Review: Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)

Sucker Punch Productions gives us, after a break of six years, its best game ever in the form of a samurai adventure in an open world. And it will be another beautiful swan song for Playstation 4’s fantastic career.

This year, the Playstation 4 will be officially replaced by the successor, the Playstation 5, but like the Playstation 3, the old loyalist – who may be the best Playstation generation since the very first – has a couple of great games left to offer during the autumn of its age. We have already received Final Fantasy VII Remake, The Last of Us: Part 2 and now – Ghost of Tsushima, which stunned everyone when it was shown at a Playstation showcase a couple of years ago. Now the result is here and the question is whether it is another format-exclusive title you must own?

Ghost of Tsushima shipyard

Ghost of Tsushima takes place in feudal Japan, during the 13th century – a time when samurai ruled and kept the balance of power in the kingdom of the sun. In the role of Jin Sakai, the last of his family, you take part in the great offensive against an innumerable horde of Mongols disembarking from ships from the Asian mainland, led by a Khan who is a cousin of Kublai Khan (heir to Genghis Khan, whom we been able to follow in the Netflix series Marco Polo). The samurai suffer a terrible defeat and the Mongols occupy the entire island of Tsushima. Only Jin and his uncle seem to have survived the massacre, but his uncle Lord Shimmura is later captured by the icy Khotun Khan. Jin must rebuild his body, his sword technique and find out if there may be more samurai and allies on the island, which he can unite in the goal of liberating Lord Shimmura and – eventually – the whole of Tsushima.

You who have played modern Open World / sandbox games know what to expect here. A beautiful, seamless world is painted before your eyes, with main missions, side missions and unexplored places on a fairly large map. It is a lot Witcher 3 over the gaming experience; partly due to the third-person view (which we love) but also in the arrangement with resources that you accumulate, the experience points and new abilities you can unlock during the journey. That’s a lot too Assassin’s Creed – for better or worse. It’s fun to break the samurai’s codex (if you will) and assassinate opponents from the shadows, but it’s also a little stressful that there is a hint for many points of interest on the map, which can easily get tiring for OCD sufferers who signed up who have to tick off exactly all… But it is voluntary.

Ghost of Tsushima play the flute
You can play your flute to change the weather…

It’s quick to get into Ghost of Tsushima and almost as fast to learn the art of the sword as well as to master all the weapons you unlock during the journey. The game is almost the most difficult in the beginning, as the avatar is the leanest, most undeveloped and you as a player do not really know the timing of parries and attacks. The more you play, the more lethal attacks you learn, the more energy you get and the better you will be at burning off perfect pairings and performing effective counter-attacks. The game has a “resolve” system, which is loaded with, for example, parries, executions and other “perfect” attacks and through which you can regain health.

The story that is told is both interesting and striking and the game gains a lot from having a clear protagonist and a clear (seemingly invincible) antagonist. The bi-characters you meet on your way are both varied and multi-faceted, without for that matter feeling as overworked and bestial revenge-obsessed as the character gallery in The Last of Us 2.

Ghost of Tsushima graphics

The presentation is convincing. The graphics are beautiful and capture the magic of the Japanese landscape; from the beautiful views, to the flower meadows and the so typical architecture. It may not really be the level of detail in everything we have come to expect from previous presentations; there are games with better face models and better use of HDR. But it flows perfectly on PS4 Pro (despite 30 fps it feels smoother), even in graphics mode and changing to performance mode gave in this case no advantage, but only minor details, so we advise against it.

The sound and voice actors are excellent. You can get the game both in English, with clearly Asian actors portraying them – or in Japanese. You who want to go “all-in” on the samurai feeling can also switch to a black and white graphics mode, complete with mono sound and dirt scratches in the picture – “Kurosawa”. A nod to the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa which gave us samurai movie classics like Yojimbo, Kagemusha and – perhaps the best samurai film of all time, The seven samurai (which in turn inspired movies like Seven dared life).

Ghost of Tsushima Kurosawa
Kurosawa mode is a fun touch, but the game does better in color with the right sound.

Sucker Punch Productions has always been a AAA Sony studio, but which has mostly been overshadowed by more famous studios in the large Playstation sphere. Their dazzlingly beautiful, but difficult to control, Sly Coopergame series (originally for Playstation 2) had its fans, but was overshadowed by Naughty Dogs Jak & Daxter and especially Insomniacs Ratchet & Clank. The studio achieved somewhat greater success with its Infamous series on Playstation 3, which was based on a kind of karma system, where you could be both “evil” and “good” and the impressive graphics with its PS4 debut Infamous: Second Son. There was an idea to keep a similar Karma system in Ghost of Tsushima, but Sucker Punch abandoned the idea.

And that is really the only criticism you make Ghost of Tsushima: that the game sounds and looks modern, but that it is at the same time somewhat outdated in the sense that you can only complete the missions (and the game) on one way. Either you do it or you do not do it and then you have to do it again. There are really no moral choices that affect the outcome of characters’ lives (as in the five-year-old Witcher 3) nor any way to behave well or badly and build their reputation – you can even chop at innocents and they move in fear, but no one gets hurt and it really does not affect anything, just like an old-fashioned NPC setup with non-playable characters that were just pure “features”.

Ghost of Tsushima menu
The menu is simple and self-explanatory. Photo: SCEE

But, classic and proven does not have to be bad and even if you can miss the dimension of unique travel, it offers Ghost of Tsushima – as Final Fantasy VII Remake – on a wonderful ride, which will enchant you for a long, long time. Sucker Punch is not trying to break new ground or change the gaming world, nor is it necessary. They manage classic elements in an excellent way and entertain royally along the way.

For me is Ghost of Tsushima Sucker Punch Productions’ absolute best game to date and with Final Fantasy VII Remake this year’s strongest candidates for Best Games 2020. And then we still have half the year left, with several tickling titles left to be released (Cyberpunk 2077, Halo Infinite?).

Ghost of Tsushima ship
Ghost of Tsushima borrows and borrows from the very best. And do it well.

Do you own a Playstation 4 and like Open World games, like Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed so pamper yourself during the holidays with a really well-made samurai adventure (not so often we have seen a big game with that theme?). Ghost of Tsushima may not break new ground in open world adventure, but it takes a beloved genre and manages it excellently.

Well done, Sony and Sucker Punch!