Ghost of Tsushima
…a gorgeous game, an epic love letter to Akira Kurosawa and the cinematic samurai genre he arguably perfected, and the best Assassin’s Creed title in years…
The samurai genre is rivalled only by the western for the dubious honour of earning the ‘least utilised’ guernsey in the modern gaming era. Certainly, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Desperados III paid memorable homage to the latter, but the former has been woefully neglected. Oh sure, we’ve had borderline entries like the Niohs 1 and 2 or FromSoftware’s punishing Sekiro, but those titles utilised fantasy elements to spice up the narrative. No, in terms of pure Kurosawa-esque samurai gear, it’s down to developers Sucker Punch Productions to finally bring the goods with Ghost of Tsushima, a beautiful game that plays it a little safe.
Ghost of Tsushima tells the tale of Jin Sakai, a young samurai who joins his uncle, Lord Shimura, in defending the Japanese island of Tsushima against the Mongol invasion of 1274. The spectacular opening battle goes poorly, leaving Shimura captured and Sakai left for dead. It’s then up to you, the player, to find allies for Jin, improve his combat skills, weapons and armour, and mount a campaign to save his uncle and then rid Tsushima of the Mongol threat.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about Ghost is that it’s simply beautiful. The poetic Japanese scenery, the appealing character models, the warm sun glinting off sword blades and even the blood-drenched outdoor abattoir of a post-battle landscape all combine for a rich, immersive environment that never fails to captivate. Add to this an intuitive, robust photo mode and you’re likely to spend a surprising amount of time just taking in the sumptuous visuals this game has to offer. Movement too is smooth and slick, with Jin slowly but surely learning new combat stances, gracefully spinning and attacking around the battlefield, leaving many dead foes in his wake.
So far so good, right? Well… mostly. See, while Ghost of Tsushima is practically flawless in terms of presentation, the actual gameplay is at times a tad pedestrian. The combat is great mind you, particularly if you avoid the rather wonky stealth and go for straight up front-on battles, but the gameplay between these encounters is desperately familiar. If you’ve played Horizon: Zero Dawn, Days Gone, recent Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed entries or, hell, it seems like most AAA games these days, you’ve played Ghost. Areas to unlock, resources to farm for crafting purposes, main missions, side missions and collectibles. It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just very generic and overly familiar. There was an opportunity to innovate here and instead Ghost plays it very safe.
The main story and Jin’s character in general are also… fine. Intriguing enough to keep your interest for the duration, but not exactly mind-blowing or profoundly emotionally resonant. You’re unlikely to shed a tear here, unlike Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Last of Us. Interestingly, however, Ghost also comes equipped with some of the best side quests – which deepen your knowledge and relationship of existing characters – and Mythic Quests – that explore some borderline supernatural element and always end with you acquiring a fancy piece of gear or weapon. These clever, often beautifully written vignettes showcase Ghost’s best moments and almost make up for the lack of ambition in other quarters.
Ultimately, Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous game, an epic love letter to Akira Kurosawa and the cinematic samurai genre he arguably perfected, and the best Assassin’s Creed title in years… despite not actually being an Assassin’s Creed title. Slick combat combines with predictable exploration but with enough twists and turns to keep your armchair samurai adventure a worthy and honourable one.