It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything from Sucker Punch, the studio behind the Infamous series and everyone was likely assuming that they were hard at work on another installment of said series when Ghost of Tsushima was announced at Paris Games Week in 2017. A bold move for one of the premier studios in Sony’s portfolio.
At E3 in 2018, we finally got a small taste of what to expect from this new mysterious title with a gameplay reveal featuring Jin, the series protagonist, riding his horse, Nobu, through these sweeping fields with white plants as the wind blew in gusts all around him and he enteredinto a forested area and squares off against 5 enemies and it was an absolute thing of beauty. Ghost of Tsushima is one of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2020 and for all intents and purposes, the last real meaningful hurrah for the ageing PlayStation 4 as we race to the next gen of consoles later this year. As usual, I will do my best at not revealing anything too spoilery but there may be some minor spoilers contained within.
Ghost of Tsushima is the story of Jin Sakai, a man who grew up training in the ways of samurai at the tutelage of his uncle Shimura, the jito of Tsushima. When the Mongols invade Tsushima Island led by Khotun Khan, Jin, Shimua and 80 samurai charge headlong into battle against the invading forces. The battle is bloody and violent ultimately resulting in defeat at the hand of the Mongols. Shimura is captured and Jin attempts to save his uncle. Things don’t go well for Jin during this encounter and he’s then tossed off a bridge into the waters below. Soon after Jin awakens near a village that’s being ransacked by the Mongols.
It’s here that he meets Yuna, a thief who saved his life and nursed him back to health. The tutorial mission begins teaching you how to use rooftops, climb through windows and find supplies and thus we begin our adventure.
Graphically, Ghost of Tsushima is absolutely stunning. Even on my old tired launch PS4, the environments and graphics are breathtaking. I’m not one for spending a whole lot of time in the screen capture mode but by god, there were moments that stopped me in my tracks and I had to play around with this feature. It’s easy to get distracted by the eye candy buffet. In one area, you may see a sprawling field of white plants and in the middle is a lone tree covered with red foliage as you approach the wind picks up and red leaves begin whipping around you really pulling you into this moment of tranquillity and awe. The character models are as good as you’re going to find anywhere. The level of detail is absolutely incredible in their faces and fur on the clothing all looks and moves so fluidly and realistic.
I’d be terribly negligent if I didn’t mention the stunning day/night/weather cycle and the audio engineering. Not only is the soundtrack really beautifully done but the environmental audio is also just a really enjoyable experience especially with a really good headset. Treat yourself to a nice walk in nature and listen to the sounds around you.
A really cool option that Sucker Punch added was the ‘Kurosawa Mode’. By default it’s not on but turning it on will provide you with a real treat. Kurosawa Mode changes the game into a black and white mode complete with film grain, dust particles, film scratches and toned down mono sound as a nod to the late great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa who made such classic samurai films as Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress.
One thing that gamers will notice right away is just how clean the interface is with exception to being in battle. When engaging in combat you’ll see an indicator displaying your resolve points and another indicator for another sort of attack that we won’t get into right now. Resolve is gained by killing enemies and can be used for special attacks and healing. When not in combat, the only thing on the screen is the name of the objective you currently have enabled. Aside from that, there’s really nothing else on the screen which gives a really clean aesthetic.
Sucker Punch opted for a pretty unique method of telling you which way to travel to your destination. By swiping on the touchpad, the wind will blow in the direction and you’ll hear the sound of the wind coming from the speaker in the controller. At first, it seems a bit odd but it’s really quite a brilliant game mechanic and it works so well.
Leveling up happens in a few different ways. From dispatching enemies to finding collectibles you’ll earn on your way. Also from time to time, you’ll hear a very distinct bird chirping and then a pretty little yellow bird will fly into view. You’ll want to follow this little guy because he knows all the secrets of the island. You will also encounter a small fox. The fox is friendly and he will wait for you to follow him to an Inari Shrine, which, after a predetermined number of them will unlock an extra charm slot. The charms will be found or given to Jin on his adventures and they provide very important traits like gaining a moderate increase to melee damage or reducing damage taken at the hands of the Mongols. These charms can be very helpful as you progress.
When you level up your character, you’ll get an action point to spend on any variety of techniques which are broken down into 3 categories. Samurai is where you can learn new moves to parry attacks, legendary combat skills and some exploration techniques. Stances (Stone, water, wind and moon) are different combat stances Jin can use to better fight against the different types of bad guys. Changing stances is done by pressing and holding the R2 button and pressing the corresponding face button to whichever stance is needed and can be done at any time to better aid you in your fight. At first, it felt a bit clunky but before too long you should find yourself steamrolling the bad guys.
Jin also has a variety of tools he can use which are brought up in a similar fashion to the stances but with the use of the L2 button and Dpad for the specific type of tools you want to use and then the face buttons. As a trained samurai, Jin walks a line between being honorable and facing his enemies face to face as is the samurai way and using stealth to his advantage and acting as a ghost. When approaching an area of interest, if it is occupied by Mongols, a prompt will pop up asking you if you want to challenge them or not. By pressing up on the d-pad, you will initiate a duel. In a duel, an enemy or enemy will approach Jin and you have to press and hold down the triangle button. Only at the exact perfect time should you let go of that button resulting in a 1-hit kill which as you progress can be chained for up to 4 enemies and it just feels so good and like it was pulled from an old Kurosawa movie (which it probably was).
During your time as Jin, you’ll be tasked with a variety of missions. Many of which is to liberate villages from the Mongols on your quest to save Shimura. Here’s where players are going to get a sense of deja vu.
The mission types you’re going to encounter have anything from killing all the Mongols and their camp leader to infiltrating a village and rescuing hostages without alerting the guards who will then attempt to kill the hostages. You’ll also find yourself sneaking into an area without alerting the guards and then following a target until you’ve listened to enough of what he has to say in an intel mission. Ultimately, you’ll complete a series of tasks resulting in a standoff with a boss-type character moving you on to the next task.
Jin can’t do everything himself though. He has a band of friends who also have their own personal missions he can assist with. I strongly recommend you do them early on. The extra experience, abilities and tools you’ll gain are immeasurably helpful. One last note before I wrap this up is that Ghost of Tsushima wants players to succeed. I played on normal as I usually do and at a few points, I struggled and died. After a few deaths, the game will respawn you with resolve to assist you. If you continue to struggle, you will eventually have full bars of resolve. If you die again, the game will give you the option to try again or opt-out and come back again later. Really gamer-friendly.
Ghost of Tsushima took me about 45 hours to complete. I didn’t completely focus on getting the main campaign completed. I wandered off track many many times and really enjoyed my time. People are going to call this game Assassin’s Creed: Japan and to be fair, that’s really not an insult. Even I felt like this was precisely what Ghost of Tsushima was. The reason people are going to feel that way is this game will feel very familiar to anyone who has ever played an open-world game like this. Right down to a few of the mission types and even some of the weapons are pretty well exactly the same. I’m not criticizing. I loved the game but as a whole, it’s a pretty safe game that doesn’t really bring many new tricks to the table.
All in all, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best games to come out in 2020. Everything from the graphics to the controls, to the audio screams AAA. If you want to platinum the entire game, I think roughly 60-75 hours will likely be enough for you to be able to complete every task. As we march towards the next cycle of game consoles, Ghost of Tsushima is sure to keep you well entertained for many hours.
Smooth game play
Audio engineering at it’s finest
The duels and collectibles are fantastic
Doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table in terms of gameplay
Feels a bit safe with the mission types
Ghost of Tsushima will be available on July 17 on PlayStation 4.
A copy of Ghost of Tsushima was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment Canada for review purposes. All screenshots were taken on a launch PlayStation 4.