14 July 2020 16:33
Created by devoted admirers of Japanese samurai cinema at Sucker Punch Productions in Washington, Ghost of Tsushima turns the feudal world of Akira Kurosawa films into a huge, absurdly beautiful game, set during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima in the 13th century. Samurai Jin Sakai, an unlikely survivor of the incursion's first beachside battle, reluctantly turns to underhanded tactics in his efforts to repel the invaders and save his homeland, sneaking through long grass and hiding on rooftops to assassinate Mongols as well as confronting them sword-to-sword in clashing duels. All the aesthetic and thematic conventions of samurai films are present and correct: a story centred on honour and self-mastery; dramatic weather that sweeps across Japan's spellbinding landscapes; standoffs against backdrops of falling leaves and deserted towns; screen wipe and axial cuts; quick, lethal katana combat that ends with enemies staggering and spurting blood before toppling like felled trees. Ghost of Tsushima offers some elegant solutions to the superficial problems with huge, open games like this. Ghost of Tsushima follows a dispiritingly familiar trajectory of a frustrating first few hours, where enemies are powerful and everything is difficult; an exciting middle act where the game feels thrillingly conquerable; and a tedious latter half where enemies fall like skittles before you.
Later-game character upgrades let you automatically parry sword strikes or stagger enemies in a couple of swipes, with the counterproductive consequence that the longer you play for, the less skill is required to prevail. Unlike Assassin's Creed, which always uses its historical settings as stages for its own eccentric stories, Ghost of Tsushima sticks so closely to the tropes and storylines of classic samurai fiction that it sometimes forgets to have a personality of its own. This was because, as you can see from the image below, I am a long-term fan of Japanese jidaigeki and, specifically, the samurai movies of the great Akira Kurosawa, Kihachi Okamoto and Masaki Kobayashi. I am a huge jidaigeki and Akira Kurosawa fan, so I had very high hopes for Ghost of Tsushima. Naturally, if you prefer a full-colour experience, then you can indeed play Ghost of Tsushima that way.
It is one of, if not the, best games of this generation, delivering a beautifully authentic virtual world to explore, a complex but rewarding combat system, and plenty of customisation options that are sure to lead to hours of gaming joy. To discover exactly how the game manages to do this in greater detail then keep reading, with my full Ghost of Tsushima review following the title's official trailer and pricing and availability information. Moving up in terms of price further is the Ghost of Tsushima Digital Deluxe Edition. Mini art book, PS4 Samurai Dynamic Theme, Director's commentary, Hero of Tsushima skin set (Golden Mask, Body Armour, Sword Kit, Horse, Saddle), 1 Technique Point, Charm of Hachiman's Favor In Ghost of Tsushima you play samurai Jin Sakai during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. A large, imposing presence, Khotun is never too far away from the game's main story and is interesting as he acts as a counterpoint in terms of culture and philosophy to the Japanese warrior mindset that Jin holds. Other notable characters include Jin's close companion Masako (a samurai) Ippei (a warrior monk) and his sensei Ishikawa, which act both from personal motivations as well as a wider sense of duty to defend Tsushima and Japan from the Mongols. The dialogue, how the cut scenes are shot, the mission stories and more all, at the very least, evoke memories of classics like Yojimbo, Sword of Doom, Three Outlaw Samurai and Seven Samurai, and being perfectly honest that is greatly to this game's credit. Characters speak as you would expect them to, think as you would expect them to in that time and that situation, and the game benefits as a result in terms of in-world believability and immersion. This game makes you feel like a samurai, both in terms of how you would fight but also how you would think, and that is a great, transcendental accomplishment. The best way I can describe the gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima is like a cross between Assassin's Creed, Nioh and Tomb Raider. To be clear, the game is open world and exploration is easy and rewarding, with the island of Tsushima more or less explorable without gameplay blocks. Like in Assassin's Creed, for example, you can hunt out and honour shrines and temples for various bonuses, while certain landmarks will reward with new gear like sword kits or armour. The game's combat is composed on three things, hand-to-hand combat with swords, ranged combat with bows, and then assassin combat, which includes insta-kills up-close as well as more ranged abilities like black powder bombs. To the game's credit, it is very good at holding your hand initially, explaining which stances do best against which enemies, and when and how to parry or dodge certain attacks. Sword combat therefore is about reacting to enemy attacks correctly, as well as striking at the right time and, often, with the right stance. Throughout the game there are times where, if so desired, the player can call out enemies at the start of a fight to take part in a standoff duel. In terms of assassin combat, which you will need to use to truly become the "Ghost of Tsushima", you need to remain unseen and then strike from the rear or from the air. Every time you kill one of your Mongol enemies with an assassination your resolve meter is filled, meaning that often it is a great way to begin an assault. Progression in skills in broken down in various things, but sword play, bows and assassin skills are the main three, with points spent leading to new moves or extra storage capacity for things like arrows and bombs. And finally on progression, it is by observing or cutting down these Mongol leaders that the player can unlock more stances, which considering they deliver such large benefits when fighting certain enemy types, seems a no-brainer. Because, in terms of progression, this game essentially unlocks ever more fluid ways to not just attack your enemies or defend against them, but also how to transition between them. I hope my Ghost of Tsushima review has explained, at least in part, why I rate this game so highly. Ghost of Tsushima is testament to the fact that you can make a thoroughly entertaining video game, and one which empowers the gamer in many wondrous ways, while also delivering on mature themes and keeping characters complex and their motivations real-world grey.