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Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Sucker Punch, a Sony first-party studio, is best known for action adventure games like Sly Cooper and inFamous but branched out for its PS4 swan song into a stealth action game called Ghost of Tsushima.

As Jin Sakai, a young samurai who takes on the task of freeing the island of Tsushima from the Mongols whose invasion kicks off the game, players will run through a formula that’s going to feel awfully familiar if you’re a fan of open world games. Assassin’s Creed, Red Dead Redemption, even some Far Cry – Sucker Punch’s final PS4 game is an amalgamation of most of the top open world games that came before it.

Missions, called Tales here, can be vital to advancing the story or simple filler and how long you’ll take to finish the game (I clocked in at about 32 hours after having completed a lot of side mission content) will depend on your tolerance for filler content. The main quests are interesting, varied, and tend to be well-written – though the game’s story itself doesn’t really get going until the last third or so – but the side missions quickly grow repetitive and become a slog to get through.

It’s worth noting that although the game has an open structure and you’re able to approach objectives like clearing out a stronghold in whatever way you wish, the story missions don’t seem to take into account what you actually do. If you fight your way through honorably ‘like a samurai’ instead of taking to the shadows and assassinating your way through, the dialog still reflects your loss of honor as though you took the shadowy path instead. Also, if you are free roaming and clear a base before taking on a mission you may be sent right back to it ‘to clear it of bandits’ only to find they’ve all been respawned for the mission.

That may be a glitch, however, as glitches have plagued the game early on in pre-release but it’s a problem that has improved with each patch. There’s been another patch released as I write this that I haven’t had the chance to check yet, so it’s possible the glitches and some framerate issues may be ironed out. Depending on the version that’s on the disc, this isn’t a game I’d recommend playing without doing the updates.

While the story can be a bit slow, the combat is anything but. As you move through the game you’ll learn new skills and sword stances, and you’ll need to flip between stances continually in order to get the most out of the combat system. I had hoped the combat would be like Bushido Blade, but it’s more like Dynasty Warriors with floods of enemies coming at you – but, as with most samurai flicks, they’re nice enough to hang back and only attack one or two at a time.

Unfortunately, while you’re in melee combat there will almost inevitably be an archer or two nearby firing arrows at you. Dodging these based solely on the audio cue will become second nature, as the camera – even when it pulls back for open area fights – is all-too-often hard to control while in combat, doubly so in close quarters. At its best, the combat is a choreographed dance that looks straight out of a Kurosawa film, but when it’s not working it feels a bit janky and disconnected as you fumble with the camera to try and keep an eye on nearby enemies, cursing the lack of a lock-on system.

Ghost of Tsushima is a visually stunning game, even on the base PS4, though the framerate suffers a bit there. The PS4 Pro runs a virtually locked 30 fps, but the base PS4 struggles to hit that consistently and the choppy up-and-down nature of the framerate hurts the responsiveness of the combat.

Sucker Punch created a super lush version of Japan with long flowing grass and dense foliage and use that as a replacement for the quest markers found in most games. Instead, the Guiding Wind will blow towards your objective, bending trees and grass in the direction you need to go, and sending tons of particles – leaves, sparks, flowers, etc.. flying as a clear signpost. It’s a stunning effect when you first accept a quest and the wind suddenly picks up, or when you flick the touch pad to trigger a reminder.

There’s a dedicated black and white mode for the game that fans have already dubbed Kurosawa mode, though playing in it means forsaking the lush colours so it won’t be for everyone. It’s a bit disappointing they didn’t take more from his films, particularly in the cutscenes which are rote ‘over the shoulder, static cam’ scenes shot exactly as they would be in any other video game. After all, if you’re going to imitate the style, why not imitate the best parts of it?

What I Loved:

  • Great visuals, especially the environment
  • Fun combat, even if it’s not especially deep
  • Guiding wind is a unique idea and well implemented

What I Liked:

  • Strong ending to the story
  • Some fun Ghost tools
  • Open world mission structure is familiar, but story missions are solid

What I Disliked:

  • Repetitive side missions
  • Some cutscenes, especially side missions, are poorly designed and shot
  • No ragdoll animations, so expect to see weird death animations
  • Little in the way of replay value

What I Hated:

  • Fighting the camera as much as enemies in close-quarters combat

The Final Word:

Ghost of Tsushima is a solid stealth action game, but with the glitches, repetitive missions, and shallow combat it’s not the slam dunk swan song title I’d expected from Sucker Punch. With the game launching at $79.99 Canadian for the cheapest version ($219.99 for the Collector’s Edition) I’d be tempted to wait for a sale or share the purchase with a friend unless you’re a HUGE samurai fan.

Ghost of Tsushima is available now on PS4, reviewed using a code provided by the publisher.