Atmosphere can be a make or break element for any game. Ensuring your world is interesting to exist in is tough, but the games that truly nail it become some of the most memorable games of all. While it might have been out for a while now, it’s only recently that I’ve managed to find a bit of time to dive into Ghostwire: Tokyo, the spooky paranormal adventure from Bethesda and Tango Gameworks, and dear god, it’s a game that absolutely revels in its atmosphere.
Ghostwire does have a lot more going for it than its atmosphere, sure. The combat is unique and interesting enough, as there’s something to be said about a first person shooter that doesn’t rely on guns of a steadily increasing size. The enemy and demon design is also stellar, with plenty of virtual nasties that are sure to give you nightmares, especially if you watched films like The Grudge or The Ring a bit too young as a kid.
As amazing as those elements are though, there’s something about Ghostwire: Tokyo’s general vibe and setting that puts it head and shoulders above other games. The story sees 200,000 Tokyo citizens around Shibuya essentially disappear in an instant, with main character Akito being saved thanks to the spirit of K.K. fusing with his body. It’s a lot of silliness, honestly, but it leads to a setting that’s equal parts unnerving and relaxing.
Because everyone has just been blinked away, Ghostwire’s version of Tokyo feels like a city trapped in one specific moment in time. This-once bustling metropolis is now completely devoid of life, and while there’s the occasional packs of monsters roaming around for the duo of Akito and K.K. to deal with, there’s often large chunks of time where you’re just left to your own devices, and these are arguably where Ghostwire shines the most.
While there’s arguably too much trash and other objects on the street to truly earn this acclaim, Ghostwire: Tokyo’s version of the Japanese capital feels like you’re exploring your way through a city composed of liminal space. It’s the absence of life that makes Ghostwire: Tokyo so unnerving, and probably helps to spook the player once they start getting jumped by all the monsters in the game.
You’re given a lot of power to explore in Ghostwire, with tools and abilities to get more vertical than you might be used to in other open world shooters, so a lot of your time in-game is spent hopping from rooftop to rooftop, gliding around saving spirits as you go, which is where the games gets its most serene moments. Arguably, it shouldn’t feel this peaceful, as the otherworldly presence does add some danger to the streets of Shibuya, but it does and I’m absolutely in love with it.
Those empty city vibes have been done perfectly well in films before, like the openings to Vanilla Sky or 28 Days Later, but it’s hard to think of a big budget game that’s really nailed the haunting silence of an empty city like Ghostwire: Tokyo has. That effect is only amplified as soon as it starts raining too, as it just elevates the whole experience even further. Combine all that with the fact that Japanese cities are just more interesting to explore than the tried and true streets of NYC and others, and you’ve got a recipe for something truly memorable.
There’s a lot that you can discover within the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo, from collectibles to enemies and everything in between, but playing the game just makes me want more games that let me run around empty cityscapes, stopping to pet good dogs and, if the game insists, fight monsters, I guess. Atmosphere can be what makes good games great, and Ghostwire: Tokyo’s atmosphere is unrivaled.
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