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‘Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut’ is one of the finest-looking games ever

(Sony Interactive Entertainment)

It seems trite to begin any video game review talking about the visuals and graphical presentation, but “Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut” on PlayStation 5 left my mouth agape.

PS5 updates for classic PlayStation 4 games may be trickling in to fill the void of delayed high-profile releases this year (thanks to the ongoing pandemic), but every one of them has been a home run on presentation. Sucker Punch Productions stepped up to the plate and delivers another home run with sharper visuals and improved lighting for a game that debuted on PS4 last summer. The original “Ghost of Tsushima” was already in the conversation as one of the prettiest games ever made. The PS5 edition, which releases Aug. 20, cements it.

I can’t remember a game that sustains an awe-inspiring presentation for just about every second you play. The new lighting gives new life to the rippling fields of grass and flowers that defined the game’s art. Clothing and armor textures are more defined. It’s like playing “Ghost of Tsushima” with new eyeballs.

And then there’s the new Iki Island chapter of the story, in which our hero, Jin Sakai, the titular ghost, visits an archipelago known for housing pirates. Jin returns to an island that was also torched by the Mongolian invasion of Japan, one his own father tried to invade years ago. If “Ghost of Tsushima” could be criticized for cleaning up samurai’s historical reputation for being brutal enforcers of class structure, the Iki Island chapter leans into accuracy as Jin is forced to reckon with and make amends for his father’s past misdeeds and cruelty.

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I’m still not done with the Iki Island chapter, but Sucker Punch claims it’s as long as the base game, which takes roughly 24 hours to complete. I wish I could comment on Iki Island’s size, but I haven’t had time to see the whole map anyway after only receiving the game Monday. What I’ve seen so far is substantial and showcases different tonal moods. Iki Island, a popular real-life tourist destination for Japanese who find visiting Okinawa or Guam too much of a hassle, will welcome you into its tropical paradise with swaying palm trees and seemingly endless beaches.

I was born in the Pacific Islands, but despite that hometown familiarity I can still understand how a restorative tropical island vacation can feel like you’re on another planet or world. Iki Island, with its sharp, bold colors, achieves this easily. My jaw was constantly agape, unhinged even, as I explored the dense jungles and forests, many of which open up to even more sweeping vistas and inviting scenery.

The audio features of the PS5′s DualSense controller also shocked me. Iki Island introduces new enemy types, including warriors who chant to energize and strengthen the enemy forces. The rallying cry for this new Mongol army includes the ancient practice of Tuvan throat singing, and its hauntingly beautiful, droning notes will creep through your controller. The clarity of the audio through my controller made me feel as if I was fighting in a fourth dimension. Pairing this with effective tactile feedback of metal, cloth and wood undulating through my controller with every sword strike, and this year-old video game found new ways to absorb the player into the experience.

The combat for the expansion is not broadly changed for the most part. Because the battlefield is more crowded, the player’s horse can now charge through battalions, but, as a samurai, Jin will retain most of his tool kit. However, these new Mongolian soldiers will now switch weapon types on the fly, keeping seasoned “Tsushima” players on their toes as stance-switching becomes more frequent and necessary. Jin appears to have a few new battle animations for added flair.

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Speaking of flair, it’s a small change but the Japanese voice track now syncs up with each character’s lip animations. This was a strange initial oversight on Sucker Punch’s part, and it’s nice to see this finally rectified, at least for PS5 owners. While I still contend that “Ghost of Tsushima” is a mediocre samurai tale when compared to its filmic inspirations, having the entire voice performance in Japanese at least helps with authenticity.

For more than a year, I’ve struggled to communicate why “Ghost of Tsushima” is such a compelling video game experience despite its lackluster storytelling (which Iki Island improves on) and a general lack of any new, innovative ideas. It was also fair to call it a pretty inauthentic experience when it comes to depicting samurai culture and principles. If anything, the game felt like a fusion-styled, Americanized version of the experience.

But the thing is, fusion-style cuisine can taste amazing. Most of the Chinese food we eat in the U.S. is a compromised, American-style version of what inspired it; different from the source, yet still a savory, warm comfort. And as Iki Island proves with all of its small but important changes, a little bit of spice and authenticity can make any recipe that much better. In this sense, “Ghost of Tsushima” is worth a second helping.

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