Sucker Punch have shifted their focus from spy raccoons and conduits, to a disciplined Samurai intent on avenging his legacy and being a hero to the people of Tsushima. Ghost of Tsushima has been a long-time coming since its first reveal in 2017, but the game is now here, and we have to say, it’s pretty darn good. The game is an interpretation of the 13th Century Mongol invasion of Japan, featuring characters inspired by the time period, violent – yet captivating – gameplay, and genuinely, the most most beautiful and wondrous graphics I’ve ever seen in a video game. Our Ghost of Tsushima review will detail every aspect of this fantastic game, and will breakdown why it was so close to being a work of art.
Ghost of Tsushima is now available to buy exclusively on PS4.
Story – Date With Destiny
You control Jin Sakai. The only remaining descendant of the real-life Sakai clan. As Jin lost his parents at a young age, he has since been raised by his honorable uncle – Lord Shimura – who acts as Jin’s makeshift father-figure. Jin isn’t an openly emotional character as he represents the name of the Samurai, but he’s very well drilled and has forged a reputation as one of the land’s noblest, and fiercest, warriors. Things quickly go awry in the game, and it leads Jin on a mission to rescue his captured uncle from the mighty hands of Khotun Kahn, the heinous leader of the Mongol invasion of Japan.
The story is very much a coming-of-age tale that sees Jin become a great fighter. However, his quest to save his uncle and his people comes at a price. Is he prepared to sacrifice his honor and integrity? Betray the ethics of the Samurai’s sacred code? The idea is actually quite rushed early on, understandably to allow the player access to the gameplay options implemented. But the understated notion becomes paramount and spotlighted more as the game goes on. This becomes one of the recurring details in the plot as Jin’s aspersion towards the Samurai’s noble laws becomes evident and causes trouble. It’s a fascinating story that wrestles between good and evil, has some notable twists, and most importantly, it delivers.
Jin’s accompanied by several sidekicks, each with their own memorable adventures that Jin partakes in. I even found Jin’s trusty companion – Yuna – to be an even more compelling character than Jin himself. Additionally, Khotun Kahn is a stunning villain, he is absolutely detestable and perfect fodder for Jin’s heroic tendencies. Overall, the story gets plenty of screen time and is played out in a variety of cutscenes to further emphasize the story and its continuous developments.
Gameplay – A Ghost Amidst The Shadows
For a game to be geared so heavily towards Samurai’s and their culture, you better have a great combat system to justify this, it’s safe to say that Ghost of Tsushima has passed admirably in this department. The action can be pulsating and leave you clutching onto your controller with every lunge at your person and every arrow that whistles past your ear lobe. But it can also be very subdued and calculated. There is a lot of freedom with how you can approach the game, and there’s enough resources to warrant you taking either approach.
Full-frontal combat is fast and fluid, which is an apt description as you’ll be going to donate blood with the amount you’ve collected from your enemies. The game spares no expense in the gore department as the crimson constantly flows with every surgical slice of the skin. Your combat options do inevitably increase with stealth incorporating itself into proceedings. If that’s not your cup of herbal tea, then a smorgasbord of goodies await you: kunai, explosives, different bows, blowpipes, and even sticky bombs are just some of the weapons you’ll be able to use to your advantage. And later on in the game, you’ll unlock a devastating ability, fueled by a power meter, that wrecks havoc on everyone and it’s an exhilarating rush. It looks badass, and you feel like the Ninjanator. The game definitely doesn’t shortchange you in the arsenal department.
If that doesn’t sound enticing enough, then the prospect of the greatest video game horse in history should only sweeten the pot. That’s right, a fully functioning horse that moves perfectly and isn’t reduced to a pool of concrete the second it clips a twig. Although, some collision detection issues undermine this achievement a tad as very early on in the game I was able to dash through a forest of bamboo…no, quite literally. I rode through every single tree. I’m not sure if this is a glitch? Or if it’s an intentional way of making navigation easier? Regardless, it wasn’t the only instance of this as there were many occasions in which characters would be inside ‘solid’ objects. It’s not exactly game-breaking, but for a game with so much polish in some areas, it was just a bit disappointing.
Variety Is The Slice Of Life
The foes that Jin will find himself picking out of his hair come in different varieties,. You start off with normal Mongol grunts, and eventually come to hulking beasts caked in more armor than that man collecting the money from an ATM…also wielding some form of ye olde rocket launcher. The subtleties of each enemy type requires you to balance parrying, dodging, and striking to ensure you maximize your potential in combat. To inflict further damage, you’ll also have to make use of the 4 different stances the game offers, with each being tailored towards a particular type of enemy.
There are different armor options and charms that apply modifiers to your stats. Again, more ways to remain flexible with your approach. Some will increase your bow’s damage output, whereas some will provide restorative qualities for your Resolve. Using special abilities and regaining health all comes from Resolve – which you can upgrade in different ways. There is also a comprehensive upgrade system that you can earn points for by completing story missions, side missions, liberating camps, and other activities.
Due to the limited HUD, a big positive in my eyes, you can find out where you need to go by swiping the touch pad. In doing so you’ll be rewarded with a potent gust of wind that shakes the environment and blows in the direction your marker is. If a mysterious wind is too unconventional, then birds and foxes can also guide you to secrets and points of interests. Why do you look so confused?
Perhaps you’re tired of the bloodshed and want to kick-back with a cold sake, if so, then you should indulge in some of the game’s more unique activities i:e writing haikus or chopping up bamboo. Once you’ve conjured up a mind-altering masterpiece, then you can get back to hoarding a mountain of collectibles. These range from banners to flags to crickets. Yes, crickets, in a cage, a la Mulan. Collecting crickets is a curious oddity, but it’s cool, and reminds you how unique the game is.
Groundhog Day 2: “Kill The Mongols”
So the game is well made with all-sorts of gameplay nuances to engage the player; how do the missions themselves fare? As stated previously, the story missions are exciting with escapades on boats, to a one-man infiltration of a highly fortified castle. The tales of your companions are just as interesting – if not more – as the main missions. All good right? That is until you get to the obligatory side-missions which are unfortunately sub-par. With the huge amount of open-world games, an endless stream of side-missions have become commonplace. It’s too easy to populate the game with seemingly unlimited amounts of plebeian tasks that perpetuate an otherwise good game with meaningless drivel.
Most of them feature the objective “Defeat The Mongols” at some point, and to be fair so do lots of the main/tales missions do too. But if you’re not killing Mongols, then you’re inevitably tailing someone. I think it’s generally accepted that tailing missions are just the absolute worst. There’s far too many here and it grates. Other criticisms I’d have to bring against the game are that death is virtually inconsequential, and some of the gameplay is too easy.
There were a few occasions in which I’d die, and then spawn almost where I died – with my Resolve completely restored. If that wasn’t enough, I stopped feeling the challenge about a third of the way through the game because once I’d upgraded my bows enough, and with the right charms and armor, I could just pick everyone off with them. Admittedly, that’s the play style I went for, and it worked well for me, but I can’t help but feel it worked a little too well.
Graphics And Sound – Beauty Is In The Eye of Everything
It’s been hard to resist discussing the obvious, graphical thematics of Ghost of Tsushima. Whilst a game like The Last Of Us Part II has achieved unprecedented heights of realism and visual superiority, Ghost of Tsushima is just astonishing to look at. The flowers, the trees, the colors, the lush environments. I could honestly crack open a few beers, sit back, and just admire the game like a screensaver.
I recommend to everyone, spend a good five minutes just observing the long grass. To see how it moves in the wind, to see the grass coalesce into a vibrant palette of green. It’s honestly beautiful. The leaves float like a butterfly and sting nothing like a bee, how could they? They’re enchanting. Even the fire looks photorealistic as it burns away furiously. You can see the trippy, wavy air emanating from it as the embers ascend gracefully.
The visuals are generally complimented by a terrific score that harmonizes the aesthetics of the game with tranquil notes during those quieter periods, but then suddenly overwhlem you with noise as you’re being battered with arrows and spears. It’s not all swings and roundabouts though, the water is actually phenomenal from a distance, yet poor up close. It doesn’t even cling to Jin’s clothes, which I feel is a bizarre oversight. Furthermore, the facial animations/models are hit-and-miss, some look a bit rubbery and don’t appear cohesive with the rest of their body. They’re not the worst I’ve ever seen, but again, probably could’ve done with another lick or two of polish.
Thankfully it’s very easy to ignore these minor details when Ghost of Tsushima gives you an intense 1 vs 1 sword fight in a field of chrysanthemums. Imagine a dreamlike state, where you can control all the variables, the wind the physics, the colors, and the scenario. This fight would tick all the boxes, and it’s just one of a few battles that can leave you disconnected from the fight itself because you’d rather be having a picnic and taking in the scenery.