‘Ghost of Tsushima’ Plays Like an R-Rated ‘Breath of The Wild’

Tom Regan
Games PlayStation
Games PlayStation

How do you go up against The Last of Us 2? It’s a question Sucker Punch, the developers of Ghost of Tsushima, must’ve asked themselves ahead of the game’s E3 unveiling.

With its first-ever gameplay demo aired directly after Naughty Dog’s show-stealing opener, this intriguing tale of blades and honour didn’t quite get the rapturous response many expected. Yet, after seeing the game behind closed doors, we’re here to tell you that ignoring Ghost of Tsushima would be a big mistake.

Created by the American-based studio behind Sony’s superhero sandboxer, Infamous, Sucker Punch has ditched superhero antics in favor of a blood-soaked samurai epic. Part open-world action game, part Tenchu-inspired brawler, Ghost of Tsushima tells a fictional story set during a particularly bloody chapter of Japan’s history.

Feudal Fury

Sucker Punch's recreation of the small Japanese island of Tsushima is utterly breathtaking.

Our demo begins with the game’s protagonist — Jin Sakai — standing on top of a hill, surveying the chaos of war that’s befallen his once peaceful island. The year is 1274, and the usually quiet Tsushima has been rocked by an unexpected and brutal Mongol invasion. With bodies littering the landscape and ominous clouds of smoke billowing from distant villages, there’s a sense of both beauty and danger that emanates from Ghost of Tsushima’s world.

As our hero climbs onto his horse and slowly makes his way down to the valley below, we’re struck by just how detailed the environment in the distance looks. Thankfully, it’s not just pre-rendered window dressing. Like in last year’s refreshingly open Breath of The Wild, Sucker Punch co-founder Chris Zimmerman assures us that players will be able to reach every area they can spot on the horizon.

While what we’re shown is just an extended look at the E3 demo, there is one major difference here — this time, it’s voiced entirely in Japanese. It’s a small touch, but one that adds a pleasing layer of authenticity to an already immersive-feeling experience. Bizarrely though, currently, Japanese voice acting is just a feature unique to this demo, but Zimmerman reveals he’s working hard to have Japanese actors voice the entire game.

A Beautifully Detailed World

Sucker Punch promises a sprawling world offering a wide range of things for the player to do.

As Jin continues to gallop towards his destination, it’s hard to overstate just how good-looking Sucker Punch’s recreation of feudal Tsushima really is. Grass sways convincingly in the wind. Beautifully animated deer dart out of the way of your horse Nobu, and distant birds swoop hungrily over the dead samurai strewn across the ground. It’s a world that simply oozes personality. It helps of course, that the demo features not even a hint of the usual gaming screen clutter.

For the purpose of this E3 demo, Sucker Punch has completely removed the game’s user interface (UI). It’s a move that lets the finer details of 13thcentury Tsushima really come to life, and thankfully, Zimmerman states that they’re working to make the final UI as unobtrusive as possible.

Yet, after watching that E3 reveal, there was still one key question on our lips: how does Ghost of Tsushima’s combat actually work?

Way of the Samurai

Combat in 'Ghost of Tsushima' is an incredibly tense and drawn out affair. Expect to fight small groups of enemies in testing and blood-soaked battles.

When we asked about button prompts and whether you’ll lock onto enemies before dicing them with your katana, Sucker Punch mastefully evaded the question.  When pushed however, Zimmerman describes the combat as “like a brawler.” Instead of mowing down waves of enemies,  players will face off against just a hand full of foes in intense, small-scale battles. Influenced by classic Japanese cinema like Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, as our hero stumbles on a group of blood-soaked Mongolians, colored leaves drift ominously behind the advancing enemies. The inescapable beauty of Japan’s luscious surroundings serves as a chilling contrast to the game’s unrelenting violence.

“Every time you raise that katana, we want you to be scared,” states Zimmerman, with a grin. Based on what we’ve seen, combat in Ghost of Tsushima certainly comes with a pretty tangible sense of tension. Mud, blood, and steel was the studio’s motto, and thanks to brutal finishing moves and drawn out pre-battle pauses, combat looks to be just as gritty as the tagline suggests. Despite not delving into the finer details, the team is quick to reassure us that the combat will be skill-based, rather than consisting of simply mashing buttons in time with on-screen prompts.

Interestingly, it turns out that the mission that unfolds next in that E3 showing is actually a side mission. Here, Jin teams up with a ronin in order to rescue a monk from his Mongolian captors. After using a grappling hook to sneak into the dilapidated monastery, Jin slays the invaders holding him captive, before a difference of opinion sees him and his old friend clashing swords.

How’s Ghost of Tsushima Shaping Up?

Ghost Of Tsushima features stealth combat
Combat won't just involved tense skirmishes, there will be plenty of room for stealth, too

Sucker Punch is still keeping the main narrative thread tightly under wraps, but interestingly, Zimmerman reveals that the gameplay experience won’t just revolve around combat. With Zimmerman promising plenty of other side missions and NPCs to interact with, we’re intruigied to see what else players will be able to do in this beautiful-looking world.  If this demo is anything to go by, we can’t wait to spend more time exploring Sucker Punch’s Tsushima.

If the studio can inject the same level of detail and atmosphere shown in this small slice of gameplay into the rest of the game, Ghost of Tsushima will be something very special indeed.

While Sony’s open-world samurai adventure may not look quite as breath-taking as The Last of Us 2 at first glance, make no mistake –this could be every bit as important for PlayStation. With no other major publishers utilizing the feudal Japan setting and embracing the feeling of exploration, Ghost of Tsushima might just become Sony’s adult-rated answer to Breath of The Wild.

Tom Regan
Having written for everyone from Trusted Reviews to The Guardian, Tom is a London based writer who can't stop talking about games. Now he's joined the team at FANDOM as gaming editor, we have to constantly remind ourselves that he's not actually Ed Sheeran.