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Ghost of Tsushima Knows What It Is

Yesterday, Sony and Sucker Punch released a 20-minute State of Play video going into their new open world game, Ghost of Tsushima. The game sees players take on the role of a samurai named Jin Sakai tasked with defending the titular island of Tsushima from an invading Mongol army. In watching the State of Play and hearing the developers at Sucker Punch discuss the game, you more or less know how this goes. It’s a third person action game set in an open world with various secrets to uncover, and you alternate between fighting enemies and beasts in close quarters with swords or sneaking around and dispatching them quietly.

Let’s be honest: You’ve played this game at least twice per year for the last decade, and you’re probably going to play it again when Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hits around the holidays. Because I love Sucker Punch’s work, I’ve been interested, but I also couldn’t help but wonder if there was a twist being hidden. I’ve been wondering if there’s maybe some hidden twist or gimmick yet to be revealed until release. That maybe it’s hiding some connection to Japanese mythology like Nioh or a sci-fi conceit or enthusiasm for dumb action like Assassin’s Creed.

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That doesn’t appear to be the case, if the State of Play is anything to go by. Unless the folks at Sucker Punch are much better at keeping things quiet than Naughty Dog, this will be a surprisingly straightforward samurai action-stealth game. While there’s definitely a little flair and style to Jin killing enemies, there appears to be nothing superfluous or extravagant about these actions, he’s rather matter of fact about what he does. He slashes them quickly and efficiently like a trained warrior, and then swipes the air to get blood off. It’s all very matter of fact, and for whatever reason, I find it one of the more interesting AAA first party games we’re meant to get this year.

For years, Sony has been defined by wanting their system selling games to be like movies. You can see this in Spider-Man, obviously; God of War has the much touted single camera viewpoint that always focuses on Kratos. Uncharted and The Last of Us, much to the physical cost of their creators, wear their cinematic influences and aspirations on their sleeves. Those games are rife with explosions, emotions, and thrilling music meant to give you an adrenaline rush. And then here’s Ghost of Tsushima with an air of professionalism and quiet confidence I’ve come to respect because I now understand that it (apparently) isn’t trying to hide anything from me.

Sucker Punch has said repeatedly that they wanted players to feel like they’re in their own samurai movie, the kind you’d likely see on TV one Saturday afternoon or buy if it’s a part of the Criterion Collection. Wanting players to feel like they’re in a film or TV show is a common phrase, but the State of Play was really the first time you get a solid idea of how committed they are to this. For as much as the swordplay has been the focus, it seems the true selling point here is going to be immersion. Jin finds his way to his objectives by gusts of wind rather than waypoint markers or a dot on a compass. Foxes and birds can lead him to hidden locations, but they aren’t silly animal companions for him to talk cute to. In a similar game like Assassin’s Creed, seeing Jin pray at a shrine would seem majestic and it would feel majestic. Instead, it’s presented here as just a thing, and it’s treated so mundanely, he’s done this countless times before, ironically making it all the more special. The studio is so dedicated to the idea of this being like a classic samurai film that Japanese audio tracks and a black/white film grain are available right at the game’s start.

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Of course, I could very easily be make to look like a clown when this game releases in two months and reveal something totally bonkers under its sleeve. I hope this isn’t the case, and that the game sticks to the guns it’s slowly been revealing to us over the years. Much like how Days Gone turned out to be exactly what it promised and found success, I hope that’s the case here, if only to help Sony diversify their first party AAA portfolio.

Ghost of Tsushima releases for the PS4 on July 17.

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