State of Play: The Trailer
Sucker Punch is one of those companies that often flies under the radar when gamers discuss their favourite developers, but looking at their track record, they have an impressive resume that should bring them into the conversation as one of the best.
The one constant thread throughout their history of making games has been engaging, open world, story-driven experiences, with an emphasis on fun, playable mechanics. The four Sly Cooper games were colourful, vibrant, rich gameplay experiences, whereas the inFAMOUS series was more focused on great movement mechanics and superb narrative-driven story arcs
With this pedigree, it has been of great interest to the gaming community how their new project, Ghost of Tsushima, has been going. This week, we got a full fifteen-minute narrated gameplay video, and an in-depth view of what we can expect.
Initial impressions of the game are that it’s stunningly beautiful. The island setting of Tsushima is astonishing, pushing the PS4 to it’s limit with its foliage detail, movement, clarity and colour. Grass waves realistically in the wind, leaves blow across the landscape. It truly is jaw-dropping.
The beauty and majesty of the game will only impress for so long, though. Despite the varied locales showcased very briefly, there needs to be an enjoyable gameplay to match this incredible artistic vision.
For combat, there are two distinctive playstyles showcased in the demo. Enemies can either be taken on as a Samurai, with stance-based, sword-slashing style or in the manner of the stealthy, silent but deadly Ghost. Although it is hard to say for sure, the video gives the impression that you begin gameplay as a Samurai, gradually learning and refining the skills that hone you into the titular Ghost of Tsushima.
The Samurai Code
The Samurai’s full-frontal assault is different in that it takes an authentic approach to its combat. In fan service of the Samurai films of old, combat invokes tense and dramatic standoffs, judging your opponent’s movement before making a deadly strike when the opportunity arises, finishing them off in a flash of steel, and a flick of the katana to rid the blade of any excess blood. As fluid as the combat looked it did raise a couple of questions from the footage about another aspect.
The “Stance” system looks uncannily like the gameplay mechanic from For Honor. If it is not implemented well, as was the case with For Honor, then this could be a mechanic that causes frustration for the player. While playing For Honor, when faced with a crowd of enemies, it can be difficult to see an opponent. To then be able to read their movements and react accordingly can be challenging. Therefore, a mechanic designed for grace ends up being one of hindrance through no fault of the gamers ability. Hopefully, the same issue won’t arise in Ghost of Tsushima.
That aside, the sword combat looks brutal, visceral, but most importantly for something different, very precise. The Samurai doesn’t button mash his way to victory in the video, but very deliberately, and with style and grace, slashes enemies and parries incoming arrows with accurate movements. This is very exciting to see.
The Ghost mechanics are very different, but for gamers who have played the Assassins Creed franchise, they probably look very familiar. Noise can be used as a distraction, with firecrackers and stones thrown to draw enemies attention elsewhere, or smoke bombs can be used as cover to escape or launch a sneak attack. It could be argued that Ghost of Tsushima lacks originality in this respect, however, if the execution is good there is no shame in borrowing ideas from other games. In the video, when Jin is stealthily working his way through the enemy camp the experience looks very tight, fluid, and rewarding to pull off.
Another aspect that raised another question was the traversal of the world between target points of interest. The joy of games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Red Dead Redemption was that getting from A to B was as much fun as when you arrived at the target itself. Ghost of Tsushima has included some interesting visual aids to assist you in finding this content.
Smoke trails in the distance mark points of interest, unusual looking trees may be indicative of nearby secrets, and even the local wildlife will help guide you towards hidden objects. Also shown in the video, but not directly addressed, was unscripted emergent gameplay. In one scene, we see warriors off the side of the path being attacked by a bear. Will this reward you if you intervene to save them?
Not much was shown of the exploratory gameplay, so we can only hope that they have added sufficient side quests, distractions, hidden content and reward for exploration. It was shown that fast-travel is possible between any discovered location but hopefully they aren’t reliant on this to avoid any repetitive and boring travel across the game world.
Although it sounds trivial, this aspect could actually make or break the whole enjoyment of the game. Get it wrong as they did with Dynasty Warriors 9, and getting from location to location can turn into an absolute bore. Get it right, as they did with Horizon Zero Dawn, and we’re potentially looking at one of the best games of the generation.
Galloping horse, or wonky donkey?
One other noticeable quirk is that, when riding the horse, the camera is offset to one side. Although this does give the player a much better view of what is directly ahead, and possibly a more cinematic experience, very few games have been made like this and it did look a bit odd. Whether this affects your ability to accurately navigate around obstacles whilst riding remains to be seen, but at first appearance, it does seem somewhat ungainly.
However, as alluded to at the beginning of this piece, Sucker Punch are one the very best at what they craft. They are experts in designing worlds that are fun to explore whilst still pushing an entertaining story narrative. From Seattle to the Thieves in Time, never has it been a boring experience to play in one of their open-world masterpieces. Add to that the jaw-dropping visuals and gameplay of the upcoming Ghost of Tsushima, and it is shaping up nicely to be yet another moment of greatness in their resume.
Ghost of Tsushima releases for the PlayStation 4 on the 17th July 2020.