Does Sucker Punch’s latest open world epic stay true to the samurai code?
Six years have passed since a Sucker Punch production has graced the PlayStation 4. Infamous: Second Son (and it’s stand-alone follow up, First Light) saw moderate critical and commercial success back in PS4’s early days, so fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of Ghost of Tsushima. With such a wildly different fictional backdrop, could the Seattle based developer tackle the 13th century Japanese tale with respect and honor? I’m pleased to say that Ghost of Tsushima is easily Sucker Punch’s best game and stands toe to toe with the very best PS4 exclusives.
Ghost of Tsushima is a serious, and noble, tale loosely inspired by the 13th century invasion on the islands of Tsushima and Japan, by Kublai Khan’s Mongols. In Sucker Punch’s augmented version of history, Jin Sakai is among the samurai who were vastly outnumbered at the beaches of Tsushima. Though left for dead, he and a handful of other samurai survived the Mongol onslaught. With new purpose and vigor, Jin sets out to right the wrongs that the Mongols have inflicted upon his family and countrymen.
Early on the player will learn about Jin’s upbringing under his loving uncle, Lord Shimura. The code of the samurai is about loyalty and honor above all else – especially loyalty to your family lord. To die on the battlefield for your lord was considered a great honor. However, Jin quickly learns that the Mongols have no such honor, and in order to win this war he would have to employ tactics which would make him sick to his stomach. He would have to be sneaky. Spurred on by new found friends, Jin digs deeper into this style of battle all while losing the respect of his uncle. While the samurai and ninja fighting styles compliment each other well in gameplay, they create havoc for Jin’s life. As his legend grows, Jin is faced with decisions that will greatly affect his family and the people who are all looking up to him. The slow transition of Jin from being a samurai to becoming the “Ghost” is extremely well done in both story contexts and especially gameplay contexts.
Fans of Horizon Zero Dawn and the Assassin’s Creed series should feel right at home with Ghost of Tsushima. Sucker Punch has masterfully brought the full diversity of mainland Japan to the small island of Tsushima. Every countryside, cliff and chasm is filled with fun and entertaining nuggets to explore. The wind is your tour guide for Tsushima, and following it will usually reap bountiful rewards. You could spend your time slicing through bamboo shoots to hone your blade, or stop to contemplate life while composing your very own haikus. There’s very little in the game that doesn’t feel like it’s worth exploring. If it’s not a fun activity (such as the aforementioned bamboo slicing) then it’s a cool reward such as a new sword kit which you can now flaunt around. Main and side quests are accompanied by “mythic tales” which are legendary folk tales that usually speak about a great weapon or power that can still be obtained. Each one of these mythic tales are fantastic and are the prime example of fun gameplay mixed with satisfying rewards.
While some rewards are tangible, such as new moves or weapons, many others are aesthetic in nature. Collecting new sword kits, armor suits and hats are the norm and offer up a ton of customization for the player. Thankfully, you don’t just have to look good while slicing through mongols. Combat is outstanding in Ghost of Tsushima and is worth the price of admission alone. Along the way, players will unlock 4 unique sword stances for Jin, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Parrying and counterattacking feels natural and isn’t overly difficult. A host of other combat tools are also at Jin’s disposal – the standard bow and arrow, kunai, sticky bombs and poison darts are just a taste of the arsenal that players can enjoy.
The incredible sword combat unfortunately isn’t enough to help the lackluster stealth gameplay. Being a huge stealth fan myself, I was disappointed to see the AI was laughably easy to circumvent or take out. This is especially unfortunate given that the game often requires the player to use stealth. Indeed, it’s the primary focus of Jin’s transformation to the Ghost! It’s a shame this portion of the combat isn’t as refined as the excellent swordplay.
Ghost of Tsushima has the honor of being Sony’s final 1st party release for the PlayStation 4 and it certainly shows in the graphics department. Sucker Punch has not only crafted one of the best looking open world games to date, they’ve crafted one of the best looking games period. The art direction takes center stage here as fields are peppered with endless pompous grass, sunlight pours through Japanese maple leaves, and smoke plumes on the horizon. There’s literally something beautiful around every corner on Tsushima. There’s not a space on the island that feels untouched by the gorgeous art direction.
To show off the stunning vistas, Sucker Punch has included a crème de la crème photo mode. Everything in Ghost of Tsushima is moving thanks to the never-ending wind that whips through the island. Upon hitting the D-pad to initiate photo mode, you may wonder if anything was actually paused because the landscape is still blowing with life. Being able to change the weather, time of day, and add in wind and particle effects to the standard photo mode settings was just a blast to mess around with. Add in the new GIF maker with music on top and you’ve got a world class photo mode.
Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t bring a ton of innovation to the open world action adventure genre. It could be said that it plays it a little too safely with genre conventions. However, the game is wrapped in one of the best coats of paint I’ve ever seen in an open world game. I’m not talking about just graphics here…Ghost of Tsushima is filled to the brim with engaging quest lines, intriguing side stories, and fun activities to discover. At roughly 30 hour to beat and 50 to complete, Ghost of Tsushima hits the sweet spot for the open world genre and is a fantastic swan song for the PS4.
Note for Parents
Ghost of Tsushima is rated “M” for blood and gore, intense violence, and partial nudity. The feudal Japanese setting has players killing enemies with swords, bows/arrows, bombs and throwing knives (to name a few). Stealth combat can be particular visceral as the player will stab enemies in the neck. Nudity comes by way of the various hot springs that Jin can come across. These hot springs will make your health gauge larger. There is a short, unskippable cutscene which depicts Jin’s bare buttocks as he steps in and out of the hot spring. There is also infrequent use of “damn”, “bastard” and one use of the “S” word.