Ghost of Tsushima from Sucker Punch Productions is an open world samurai epic, based loosely on the 13th-century Mongol invasion of Japan. You control Jin Sakai, a beaten and broken samurai who must recover from the invasion, rescue his Uncle and save his kingdom while wrestling with staying true to the way of the samurai. It’s a combination of Assassin’s Creed platforming with a combat system akin to Sekiro and a horseback traversal mechanic like Red Dead Redemption 2. If you like those games, you’ll like this one.
Ghost of Tsushima is hands down one of the most beautiful games ever made. The rich, saturated colours throughout it are breathtaking and create a cinematic feel to everything you do. The wind-swept leaves, the sunlight, forests, trees, grass and flowers all look beautiful and natural. There are butterflies that flutter around and water that shines in the sun and glistens in the moonlight. If this is what 13th-century Japan looked like, it’s no wonder there were so many Haiku’s written about it. There is even an option to play the game in black and white with a grainy effect – the Akira Kurosawa mode, a nod to his famous samurai movies – but taking the colour out of this game would truly be a shame, and certainly take away from the overall experience. There is almost no in-game HUD, but rather a wind-based guidance system that serenely ushers you toward your next location. It was admittedly strange at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly. The lack of HUD emphasises the scenery and detail around you and opens up the screen for you to really take it all in. The lack of detail in the buildings that populate the island is one downfall however, as most look identical and the resources you collect in them are all just non-descript yellow bags. In a game that looks so good, it’s a bit of a disappointment that it feels a bit empty in that regard.
Another shining feature of this game is the music and sound. The score continuously emphasizes the dramatic moments and soothes you during your downtime. The wind instruments used during down time are calming while the drums and percussion used during battle amp up the tension at just the right moments. The voice acting is good, but the performances are very one-note. You can play the game in either English or Japanese, which is a neat feature. The English voices mix well with the lip movement of the characters, but the Japanese voice track looks way off in comparison. The game was clearly acted with the English voices in mind.
There are two distinct ways to play Tsushima, stealth and face-them-head-on swordplay. The story of this game largely revolves around the Jin’s struggle to maintain the traditions of the samurai, while at the same time finding the increasing need to be more ghost-like and silent. The option to announce yourself, attack a castle head on and fight your way through 15-20 enemies may be the way of the samurai, but climbing in through the back door, assassinating half of them before they even know you’re there and then cleaning up the rest is so satisfying.
Here is where one of my few problems with the game arises. First let me say that the swordplay is fantastic. You switch through stances to combat different types of enemies, switching on the fly to make mincemeat of large groups with the right strategy. You’ll be attacked by groups with various types (swordsmen, spearmen, shield bearers and others) and quickly switch stances depending on your target. As enemies attack, you switch and strike, parrying and dodging strikes and arrows until you’re the only one left standing. Sometimes you’ll even have one of the defeated enemies start to crawl away and you’ll get the option to put them out of their misery by jamming your sword into their back. It’s very satisfying and truly one of the better combat systems I’ve played in recent memory, similar to the good Assassin’s Creed’s and even the Arkham Knight games to some extent.
Where the game falls short for me though, is with its enemy AI when using a stealthier approach. Assassinating enemies is very easy, and at times even comical. You can assassinate someone in the same room as another enemy, so close to each other that the dead body clips into them, without them even knowing you’re there. You can assassinate an enemy in plain view of a whole courtyard of enemies, then simply run around the corner and hide and they just give up looking for you. Perhaps this will be fixed in patches following the game’s release, but right now it’s a bad spot in an otherwise great apple.
Gathering resources is a huge part of the game as well, as you’ll need them to upgrade your equipment and armour. There is no level-based RPG system here, but rather a tree of skills and abilities that can be upgraded to make you more agile, stronger and deadlier with your weapons. You’ll learn to throw more Kunai’s, craft bigger quivers and bomb pouches, attack more fiercely from your various stances and take on more enemies in duels.
Ah, the duels. One of the iconic features of Ghost of Tsushima is the duelling system. When you come upon a group of enemies, you can announce yourself and call for a duel. You’ll face-off, one on one with an enemy from the opposing group. It’s like a gun duel, but with swords. Win and you’ll have fewer enemies to deal with to eliminate the crowd. Lose though, and your health will be reduced to practically nothing and you’ll have all of them to deal with still, which…is not ideal. It’s a fun system and a new mechanic to play around with.
Overall, Ghost of Tsushima is a shining example of what the PS4 is capable of graphically, and the story is long enough (between 30-50 hours) that you feel like you’ve definitely got your money’s worth out of it once complete. There is no New Game+ mode, so any replay value is in simply collection hunting. If you’re looking for a gritty, violent samurai tale that looks beautiful and plays even better, then look no further than Ghost of Tsushima.
Review copy was supplied by Sony Entertainment.