- PlayStation 4
- PSN Download
- PS4 Pro
- 4K HDR & 1080p Standard
- DualShock 4 Required (1)
- Move None
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (36.64 GB)
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: M
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy
It’s been six years since inFamous Second Son/First Light, and Sucker Punch have once again reinvented themselves by bringing players a completely different experience than in their previous efforts. It’s going to be tough, but this review will steer-clear of spoilers. I will, however, offer that this is an incredibly deep and engrossing story from beginning to end, and it’s only made better by two fantastically acted voice tracks (in English and Japanese, separately), and visuals that you wouldn’t expect that the PS4 could even produce, accented by a movie-quality score. Ghost of Tsushima is the most theatrical game that I’ve played in quite a while, but you don’t need to be a film-buff to get fully immersed in this epic journey of dignity, defiance, and honor.
Here’s all of what I’ll tell you about the story, and it won’t be much. The reason I won’t say much is that the story is fantastically written, with some wonderful twists and turns along the way. Time is never wasted, with a wonderfully balanced timeline throughout, even with some true surprises that arise.
You play as Jin, the nephew of the leader of your province, and he answers to the Shogun of Japan. After being invaded by the Mongol army, you set out to do whatever you can to push the invaders back to the open sea, and along the way, build your legend through word and action, as the “Ghost”, an avenging fighter who isn’t afraid of the Mongols.
Through actions such as invading enemy camps, ambushing roving patrols, and freeing captured residents of the area, your legend slowly begins to grow with not only your people, but also within the ranks of the occupying forces. Enemies will begin to cry-out “It’s the Ghost!”, and some will even cower in fear after you’ve cut-down one of their own.
Gameplay-wise, it’ll feel somewhat familiar if you’ve played The Witcher 3, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and/or Horizon: Zero Dawn. But that’s not a bad thing at all, since that familiarity to three highly popular games only helps you ease into the game even quicker from the start. Parries are hugely important for success later in the adventure, and luckily, once you get the timing down, you should be pretty successful. You’ll have both light and heavy melee attacks at your disposal from the start, and, as you proceed along your path, you’ll also earn distance attacks from the like of arrows, sticky bombs (great for fighting-off ancillary enemies in large battles), smoke bombs for cleverly deceiving potential attackers, and much more as things progress.
Added to all of these options, you’ll also have specific stances to choose from, some being much more effective against certain types of enemies. Once learned, you can switch between stances by holding R2 and choosing a face button on the controller. All of these attributes and techniques can be upgraded when you’ve accumulated sufficient points, and the choices are pretty broad. All of this combined allows you to shape Jin into the fighter that best suits your personal style, and for me, made things much more approachable based on my preferred way to play a game like this.
On the downside for me though, were the moments where I felt truly overwhelmed. You need to use your brain a bit on occasion, especially when you’re thrust into a large-scale battle. You can’t just blindly run into the fray with your sword wildly flailing. Instead, you need to approach enemies with some thought put toward which stance to use, or what the expected weak-point might be. Also, there are moments when you’ll need to don your sneaking cap, and even though stealthy gameplay has never been a favorite of mine, I was still able to get through those sections, I may just have failed a few times though.
“What you really fear is inside yourself. You fear your own power. You fear your anger, the drive to do great or terrible things.”-Ra’s Al Ghul
Things can get really interesting for someone like me who loves film, and specifically the films of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa. He had a signature style in his movies, and he has been a model for other successful filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellinni, Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, and even George Lucas (there’s a LOT of Kurosawa-inspired content in the original Star Wars trilogy). This game is drenched with the influences of Kurosawa, so deeply in fact, that in the game’s options, you can even choose “Kurosawa Mode”, which is much more than a fancy way to say “Black-and-White Mode”.
Wind blows stronger, whites are whiter and blacks are blacker, and it almost feels like a slight Sepia tone was added, and even the audio sounds like you’re watching in a cinema in the 50’s. Past that specific mode though, the different camera angles used throughout the entire game, not just in cutscenes, are right out of Kurosawa’s book. When riding your horse through fields of long grass that sway in the wind, you get lost in that moment, feeling almost as if you’re in Yojimbo yourself. The best part is that you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of Kurosawa’s work, but his influence adds so much to the overall experience, and I’m sure that my mouth was agape on more than a few occasions.
This is all grounded in reality too, so you won’t see any giant enemy crabs, or have special powers allowing you to shoot lightning bolts from your fingers. The combat feels truly real at times, with natural movements being a constant. On top of that, more familiarity will set-in with abilities right out of Uncharted and even Horizon Zero Dawn, albeit subtle.
From an audio perspective, Sucker Punch has exceeded any expectation that I may have had. Included are two full voice presentations, in both English w/Japanese subtitles, and a fully English option as well, which is also fantastic. Being someone that, surprising to some, loves movies much more than video games, I jumped right into the Japanese voice track with English subtitles.
That did present a bit of an issue though, purely from a personal perspective. Unlike using subtitles in a movie, which is completely non-interactive, looking “down” to read the subtitles in the middle of a playable scene proved a bit distracting, causing me to even run my horse off a cliff at one point. From a technical standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with using subtitles whatsoever, but when enemies are attacking you while you’re looking at the bottom of the screen so you don’t miss any dialog, well, it can be problematic at times. Luckily, the English voice actors are equally superb.
The soundtrack is astonishing as well. It fits the mood and setting perfectly, and the quality is exactly what you would expect from a first-party game from PlayStation (ie, outstanding!). Something that can make it even better is the available option for “3D Headphones’. Obviously, this is aimed at the PlayStation Platinum Headphones, but it made a difference in my Turtle Beach’s as well. One thing that you kind of lose in headphones though, is the subtle wind sounds that come out of the speaker in the controller. It was quite a surprise to hear after already playing for a few hours with headphones.
This game is single-player only with no online component.
At the end of the day, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the finest games that I’ve ever played through. It took a good amount of time to complete the campaign, and I still have a breadth of side mission content to go back and finish. It’s the closest I’ve ever experienced when it comes to “interactive theater”, and my love for what I was doing never wavered. It’s absolutely gorgeous, intuitive, thought provoking, and has a story that’s incredibly engaging. The butter on the gravy is definitely the Kurosawa influence upon the core of the game, and it’s something that I truly cherish and want more of.
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4, or with a direct capture solution.