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In all my years as a gamer, playing as a samurai has never been at the top of my list of to do’s. Thanks to my lack of knowledge of modern or historic Japanese culture, plus a total obliviousness to the Mongol invasions back in the 1200’s, this could easily have been a title to overlook in the already impressive lineup of excellent PlayStation exclusives.
As it turns out – I’m glad I didn’t sleep on Ghost of Tsushima – because it’s an excellent game and a new personal best for Sucker Punch Productions who have taken an almighty risk by leaving Infamous in the shadows.
Taking the role of Jin Sakai, a young samurai, you’re immediately propelled into a cross-country mission in search of justice. Sure, that’s nothing new for an action-adventure game, nor is a vast open-world full of areas to explore and regions to liberate from enemy forces.
But a yawn fest this game is not.
From the beginning, it’s clear that Sucker Punch are true to their word in how the original development for their latest title took inspiration from the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Zelda Breath of the Wild, but there is also a decent hint of Assassins Creed about some the game that players should notice quickly.
Like in Breath of the Wild, the world in Ghost of Tsushima encourages the “if you can see it, chances are you can get to it” mantra to its exploration. The biggest difference to Zelda and other well-done open worlds is how the environment itself can be your guiding compass to the next destination. If you’ve selected a location on the map, a simple swipe up on the Dualshock’s touchpad will trigger a ‘guiding wind’ where the breeze points you into the direction you need to be going.
It doesn’t ever get old and I personally found myself using the feature more and more, preferring this cool (albeit slightly tokenistic) mechanic to find my way around rather than just going from the traditional ‘point A to B’ with an ugly guiding line in the middle of your screen.
Sucker Punch hasn’t tried to rewrite the rulebook of an open-world adventure title, they’ve just added their own spin to it, and it works.
Visuals That Will Make Your Jaw Drop
Speaking of the world itself, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the most visually stunning gaming experiences ever made. Period.
During the over six-year development, Sucker Punch devs took regular trips to real-world Japan and the Island of Tsushima (located between mainland Japan and the Korean Peninsula) to get a true sense of the world they wanted to capture in the game.
Work included taking hundreds of photo scanned leaves, tree models, grass, and bush in their bid to develop as realistic a world as possible based on the real thing. From an audio perspective, Sucker Punch also took the time to record various nature sounds, such as birds and the sound of wind rustling through trees in forests.
It all works in the final product, but it’s the visuals that truly stand out, the cool atmospheric sounds are just a bonus.
Whether it be tall mountains in the distance, smoke pouring out of a building on another horizon, a shrine on a hilltop, or the several wonderfully detailed Japanese temples, Ghost of Tsushima feels like a world that is alive and well.
Of course, the game is based (albeit loosely) on the first Mongol Invasion of Japan in 1274. To build an experience around a real-life historic event and not put in the detail to do it justice would’ve been easily noticeable to gamers, and what Sucker Punch achieve in this area could be a lesson other developers could learn.
It’s all very well and good to have solid gameplay, but if the environments fail to deliver, the title as a whole suffers. Ghost of Tsushima refuses to let any detail in its world slip past the quality test.
Thankfully, the moment-to-moment gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima is on par with its amazing visuals. This is no more true than when in combat.
Fights feel great and require a decent amount of concentration and timing on the pad to get right. Early on, Ghost of Tsushima gives a combat tutorial that will serve gamers well moving forward, covering the basic striking and defence mechanics as well as some tricks that help give a slight advantage.
As the game goes on and you enter more battles, you’ll only ever have a slight advantage depending on the approach taken to combat and the various upgrades and skill points earned. Making use of the skill tree, constantly upgrading abilities and utilising armour is crucial in Ghost of Tsushima as you’ll take on several different types of enemies.
There are also different battle stance options to be learned and mastered. These stances are critical to giving yourself the best chance against the different enemies, most of which require different stances in order to beat.
As an example – the stone stance is ideal for taking on other swordsmen whereas the water stance is best for Mongols with shields. Light and heavy attacks with the Katana (your main weapon) are used best in variation, plus there is simply nothing more satisfying than an accurate headshot using your upgradable bow.
Combat just feels great, every battle feels exciting, and the audio/visual cues Sucker Punch have implemented into the fight system should keep even the most unreliable of players feeling like they’re always capable of getting the win.
Yes, Ghost of Tsushima is a samurai game and its combat reflects this in large part, but you’d be hard stretched to find more fun in moment to moment fights in any other game.
A Sloggy Story
But despite its brilliant visuals, addicting gameplay in battles, Ghost of Tsushima does have issues in its storytelling. Jin Sakai is pretty one-dimensional in his motives, and as such, the main story feels like a chore at times despite some fun missions that push the plot forward.
But unlike The Last of Us Part II or Red Dead Redemption 2, characters in Ghost of Tsushima just don’t have the conviction that made me care about their fortunes. I just wanted to get to the next mission to enjoy the fantastic combat and see how many Mongol enemies I could stealth until getting caught. What happened to Jin, or his various well-acted sidekicks, didn’t really phase me a whole lot.
As for the antagonists, without giving too much away, they didn’t really do a whole lot for me either and their motivations seemed fairly run of the mill.
All that being said, at the time of writing this review I am approaching on 20-hours of game time and I do sense there is still a lot more to come from the story itself. So far it hasn’t grabbed me, but the brilliance of other areas mentioned in this monologue will keep me coming back for multiple playthroughs I’m sure.
Also, I am fairly new to the samurai genre, so much of the underpinning “swordy stuff” behind the plot could well be over my head.
Sucker Punch Has Found Its Next Big Franchise
Ghost of Tsushima is an utterly beautiful game that features an open world you should explore and take a lot of time with. To not do so defeats the purpose.
On top of its seemingly endless discovery, the battle system provides one of the best and most intense gaming experiences I’ve had that equal everything that was great about the combat systems in games like The Last of Us Part II, Red Dead Redemption 2, and even some of the better Assassins Creed games.
The combat does what it does exceptionally well, and it’s that wider game within the game during these moments that provide the biggest highlight throughout all the well-designed missions.
What Ghost of Tsushima lacks is a great story. Everything else is on par with some of the best title on PS4, and it’s a fitting farewell to a simply outstanding lineup of AAA+ single-player experiences that make this generation a winner for PlayStation.
Ghost of Tsushima might be the last big gun on the PS4, but it’s also one of the best, albeit for a slightly disengaging main plot.
FINAL RATING: 9/10
The review code for Ghost of Tsushima was provided by PlayStation NZ/AU. Thanks heaps once again!