Game Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Release date: 2020
Version played: PlayStation 4 2020

Developed by Sucker Punch Productions and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment as a swan song for the PlayStation 4, Ghost of Tsushima is a 2020 stealth action-adventure game. Set on the real life Tsushima Island amid the first attempted Mongol invasion of Japan, players control Jin Sakai, a samurai, in defence of the island. Torn between maintaining his samurai code, and doing whatever else it may take to save his people, Jin can utilise various combat tactics and movement options (including a horse, which I named Nobu, meaning ‘Trust’) to explore, traverse and save the island.

+ the game looks phenomenal. The lighting in particular is fantastic, with all of the environments being worthy of a screenshot (or ten). All of Jin’s armour pieces look great in motion, the way flowers and wind blow in the direction of an objective and fire/explosives destroying the nearby locales are all simply beautiful. Both the natural and summoned weather effects change both the way the game looks, but also the way Jin can approach his goals. The whole thing can even be played in ‘Kurosawa Mode’, with a slick black and white colour scheme, a film grain look and extra animated wind. And even with all of that, the game loads unbelievably quickly
+ taking the best parts of Assassin’s Creed, Shadow of Mordor and Horizon: Zero Dawn, this game is simply a joy to play. The combat is smarter than other Batman: Arkham style games (which I’ve written about in some detail before), where Jin must choose from various stances to counter different classes of enemy. Less honourable tactics can be used as well such as stealth assassinations and the use of various ranged weapons. One on one duels are the combat highlight, as each encounter comes down to precise and accurate button presses. The open world is full of interesting locations, both marked and unmarked to explore at will, granting assorted character upgrades. And best of all, there is no annoying on-screen map or clunky ‘compass’ or ‘way points’ in the world; every objective can be scouted and reached by swiping on the touch pad, for a ‘guiding wind’ to lead you in the right direction
+ with only one minor caveat (see below), I loved the story told. Funnily enough, Jin himself is one of the weaker characters overall, but he acts as the catalyst for various side characters, including as a pair of fugitive thieves, a former lady of a well renown samurai clan, and Jin’s old housekeeper, the latter of which is one of my favourite questlines in recent memory. Many of the side stories provide some incredible voice work and story beats, even if they are nothing divergent from the regular gameplay
+ the audio is also great, both the ambient wind rustling through nearby trees and the clanking swords of fierce combat. As mentioned, the voice work in both English and Japanese is absolutely top level (and the only negative here is that the mouth movements are only matched to English, even when playing in Japanese; I’d have hoped they could have matched the animations to that of speaking Japanese, but I understand why they didn’t)
+ it’s a positive I’ve come to look forward to in almost everything I play, but one of the best photo modes in any video game is on offer here. I’ve taken nearly 100 screenshots, and I most certainly will take more during replays

– the very minor story caveat is not even specific to this game; just that in open world games, the ‘important’ stuff has to happen in cutscenes, which often goes against the way players may approach the game when given a choice. It hardly even counts here, but I can’t help it
– I did encounter a few minor glitches in my time, including my horse going nuts and galloping uncontrollably. I also had a few issues with the control scheme, simply that R2 is linked to several actions — interact, collect, speak, change stance — so that attempting to change stance would instead cause me to pick up something nearby instead
– I’ve finished the game with one extra skill point, but nothing to spend it on. Gosh I hate that

> I spent lots of my free exploration time blasting the Mongolian metal band, The HU (including their awesome The Great Chinggis Khaan) and I strongly recommend them to any fans of heavy metal
> Ubisoft must be kicking themselves that they didn’t make Assassin’s Creed: Japan, because any attempt to follow this will only result in failure

Should you play this game: Absolutely, yes. I had no strong feelings going into this, and bought it mostly on a whim on release day and I cannot stress enough how good it is. I loved this so much that if it gets re-released on the PlayStation 5, I’ll buy it without a second thought.

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