|Dev: Sucker Punch|
|Release: July 17, 2020|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 1080p-4K||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Partial Nudity|
by Jenni Lada
The whole debate about whether or not games are art has been ongoing for at least a decade now. Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch and Sony’s latest provides new evidence for those in the “for” camp. It is a stunning game that revels in its homages, even offering a monochromatic Kurosawa mode in honor of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. It's gorgeous with an incredible sense of flow and understanding of what makes a game satisfying and work. Which is so good, it helps overshadow its more minor problems.
Ghost of Tsushima is a game inspired by historical events. Namely, the Mongolian invasions of Japan and the one that made landfall on Tsushima island in 1274. Like many works of fiction that tap into history, it may not always be entirely accurate and it’s important to know you’re seeing it through Sucker Punch’s lens. (Basically, don’t use it as evidence for any history papers.) Jin Sakai and his uncle, Lord Shimura, were facing off against Khotun Khan. Khan’s forces completely wiped the 80-odd samurai who appeared to meet them. Shimura was captured, and Jin was left for dead. Fortunately, he lived and has the chance to fight back and reclaim the island.
What makes Ghost of Tsushima different from all of those games based on samurai or that fawn-over the different tactics fictional ninjas employ is that they can focus on one side and element. This is a game where Jin is caught between two worlds. He was raised as a samurai, with the ideas of honor and a nature that drove him to try and protect others. But, his new enemies don’t respect or fight like that. So, he has to resort to new, stealthier methods of addressing foes.
This is reflected in the character builds you can end up creating and the approach you can take to different missions. You earn different technique points as Jin goes around Tsushima fighting the Mongols. Samurai techniques end up dealing with deflection, evasion, exploration, and mythic skills. As a warrior, he also ends up learning different stances that are extra effective against different sorts of enemies or have an added stagger damage bonus connected to a specific kind of attack. Then, there are the ghost techniques that, well, feel like they would fit into a ninja or rogue’s repertoire, since archery, bombs, chain assassinations, and kunai all fit into that category. You decide what kind of character you want Jin to be, which is rather freeing.
Especially since you can then carry this over into how you approach missions. It is very possible to barrel through with no stealth, running head on into danger. While some duels are scripted, you could also initiate standoffs against enemies to eliminate up to three enemies at once. Or, if you have a more delicate mission or would rather be stealthy, you can bring up your far hearing to keep track of enemies, sneak up on people, and go for assassinations. It’s very freeform and handled rather well.
The combat is incredibly satisfying. The swordplay is excellent and so beautiful, it might even be distracting the first few times you watch Jin in some of the more elaborate fights or duels. Timing is essential, since you need to read opponents’ movements for parrying, dodging, and determining which sorts of strikes might be most effective. There were a few times, typically during side quests, where the environment might also be Jin’s enemy as he attempts to appropriately handle the larger numbers. But it’s generally a joy to run into a fight.
Tsushima is a rather large island and, in a nice twist, you don’t constantly have arrows or trails showing you where to go once you’re done with one encounter and on to the next. Your map will have points of interest fill in and major quests hinted at, in addition to some largely great Tales that are Mythic or ally-based. But you typically swipe on the touchpad to see how the wind is blowing and to lead you to designated quests. Animals or smoke might draw you in to additional activities. Many of the side-quests that aren’t designated as Tales aren’t as enthralling, but can be rewarding in their own way. Plus, they give you even more of an excuse to see more of the absolutely stunning island.
It also, and I can’t understate this enough, hauntingly beautiful. I would even say Ghost of Tsushima is the sort of game where it looks better when you’re engaging in general gameplay than it does when you’re watching cutscenes. And the additional visual options, like Kurosawa mode or the filters you can use when playing around with Photo Mode, make it even more stunning. It is extraordinary and sometimes I would find myself pursuing additional quests just so I could maybe find more gear, get new dye to change items’ appearances, or acquire more helpful charms.
The worst thing I can say about it is that sometimes, the pacing can feel a bit off in Ghost of Tsushima. There are some segments that can feel a bit slower than others, especially if you are really taking the time to see as much as possible. So, say, the first five hours might feel perfect. Then, you’ll have a few that feel more plodding until you start doing enough to really chase Khotun down more. But even then, this could all come down to personal preference and I generally thought it flowed well.
Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous game that has Sucker Punch taking its shot at telling its own samurai story. The combat feels great; and you have a lot of freedom when it comes to building up Jin. It’s simply a stunning way to say goodbye to the PS4.
Writing Team Lead