Words by Chris Scullion and Jon Bailes
Not even a haunted Tokyo can overcome the perils of working during a global pandemic.
However, Nakamura left the studio in September 2019, claiming in March this year that the working conditions were making her ill.
“Arriving to [the E3 2019 announcement] was like a long dive underwater. I had been ill for some time,” she said, explaining that the pressure of her working life there was negatively impacting her health.
“You can’t make games if you’re not healthy,” she said. “I started wondering whether there wasn’t a way for me to make games while feeling better. I took the decision to quit before it was too late.”
Little did anyone at Tango realise that just a few months after Nakamura’s departure, worker health would become an issue that affected not just the rest of the staff but the entire world, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down offices globally.
Like so many other games this year, then, Ghostwire: Tokyo has missed its previously planned 2021 release date and is now due to launch in 2022, with the studio stating in July that it was “focused on protecting the health of everyone at Tango”.
The game is now being helmed by Kenji Kimura, but perhaps the most notable staff member on the team is its combat director, Shinichiro Hara, who previously worked on combat design at id Software for 2016’s Doom. His role perhaps indicates just how far GhostWire is heading into action mode, even resembling aspects of an FPS.
Except there aren’t any guns in GhostWire. Instead, the ghost hunting protagonist will be conjuring up magic bolts to throw at enemies, with different kinds required to target specific weaknesses.
Hara has described the combat as “karate meets magic,” with martial arts-style hand gestures required to fire forth projectiles, making the character feel more dynamic than the usual nondescript gun grip we see in an FPS. Our as-yet nameless karate wizard will additionally be using a bow, as well as ‘spiritual wires’ which can perform finishing moves from distance.
“Hara has described the combat as “karate meets magic,” with martial arts-style hand gestures required to fire forth projectiles, making the character feel more dynamic than the usual nondescript gun grip we see in an FPS.”
We’ve been introduced to some of the spectacular ghostly enemies we’ll be up against too. A gameplay trailer last year showed a number of types in action, all brimming with malevolent personality. Expect mannequin-like salary men armed with umbrellas, headless skipping schoolgirls, and raincoat-clad demon children. Further information explains that they’re based on Japanese folk legends of spirits representing powerful trapped emotions, with a modern day twist.
And they’ll all be trying to kill us with savage intensity, whether rushing or somersaulting in to attack up close, or flying around screaming and chucking ethereal missiles from afar. The action in the trailer suggests that, as well as launching fireballs and lightning bolts, we’ll need quick hand-to-hand reflexes, possibly executing well-timed parries and counterattacks. Mention of a combo system and using the wires to perform chain-kills, meanwhile, implies we won’t only be dealing with these vicious spirits one at a time, but managing whole groups.
As far as the backstory for all this action goes, it seems that 99% of Tokyo’s population has suddenly vanished, leaving their clothes behind in crumpled piles on the streets. Since then, ghosts, or ‘Visitors,’ have begun to haunt the city and your mysterious hooded character has developed spectral powers. There’s also a group of ninja-like figures in Japanese Hannya masks loose in the city. Whether they’re somehow responsible for the disappearances is unclear, but they’ve been described as shadowy and nefarious, and likely to pose an alternative threat.
Our mission, as far as we know, is simply to clear the streets of the Visitors and discover what the hell is going on. The voiceover on the trailer tells us that our character sees things others can’t, hears threats others don’t, so clearly he isn’t simply a regular survivor and has some special role in the ongoing situation.
What we don’t know much about yet is how the game will be structured. The game world is modelled on modern Tokyo and will surely include recreations of famous sights, but we don’t know how large it will be or how much of the city will feature.
Nor has it been revealed whether GhostWire will be an open-world game where you free-roam to track down ghosts. We actually hope it’s not too big and stays focused on the action with limited exploration and some staged set pieces.
A potential indicator in this respect is the inclusion of Torii gates and shrines within the city that apparently need to be cleansed to rid areas of spirits. We’ve also been told that the PS5’s 3D sound will be a key factor, helping you to pick up on eerie noises in your surroundings and seek out their sources of origin.
We can assume then that there will be some exploration, where you walk the streets looking for signs of paranormal activity. But it could be only semi-open, with a supernatural power fencing off areas until the current one is cleansed.
“We’ve also been told that the PS5’s 3D sound will be a key factor, helping you to pick up on eerie noises in your surroundings and seek out their sources of origin.”
Other than that, there should be some NPCs to talk to, given that 1% of the population is supposed to have been left behind. So perhaps there’ll be side quests where you collaborate or help them escape. We’ve also seen the main character riding a motorbike in the trailer, albeit only in a cut scene, so maybe we’ll get to control that at some point too, either as a way to get around or part of a linear action sequence.
GhostWire is scheduled for release in 2022 on PS5 as a timed console exclusive and on PC. This exclusivity deal was announced before Microsoft bought out Tango’s parent company Zenimax last year, and will apparently stay in place, with Xbox Series versions probably due a year later. There’s no sign of PS4 or Xbox One releases, and it seems the game has been designed specifically for the new generation.
Of all the big games coming next year, GhostWire is one of the few fresh IPs, which makes it more of an unknown quantity but also especially exciting. The combination of a haunted Tokyo, fantastic ghost designs and hopefully some fluid and flexible first-person combat really appeals. Let’s hope Mikami and Tango are on to another winner.