With the PlayStation 5 scheduled to arrive this holiday season, Ghost of Tsushima will go down as the last major exclusive for the PlayStation 4. That’s fitting because Ghost of Tsushima is emblematic of the console in many ways.
Better technology allowed for bigger, denser and more detailed worlds. As a result, open-world games were perhaps the defining genre of the generation. Sony Interactive Entertainment released a plethora of third-person open-world action-adventure games with big budgets for the PS4: InFamous Second Son (2014), Horizon Zero Dawn (2017), God of War (2018), Spider-Man (2018), Days Gone (2019) and now Ghost of Tsushima. That’s almost one a year.
Sucker Punch is the only studio responsible for two games on that list. They made InFamous Second Son as a launch window game for the PS4 and got to give it its swansong of sorts with Ghost of Tsushima.
The simplest review for Ghost of Tsushima is that it sure is one of those games. It doesn’t do many things you haven’t seen before. Think of any cliche open-world game mission and Ghost of Tsushima probably did it, if not several times. Almost every mission is some version of someone needing you to help them get something or rescue a family member. You go to the location, take out a group of enemies, get the thing/rescue the person, return.
The game takes place on the real-world Japanese island of Tsushima while it is being invaded by Mongol forces in the 13th century. The first thing that stands out is the beautiful world. Ghost of Tsushima is like playing in a zen garden.
The sunsets are frequently creating eerily beautiful deep orange hues. The wind is always blowing strong enough to make your cape wave perfectly. There is a constant flow of an obscene amount of leaves floating around, which, once you get past how absurd that is, does make things look better.
To show off how beautiful the game is, all of the screenshots embedded in this review are direct from the game’s photo mode as opposed to images preselected for media coverage. The photo mode has a robust feature set, which can be a game of its own if you want to perfect an image. However, none of these screenshots were touched up or edited at all. All I did was find something pretty, frame it and snap.
Everything in the art style, sound and music contribute to Ghost of Tsushima realizing its samurai setting. Sucker Punch was going for a samurai movie in video game form. There’s a Kurosawa mode (in honor of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa), which allows the game to be played with a grainy black and white filter. Each mission starts with a title card, which also adds to the aesthetic.
However, the visuals may be the only thing Ghost of Tsushima excels at. Once you get past the stylistic setting (which I could go on and on about), Ghost of Tsushima is relatively run of the mill for a big budget open-world game. The game doesn’t do many things great, but it also doesn’t do many things poorly either.
The story does little to stand out. The main character, Jin Sakai, goes on a trope-filled hero’s journey. He is likeable, but not quite lovable. The supporting cast, a mix of amusing and complicated characters, both men and women, produces more memorable moments.
The villain, fictional Mongol leader Khotun Khan, really stood out. He had catchy, clever lines and was more complicated than a pure evil bad guy.
From a gameplay perspective, the combat is based on sword-fighting with some stealth mixed in. With few exceptions, you have the freedom to choose between going into an area stealthily or taking on an entire squadron with your sword.
The combat is mostly based on reacting to enemy types with one of four stances. Each stance works most effectively against a certain enemy type so you have to pay attention to which you are dueling at the moment. This can become chaotic when you are outnumbered, but you have several “ghost” abilities which even the odds quickly. At various points in the game you can feel overpowered, but it does feel good taking down several men with ease.
However, before you have all the stances and abilities unlocked the combat can be a bit overwhelming. The gameplay gets better as you go, but the first four or five hours are a bit sluggish from that standpoint.
By the end you have a handful of tools at your disposal and they are all fun in some way. However, switching between them is cumbersome. Holding R2 and pushing a face button switches your stance, which you do regularly throughout every combat encounter. R2 also grabs items and there can be a bunch of those in the middle of a crowded battle. It’s rage-inducing when you’re trying to switch stances and Jin instead grabs an item and jumps.
I also wanted the combat to have a bit more depth. Ultimately, switching stances and spamming triangle with the occasional square was enough to get the job done in almost every circumstance. I could have raised the difficulty, but I’m not sure the fancier moves available were useful. That said, the combat was still entertaining after dozens of hours.
If all you were hoping for from Ghost of Tsushima was a fun open-world samurai game, it delivers. It’s a fun game that runs very smoothly, has good collectibles and entertaining enough combat. Have I mentioned how pretty it is?
Ghost of Tsushima is available now on PlayStation 4.
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