Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Game Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Posted in gaming, plagiarism, video game design by commorancy on July 20, 2020

This Sucker Punch studios created game feels like a sucker punch to Ubisoft as it is far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Let’s explore.

[Updated: 9/2/2020] After having rethought this entire article, I’ve come to a new conclusion about Sucker Punch studios. It seems highly likely that Sucker Punch is an empty-shell game development arm for Sony. What do I mean by empty-shell? Let me explain what I mean. There’s a lot that also supports this shell idea. Sucker Punch may actually be a sub-company that strictly comes up with game ideas and doesn’t actually implement them. Instead, Sony / Sucker Punch hires out third party development studios to produce a game for a fee (and under contract) based on Sucker Punch’s game concept.

In the case of Ghost of Tsushima, it appears that Sony / Sucker Punch may have hired out Ubisoft to produce Ghost of Tsushima using Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine including Ubisoft’s development team. Sucker Punch likely wanted something very specific (i.e., all of the particle animation and Japanese environments) including the assassination concept. Who better than to hire Ubisoft for that project? Sucker Punch may employ a small team helping produce some limited assets for the game such as trees, some character models and so forth. The majority of the development work likely went to the third party team (e.g., Ubisoft).

What this likely means for Sucker Punch and Ghost of Tsushima is that Sucker Punch indirectly licensed Ubisoft’s AnvilNext for this game because Ubisoft actually produced this game for Sony / Sucker Punch under contract. As an aside, it’s odd to note that both Sucker Punch and Sony PlayStation begin with (SP). Anyway, why am I jumping to this conclusion so much later? There are excessively too many suspect mechanics included in this game that mimic Assassin’s Creed to be a mere coincidence.

That’s just the beginning of this conclusion jumping. There’s also the suspect lack of credits anywhere on the game. Any game studio putting in years of time and effort would want to reward their developers by giving credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, credits are not listed on Ghost of Tsushima… at all. Not anywhere is there a credits page within this game. If you had devoted years of your life to an entertainment / game project, wouldn’t you want credit? Wouldn’t you expect to see your name listed on the credits page? Yet, no credits appear anywhere on this game. The lack of due credit is the biggest suspect item thus leading me to the empty-shell studio conclusion.

One further telltale sign is that games by direct developers place all engines and technologies they use up front immediately after the developer’s logo splash page. Again, Ghost of Tsushima fails to give credit to the engine, physics systems and technologies used within the game… an extremely odd play for an “alleged” big name developer.

This situation could also easily explain Ubisoft’s extreme silence on the Assassin’s Creed front for the last two or three years. If Ubisoft were deep in development for Ghost of Tsushima for Sony, that team would have been unable to make significant progress on a new Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed title. Sure, there has been both Odyssey and Origins. Odyssey being the newest, was released in 2018 with nothing since. Even then, that game could have been produced at least year earlier… giving Ubisoft a minimum of 3 years development time on Ghost of Tsushima.

Since Ubisoft already has a workable existing engine in AnvilNext, it wouldn’t have taken much time to rework that engine to produce Ghost of Tsushima. However, for Sucker Punch to devise their own engine from scratch that’s even more capable than AnvilNext (and that renders almost identically to AnvilNext) in two or three years, that’s a bit of a stretch. Developing an engine as sophisticated as what’s seen in Ghost of Tsushima would take every bit of that 3 years and likely more. That doesn’t account for the time it would take to produce a functional game including character models, game mechanics, 3D assets (trees, villages, carts, etc), stories, motion capture, voice actors and all else to create a complete game. To produce a game like Ghost of Tsushima from nothing to completion would be at least 6-8 years.

While it is possible Sucker Punch could have created an engine that looks and acts like AnvilNext, considering that the last game released by Sucker Punch was INFamous Second Son, released in 2014, the idea of it doesn’t really work especially considering there are no credits. The engine used in INFamous Second Son doesn’t at all resemble what’s in Ghost of Tsushima. Sure, both offer decent lighting models, but the engines are completely different between these two games. The engine used in INFamous looks, feels and acts entirely different. There was some limited particle animation in INFamous, but nothing like what’s in Ghost of Tsushima. Even then, INFamous is just an overall different game that operates entirely differently.

Ghost of Tsushima looks, feels and acts like Assassin’s Creed. From the horse, to the assassinations, to the perks to pretty much everything in the game. Even the world lighting looks and feels like AnvilNext when the light falls on objects. Even the swirly wind motif iconography feels like Assassin’s Creed. The whole thing has a telltale sign that it was produced by the Assassin’s Creed developers.

Let’s get back to the credits, which seem to tattle on Sucker Punch (and the lack of technologies used). If credits were listed on this game with real people’s names, it would be easy to spot developers who work at Ubisoft. It would be even easier to know that this game was actually produced by Ubisoft. I’m guessing that both Sony and Sucker Punch decided against revealing this information thus definitively proving that SP hired Ubisoft to produce this title. In fact, if I had to make a guess, such a development agreement contract probably stipulated keeping Ubisoft’s name (and technologies) off of the game. To do that, no credits or technologies could be added to the game which would reveal Ubisoft’s involvement… hence, likely the reason the game doesn’t have credits of any kind.

With the above said, please read the rest of this article recognizing my previous mindset before I had come to the above conclusion. If the above ends up being true, then Ghost of Tsushima is technically an unofficial Assassin’s Creed installment.

Assassin’s Creed

Ubisoft originated the stealthy assassin take-down style game, but it seems that Sucker Punch is cool with both ripping off and carrying this concept forward in its latest game, Ghost of Tsushima.

By comparison, some of the most notable and identifiable mechanics in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed include:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in weeds, hay piles or crowds of people
  3. Smoke Bombs (usually comes later as you unlock skills
  4. Healing, although this mechanic has changed several times in successive AC games
  5. Various button mashing combat mechanics including parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing rocks and structures)
  7. Eagle Vision — allowing the protagonist to differentiate enemies from friendlies with an x-ray like vision
  8. Taking over Forts
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And… stealthy assassinations… basically how Assassin’s Creed got its name.

There are other features included such as the hidden blades, which also adds to the identity of Assassin’s Creed. However, there have also been AC games that lacked the hidden blade feature.

Why am I harping so much about Assassin’s Creed? It’s important to understand exactly how much Sucker Punch took from Assassin’s Creed to create Ghost of Tsushima.

Ghost of Tsushima

While no Assassin’s Creed game has yet visited feudal Japan, Sucker Punch decided it would be their turn to do so in Ghost of Tsushima. The game is set during the time of the Samurai, during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima.

In that goal, the game sets up the protagonist, Jin Sakai. A little goofy, a little nerdy, a little naïve, Jin ends up becoming the lone Samurai who wanders the island helping out with various problems along the way while learning new skills, including stealthy assassination both from behind and from above. Learning these new skills, along with parkour, ultimately help him to defeat the Mongol leader holed up in Castle Kaneda.

Along the way, Jin learns how to become a ‘Ghost’ (Sucker Punch’s word for an assassin). He uses his newfound assassination techniques to stealthily take down everyone from archers to Mongols to whomever deserves it. Though, he is nearly just as adept at being a Samurai, heading into open combat nearly as easily.

Sounds similar to Assassin’s Creed? It is. In fact, it’s far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Even the landscape, terrain, stories, enemy archetypes, combat and situations feel like Assassin’s Creed, right down to a nearly identical Assassin’s Creed combat maneuver to break through an enemy’s shield and take down that enemy.

Stolen Ideas

Not only has Sucker Punch taken practically everything that was Assassin’s Creed and placed it into Ghost of Tsushima, it has done so with careless abandon. It’s as if Sucker Punch is flaunting this fact in Ubisoft’s face. “See what we made? It’s just like Assassin’s Creed, only better!”, I can hear someone at Sucker Punch saying.

Here’s the non-exhaustive list of how Ghost of Tsushima ripped off Assassin’s Creed:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in Pampas Grass and weeds
  3. Smoke Bombs
  4. Healing with ‘Resolve’
  5. Parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing up rocks)
  7. Focused Hearing (looks like Eagle Vision)
  8. Forts and taking them down
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And, of course, stealthy assassination takedowns

Ghost of Tsushima even goes so far as to use a logo that looks like an A, just like Assassin’s Creed uses a different looking A for their franchise.

In fact, there are so many mechanics, behaviors and actions so similarly constructed to Assassin’s Creed (and in particular Origins, but really all of them), it makes me heavily wonder if Sucker Punch hired some of Ubisoft’s disenchanted Assassin’s Creed developers away and put them to work on this project. It’s all so suspect.

Legal Issues?

It’s one thing to hire a team to build a game that has slight similarities to another popular game title from another studio. It happens all of the time. However, it’s an entirely different issue to steal practically everything that made a single game, like Assassin’s Creed, unique and then put it all into a new game and call it your own without giving Ubisoft any credit.

Ubisoft’s Legal Team

If I were on Ubisoft’s legal team, I’d be looking at all options right about now. Considering that AnvilNext is a proprietary engine developed by Ubisoft and which is strictly for its own internal use… then seeing another engine looking, acting and performing similarly to AnvilNext, while driving a game that practically mimics Assassin’s Creed in nearly every way? Yeah… suspect.

Not only would I review that game with a fine tooth comb, I’d be looking through the credits roster to see who might have left Ubisoft and taken something with them. Talent moves around in every industry. It might be worth determining if any developers who worked on Assassin’s Creed made their way to Sucker Punch with a little something extra in hand.

Beautiful Rendering

There’s no denying that the landscape and terrain that has been built on Tsushima is outstanding, but no more outstanding than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins. Yes, the rendering of the environments doesn’t look at all much different from what’s seen in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey. Galleries below.

In fact, it looks so similar that I’d have to say that Sucker Punch may be using portions of Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine. The look and feel of the graphics are far too similar in quality. It’s also possible Sucker Punch picked up another similar game engine. Unfortunately, even Wikipedia doesn’t yet state which game engine Ghost of Tsushima is built on. My money’s on AnvilNext, or rather a modified version of AnvilNext, Ubisoft’s proprietary engine.

Game Play

Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima plays pretty much like mashup of the best parts of Assassin’s Creed games. It utilizes the eye popping graphics seen in Odyssey and Origins, but then goes back to basics with the combat mechanics and healing. It does have various staples seen in every AC game, such as smoke bombs and hiding in weeds and it improves upon the smoke bomb by adding its new sticky bombs.

Combat

The combat mechanics are almost identical to various Assassin’s Creed games, but with one difference. Jin is easily killed with one or two hits. The enemies also have the ability to immediately stagger Jin leaving him unable to attack or move for at least a minute. This means that the rest of the enemies can simply move in for the kill and they do.

Even though Jin has decent Samurai moves, his armor leaves a lot to be desired… and that stagger mechanic is literally a game killer.

For whatever reason, games have been adding these longer and longer lasting stagger mechanics into their games, which leaves the player unable to do anything other than watch their character die. I’m not a fan of this in games, particularly when my weapons don’t equally stagger opponents in the same way. Giving the enemy an upper hand method to basically kill the player’s character instantly is never satisfying.

What you, as a player, end up doing is… entirely avoiding this situation by making sure you always have the upper hand. The problem is, this game doesn’t let you get that upper hand when in open combat. The enemies always surround you and the best you can do is dodge out of the circle.

Healing

Here’s another sore spot of this game. Ghost of Tsushima gives you the ability to heal (called Resolve), but once used, you must gain it back through specific combat moves. The problem is, you can kill enemies galore, yet never gain any resolve back. There are some times where you do get it back, but there are many times were you can defeat 10 or more enemies and still have no resolve recovered.

This ‘resolve‘ mechanic is actually an incredibly piss poor design. It definitely needed a whole lot more development time. In fact, I’d have preferred just having dead enemies drop health and let me pick it up without having to regenerate “resolve” through very specific means, which clearly doesn’t always work.

Photomode

To carry on from the Beautiful Rendering section above and because this game is just so damned photogenic, you’re inevitably going to want to take some pictures. While photomode does work, it has some important limitations, which may be resolved in later updates. Let’s go through them now:

  1. If the game is night time and you change the time of day to daytime, the sun comes up, but the night sky remains. It looks like a very brightly lit night moon sky rather than daytime. If you want daytime shots, you’ll need to wait until it’s actually daytime in the game.
  2. There’s no way to pose the character at all. Once photomode begins, the character is in whatever pose he was in when it began. The only thing you can change is the facial expression. Even then, the facial expressions are poorly crafted.
  3. Likewise, there’s no way to pose the horse.
  4. While there are various types of weather from foggy to rainy to clear, none of them really work as well as you might expect. When switching between these, like the night/day problem above, the difference is just not that noticeable.
  5. Yes, there are filters. No, they don’t look great. In fact, the filters are so piss poor in quality, there’s really no reason to use them. Though, vivid is probably the most useful of these crappy filters.
  6. Unfortunately, photomode entirely lacks a vignette mode.
  7. Depth of field is also here, but it also doesn’t fare well. While it does support foreground and background blurring, it just doesn’t look as good as it should. It’s just not configurable enough.
  8. There’s no way to improve contrast, only brightness.

There are a number of other photomode features, but they just don’t really work as well as they should. You can get some great shots out of the game, but mostly by happenstance and not by messing with the filters and settings. Here are some images I’ve captured while playing….

Image Gallery

Ghost of Tsushima

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Compare the above to these similar in appearance images from both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Weapons

As one would expect of a Samurai game, Ghost of Tsushima offers you your choice of blades including a dagger and a Samurai blade and more as you progress. You also get access to a Bow, bombs and various other weapons that you’ll get as you complete ‘Tales’.

Dyes and Plants

Picking certain plants and flowers gives you resources, such as wood and dyes, that you can trade at merchants to change or improve your clothing, armor or weapons. Remember back to Assassin’s Creed 2? Dye was a big thing in those early Assassin’s Creed games.

Skill Tree

There are basically two skill trees in this game. One is the Ghost (assassin) skill tree. The other is the Samurai skill tree. As you progress through the Tales (Quests), you are given skill points at the end, which you can use to unlock skills from any tree. As you progress more and more, you can unlock more and more skills. It’s a fairly bare bones basic skill tree setup.

Animus Missing

The one thing that Assassin’s Creed included that Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t is having an outer shell. What I mean is that Assassin’s Creed was predicated on Templars from the present using the Animus virtual technology to revisit the past to find specific relics. These relics would help them in the present day gain specific power.

Ghost of Tsushima refrained from using this wrappered shell system so as to avoid that similarity. Although, even though that’s not included in Ghost of Tsushima, the rest of the mechanics included more than make up for the lack of this one missing thing.

Tales

As with any open world system, there must be quests. In this game, they’re called Tales. When you participate in a tale, you help someone do something in return for their help. Sometimes they give you a bow or armor, but sometimes you’re recruiting them to help you later. In return for that help, they expect you to do something for them now. Most times, it involves combat.

Forts

As mentioned above, forts are common in Assassin’s Creed. You end up having to not only take down everyone in a fort, you must also take down its leader. Once you do this, you basically own this fort.

The same can be said of Ghost of Tsushima. Though, while at the end you don’t own the fort, you do get to loot it for whatever rewards you can find.

Overall

Ghost of Tsushima is pretty. Very, very pretty, particularly when the wind is blowing across the grass and trees. One only needs to look at the above images to see that. But, having a game rendering a pretty environment is only part of the battle.

The other part is producing compelling, innovative mechanics to drive this world. Unfortunately, Sucker Punch actually lives up to its name and practically sucker punches Ubisoft for its Assassin’s Creed franchise. Sucker Punch entirely took almost everything that was Assassin’s Creed and imported it almost intact into Ghost of Tsushima.

If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’ll probably like this game. However, it’s so similar and plays so similarly to Assassin’s Creed, you may also feel like you’ve played this game before… and you likely have.

Is it worth $60? That’s debatable. I’m not usually one to urge people to run out and buy copycat games. In the case of Deep Silver’s Saint’s Row 3 and 4, these were so satirical of Grand Theft Auto, they had their own quirky uniqueness. In this case, I would recommend Saint’s Row because while they had some similarities to GTA, they were uniquely different.

With Ghost of Tsushima, the only really unique thing about this game is it having been set in feudal Japan. Everything else pretty much feels like a clone of Assassin’s Creed, for better or worse.

Ratings

Graphics: 10 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Uniqueness: 1 out of 10
Stories: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Mouth Tracking: 2 out of 10
Replayability: 1 out of 10
Multiplayer Mode: none, single player campaign only

Overall: 4.5 out of 10 (Rent first. If you like it, then buy it.)

↩︎

Comments are encouraged under these rules: 1. No personal attacks allowed. 2. Comments with personal attacks will not be posted. 3. Please keep your words civil. Thank you for contributing!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: