket. In the half-hour demo I watched last week, it all felt like a surreal semi-linear adventure, bordering on an immersive simulation at times.
Ethereal weaving and raw karate
The segment I previewed comes early in the game. Protagonist Akito stumbles through the abandoned streets of Tokyo and encounters its demonic new inhabitants for the first time while befriending the living spirit inside his head. These early games are largely linear, with the player regularly encountering clusters of evil visitors to send back into the void or jumbles of scaled debris in short segments of first-person platforming. Some enemies are bent fantasy figures that sport crooked smiles, while others are faceless suits that look more like drab Japanese wage earners than servants of hell.
All of them, however, must be torn apart using Akito’s karate and magic spellcasting abilities, or “ethereal weaving” as the developers call it. Combat in Ghostwire: Tokyo doesn’t involve martial arts so much as performing complex hand signs to cast spells at your fingertips. With no airborne punches, kicks, or somersaults, it’s a bit of a fudge, and those hoping for a full-fledged brawler won’t find it here. For much of the preview, combat is a slow back-and-forth as the player gives hand signals before backing up to dodge incoming attacks.
It’s no less visually impressive, though. Of the three main abilities I’m shown, one involves the player firing a bolt of energy from their hands to damage and stumble enemies, while a second sees them releasing tendrils of yellow lightning that wrap themselves around incoming spirits, squeezing them tightly, before breaking them into small pieces. In the third, Akito summons a protective force field to block incoming blows. Everything is colorful, big and not at all subtle.
The player later picks up a bow to add ranged silent firepower to their inventory. Combined with the ability to stealth kill enemies, you can sneak around groups of spirits or take them out one by one. But for the most part, it looks like you’ll be charging full throttle into the fray, unleashing your ethereal weaves before the same is returned to you.
Where Ghostwire: Tokyo really seems to come alive, however, is in its surroundings. This Tokyo is not the metropolis of smog and bustling commuters that we usually see, but a city that has been destroyed. Streetlights light up and move, motorcycles hover 10 feet in the air, and mailboxes twist on themselves. Most of this is played for thematic purposes, coloring the world rather than letting you interact with it, but these otherworldly glitches and events will also guide you through the streets, dictating your progress.
In one segment, the player is tasked with entering an apartment building to retrieve the possessions of the ghost-hunting spirit that has taken up residence in Akito’s head. They enter the apartment, search around for a bit, and exit to find the building surrounded by a magical force field preventing them from escaping. As they explore the building to destroy the “barrier stones” holding them trapped, the entire complex is transformed with “interference from the underworld”. Objects randomly materialize before quickly disappearing, hallways spin around them, entire walls disappear, and hallways are replaced by entire cityscapes.
It’s one of the more obviously linear parts of the preview, but gives a good indication of where Ghostwire: Tokyo is headed. It’s not a simple fantasy game, nor as cyberpunk as previous marketing materials might suggest. There’s mysticism at work here, making the game’s strange creatures and the magic you use to defeat them seem almost psychedelic.
An open world
But not everything is linear. Players can move freely around the world, opening up more areas to explore by purifying the Tori Gates of corruption by killing groups of enemies that have taken over them.
It’s a familiar beat that’s been played over and over again in Ubisoft’s open-world games, though the brief glimpses of the world map shown during the preview don’t suggest this game is overworked. outposts to clear or waypoints to find. In the section I saw, at least, the player naturally came across one of the Tori Gates, rather than searching for it.
There are also occasional side quests. At one point, Akito encounters the spirit of a friendly old lady who can only venture into the underworld if her spirit is quieted. A short stopover at an abandoned house, followed by a brief exorcism of the sinister owner occupying the house, and the player has her wish granted, earning a reward for her troubles.
Pair this secondary content with the game’s semi-open world, a simple character skill tree to progress to new abilities, and the ability to purchase upgrades from shops (which happen to be run by spirits that take the form of floating cats), and Ghostwire: Tokyo is starting to look like immersive sims like Dishonored. It doesn’t seem to have the freedom that many games in this genre boast or the verticality, but there are hints of that freedom of movement throughout the demo.
Some big questions are still unanswered. The depth of Ghostwire: Tokyo’s Combat hasn’t been fully explored, and there hasn’t been much mention of the range of abilities you’ll use. Its levels, too, remain a mystery – will it be an entirely open world or split into discrete explorable segments?
After watching a half-hour demo of the game, I’m excited. Between its surreal environments and its ambition, Ghostwire: Tokyo is certainly one of the boldest titles to come to PS5 and PC in the coming weeks.