After spending over 15 hours ripping out the ethereal hearts of demonic spirits, gliding across the rain-soaked rooftops of Shibuya, and hand-feeding countless yappy Shiba Inus, I’m absolutely smitten with Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Developer Tango Gameworks' latest title may be about as easy to understand as a wall of hastily scribbled hieroglyphics, but it's essentially an open-world FPS with carefully-choreographed linear sections that help ramp up the game’s moments of more disturbing, psychological horror.
Ghostwire never reaches the fear-inducing levels of The Evil Within 2 – which some may consider a blessing – but nor does it ever let you feel at ease. There’s an unsettling feeling that keeps you on your toes when you’re exploring the game’s desolate and stunningly accurate recreation of Shibuya.
And yet, much like Deathloop before it, Ghostwire: Tokyo is another timed PS5 console exclusive that Xbox Series X gamers won’t be able to play until sometime after March 2023.
That’s quite the wait considering both Arkane Studios and Tango Gameworks are now owned by Microsoft, and it’s a painful one to take when you consider the current state of Xbox’s lack of first-party releases.
Xbox’s first-party release schedule has been barren this year – a stark contrast to PS5, which has seen the release of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, Horizon Forbidden West, and Gran Turismo 7 in the first three months alone. The next big release on the cards for Xbox Series X is Starfield, which is penciled in for November 11.
Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer has acknowledged the company’s mini-drought, telling the Xbox Era podcast (opens in new tab): “We don't have a big game this quarter - [we] want to get to that point where we have a great on-ramp for our platform and games that people can get excited about on a regular basis.
"We do have a lot of great games in development...We want to get to this point where there's a steady flow of great games that are coming, that our customers can predict," said Spencer.
You’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve heard this all before. Xbox fans are still waiting to hear more about Forza Motorsport, Fable, Perfect Dark, Everwild, Hellbalde 2: Senua’s Saga, Redfall, State of Decay 3, Avowed, The Elder Scrolls 6, The Outer Worlds 2, and Contraband, which we still know next to nothing about outside of the odd CGI trailer or brief teaser. The games are coming, but what is there to play in the meantime?
Microsoft has snapped up scores of developers and studios in recent years – Tango Gameworks included – but the Xbox still lags behind Sony when it comes to the number of high-profile games released on PS5, particularly those developed by Japanese studios.
Considering Sony’s legacy in the Japanese market, that situation may never change, but there’s no doubt that Ghostwire: Tokyo would have been a fantastic addition to the Xbox’s lineup. Instead, it’s quickly become one of my favorite PS5 games, partly because it feels like it was designed with Sony’s console solely in mind – the development team actually played a hand in improving the DualSense controller after ‘strong feedback’ from Tango Gameworks’ founder and legendary designer, Shinji Mikami.
It’s hard not to feel like both the Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo timed PS5 exclusivity deals have taken some of the excitement out of Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition, at least in the short term. Not only would both games have brought critical acclaim to the Xbox Series X, but a great variety to the type of games on the console - both Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo are wonderfully unique.
So what makes Ghostwire: Tokyo so special, then? Despite having familiar foundations to countless other open-world titles, Ghostwire: Tokyo manages to fend off any fatigue I’ve grown accustomed to from the genre. Yes, the game’s map quickly becomes infested with more icons and side-missions than is necessary, but I found myself scampering around for hours at a time, ticking things off as I went.
That’s due in no small part to how alive Ghostwire: Tokyo feels, despite having a living human population of one. Jolly jingles ring out from the convenience stores that house all sorts of recognizable Japanese treats, and chiptune music blares out of empty arcades that were once teeming with customers.
Abandoned vehicles are strewn across the roads, and discarded clothes on the pavements serve as a poignant reminder that the city’s population has up and vanished. In their place are twisted creatures known as ‘The Visitors’, one of the most striking enemy types I’ve encountered in a video game for some time – and they’re incredibly satisfying to fight.
Faceless salarymen of all shapes and sizes; headless high school children; shuffling grandmas – you’ll need to send these visitors packing using a mix of searingly-colorful elemental attacks, all of which are fired out of your hands, and then literally pull on the evil spirits' heartstrings until they’re phased out of existence.
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s combat starts off rather slow, and can even feel rather rudimentary at times. But as you upgrade your skills and encounter new frightening foes to contend with, every encounter is surprisingly mesmerizing.
Big in Japan
It’s worth noting that if you have even the slightest affinity for Japan and Japanese culture, Ghostwire: Tokyo provides a stunning recreation of one of the city’s most popular districts. You’ll discover recognizable landmarks, like Shibuya Scramble Crossing, albeit completely bereft of people.
The game is also littered with countless references to the country’s fascinating mythology and folklore. From Tsukumogami – household items that have become vengeful towards people – to the more commonly known Tanuki, a cheeky shape-shifting raccoon, Ghostwire: Tokyo wisely embraces its inspiration from Japan’s supernatural beings.
And yet all of this, for now at least, is out of reach for Xbox owners. Ghostwire: Tokyo is only bound to make a lot of gamers feel even more impatient.
Ghostwire: Tokyo releases on PS5 and PC on March 25.
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