Ghostwire: Tokyo Would Make A Killer VR Game

I’m currently playing through some of my 2022 backlog in preparation for the inevitable Game of the Year decision that I’ll have to make next month. I’ve had Ghostwire: Tokyo installed since it launched back in March, and I’m not quite sure why I haven’t gotten around to playing it before now. It’s spooky, it’s shooty, and it’s supernatural – AKA the Ben Sledge trifecta of terror.

I’ll be honest, I don’t play many spooky games – Alien: Isolation is about as much as I can handle, and that’s only because I love Ridley Scott’s 1979 thriller so much. But Ghostwire offered just the right amount of scary in its trailers, and the hand-waving magic abilities drew me in more than any pistol or sniper rifle could ever. Now I’ve actually played the game for the first time, it’s every bit as fun as I’d hoped it would be. The suitably spooky vibe is intriguing, the spell-shooting feels good, and the hand-waving exorcisms are a great idea. It’s the latter two parts that made me realise that Ghostwire would be perfect for VR.

Virtual reality has its drawbacks – most notably a prohibitive up front cost that prevents the majority of potential players from taking the first steps on their VR journey – but there are plenty of positives, too. I’ve never felt more immersed in worlds and universes than when I’ve got my headset on (why else would I controversially pick Vader Immortal as my favourite Star Wars game?), and some of the mechanics are completely unique thanks to being able to accurately gesture your way through levels.

I’ll never forget the first time I wielded a lightsaber and the Force in VR (I have played other games, honest) or floated through space so realistically that I got really motion sick (that was in Lone Echo – I told you so). And I saw that motion sickness as a good thing! The game was so accurate and immersive that I truly felt I was in space! VR can be really wonderful, ask anyone who’s played Half-Life: Alyx, and it’s a shame that more people can’t enjoy it.

It’s also a shame that it’s so difficult to develop for. While a few games have done it, porting a title to virtual reality is a herculean effort, the opposite of tweaking things to work across consoles and PC, although I don’t doubt that’s much harder than it sounds, too. Ghostwire, though, would be even better than most games if given the VR treatment.

It’s first-person, which already makes the transition easier than other games, but the unique way in which you use your hands could be crafted into really unique mechanics in VR. Instead of switching between your elemental attacks, different hand movements could shoot different beams. Do the Spider-Man move to use the water attack, a pseudo-shotgun. Put your fingers in the traditional gun symbol, much like protagonist Akito does, to use the Wind attack. You get the picture.

Ghostwire’s hand movements are inspired by Kuji-kiri and combat director Shinichiro Hara described it as “karate meets magic.” It looks and feels great in the game, but imagine actually making those motions in VR and Akito responding in real time?

This would be most impressive in the exorcism sections, when you use your joystick to move your hands, pushing it left and right to follow Akito’s actions. It works well as it is, but again, it feels like a mechanic made for VR. Moving both hands to and fro, circling in front of your eyes as mystical lights pour from your palms – it all sounds a bit Shang-Chi, but it’s even better.

I’ve only played VR on my Oculus Quest, as it was called when I bought it. But friends have used the Valve Index, with all its perfect finger tracking, and heralded its praises. Maybe this game wouldn’t work on a (relatively) cheapo headset without that all-important finger tracking, but I want to try it nonetheless.

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