Title: Ghost of Tsushima | Developer: Sucker Punch | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Initial Release: 17th July 2020
Every once in a while, a game gets announced that just seems to tick all the right boxes; setting, art direction, story inspiration, game play and of course outright visual beauty. For me, that has been Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima. After more than two years of anticipation while trying not to get over-excited, it is almost surreal to think that it is finally here and early impressions are that this is living up to my expectations as a stunningly presented title worthy to be the PS4's swan song.
A stunningly presented title...
The studio's first new franchise in more than 10 years takes you to 13th century Feudal Japan to play as traditional (in the first instance anyway) Samurai warrior, Jin Sakai in the fight against the Mongol invasion of his native island of Tsushima. To convey the majesty of this historic setting, Sucker Punch has pursued a very specific art direction with heavy influence from Japanese Chanbara cinema, specifically the work of legendary director Akira Kurosawa, while also retaining the feel of authenticity that honours the traditions on which the game is based, each to visually spectacular effect.
Of course, bringing classic cinema and historic traditions up to date in the digital age now means not only creating an artistic game to play, but also embracing one of the most modern art forms with photo mode support. True to their own heritage, Sucker Punch have more than obliged with what is shaping up to be one of the most innovative console photo modes to date and, having been given a precious glimpse in a recent preview, it is exciting to finally go hands-on and find out whether Ghost of Tsushima is about to generate a storm of creativity.
Key Photo Mode Features:
Beautiful, clean UI with visual functionality indicators
Programmable camera tracking shots
Animated foliage, fabric and particle effects
Much of what was shown and hypothesised in my earlier Preview is exactly what we see in the finished version but quite simply, there is no substitute for getting hold of a controller and feeling the potential for creativity that the Ghost of Tsushima photo mode has to offer. The perfect example of why is in the camera implementation; despite reports to the contrary, and that it is labelled as Orbit in the control legend, the Ghost of Tsushima's camera does not suffer from the dreaded limitations of the orbit cameras seen in recent photo modes such as The Last of Us Part II and Death Stranding. Technically it is still an orbit configuration here, but rather than being tethered to the character, the camera instead orbits a point close to itself and crucially, that point can be moved freely around the scene with the LS. The result is that you have free positional movement with lateral truck, dolly and vertical crane, plus effectively a 360° pan & tilt with the RS. An excellent design choice.
Sucker Punch have been similarly amenable with super-easy photo mode access via a quick press of right on the D-pad and the beautifully clean UI that has been given just as much artistic thought as the rest of the on-screen content. The visually descriptive icons serve as a helpful learning aid or reminder of each function for less experienced or casual photographers, though this is not to say that there is nothing here to appeal to more experience virtual photographer too.
On the contrary in fact; Ghost of Tsushima covers the photographic essentials with the use of realistic and relatable camera terminology that is backed up by authentic behaviour. Focal length and aperture settings for example, allow for broad field of view and depth of field control with the same accurate foreground and background de-focus at wide aperture settings that we saw in inFAMOUS. When used in combination with precise manual focus or convenient auto-focus to lock onto Jin by pressing ☐, users are easily able to produce that shallow DoF photographic or cinematic look that is perfectly suited to a title such as this.
When it comes to setting the scene, these perhaps pale in significance...
A selection of 14 different emotions for Jin underwhelmingly fail to engage his eyes in a way that would make his faces more believable, but a much more functional range of stylised colour grading filters, along with useful filter intensity and exposure bias sliders, provide various options to set the mood of your shots. However, when it comes to setting the scene, these perhaps pale in significance to the ability to control the time of day and even change the prevailing weather conditions which can each significantly alter the way in which your shots are illuminated. It looks like Horizon Zero Dawn's prized feature has finally been outdone.
a groundbreaking photo mode that literally comes to life
Not content with mere static images though, Sucker Punch have really moved this photo mode to the next level with the inclusion of animated motion that continues in the scene even after freezing the game. The effects of your chosen inclement weather are visualised through the movement of costumes, flags, foliage and an array of user-selectable floating particle effects that range from leaves and embers to birds and dragonflies. Far from a gimmick, this is one of Ghost of Tsushima's primary photo mode features and the extensive animation options, which do include "Off", allow players to tune how dynamic the scene is with wind speed and direction too.
As though this wasn't enough of a step ahead of the competition, the Seattle-based studio have also bestowed users with the ability to automatically move the photo mode camera through a path of up to 16 positions, each easily set by pressing X on your current composition. The ability to overlay beautiful tategaki script and accompanying music tracks from the game's original score means than in Ghost of Tsushima, you are not just a photographer, you have the potential to become the director of mini cinematic shorts.
Sucker Punch have done an incredible job with their art directions in this game and the particular focus on movement on which the game itself thrives is translated straight into the creativity of the playing audience. The result is a groundbreaking photo mode that literally comes to life and arguably prioritises the capture of moving images over static ones. If this is any indication of what the future holds for virtual photography and capture art, it looks like we are only just getting started.
Thanks for reading and I'll be back with an in-depth photo mode review and final verdict after spending more time with the game but for now, check out the photo mode yourself and let me know what you're enjoying most in the comments.