Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
In Ghostrunner, you play as a cyborg assassin with some Jedi powers and a katana. It’s dope.
That’s the first thing I want to get out of the way. There is nothing (at least for me) that could make that sound cooler, in terms of a concept for a game. Developers One More Level, 3D Realms and Slipgate6 have delivered a fast paced, fast action, fast adventure, fast combat, fast platforming game that, if I didn’t already mention it, goes really, really fast. You’re constantly moving while everything around you keeps egging you on to, as the developer’s namesake says, play one more level.
I’ll say it one more time and then I swear I’ll stop, but Ghostrunner is a fast game. The title even correctly implies that you will be running in this game, because you never actually stop running. You are constantly moving and making quick decisions in order to stay alive and fight your way through different enemies. When you stop moving, that’s when you die. All enemies including you are one-hit-kills, and the well varied level design gives you ample different ways at which to approach any situation. I loved how you really can just use any wall or aspect of the environment to navigate each area, and find the best possible way to strike at your enemies.
The variety created by the freedom of movement you have in the world also meshed perfectly with Ghostrunner’s only difficulty setting -- high. This is not an easy game, at least on your first go. As you discover enemy placement and figure out a path in each encounter, it’s likely many of your deaths will come from a stray bullet from an enemy you haven’t spotted yet. You respawn at your nearest checkpoint almost immediately though, so it never felt like I was really pulled out of the action for long. You are also likely to die a lot just from the platforming alone. The developers have done an excellent job in designing platforming based levels which push your abilities to their limit, and constantly push you to make quicker decisions as you progress further in the story.
The storytelling in the game is done passively, so as to not slow you down with too many cutscenes in between gameplay, and it’s executed very well. Dialogue between the Ghostrunner and other characters like The Architect or Zoe all happen through a comms system in your head, as you move further into the level. Paired with the environmental storytelling that is constantly happening all around you as you blaze through the Tower and Dharma City, it all meshes together well. You’ll also be constantly moving along to the soundtrack, packed with as much synth and bass as you can handle. The total atmosphere that Ghostrunner creates is electric. It looks great, sounds great and feels great, and as quickly as everything else happens in Ghostrunner, it will also be over quickly too. A typical playthrough can take roughly about 8h, faster of course after you’ve had some practice at the different levels.
Your main weapon throughout the entire game is a single katana, specially made for Ghostrunners to use. Your other weapons come in the form of your mobility, and special powers you gain as you progress in the story. Blink, Tempest, Surge and Overlord are the four special abilities you earn at the end of certain levels, and they all have their own tactical advantages against different enemies. Part of the excellent pacing of the game is how well it varies which enemies you will fight when. Your standard enemies or Keys as they are called in the game are simple, yet challenging enough that they help players get accustomed to the high pace gameplay. As you become more skilled however, enemy difficulty and placement rise to meet you. It makes it all the more sweet when you pull off that final kill and see a Key’s torso levitate in the air for a second in slow motion.
The UI in Ghostrunner is probably one of my favourites that I’ve seen in 2020. It’s clear and easy to use as all UI’s ought to be, but the developers went the extra mile and put a dash of tetris into the upgrade system and I can’t tell you how much I love it. It’s not that I’ve never seen something like this before, I just loved how well it worked within the context of the game and it’s setting. Plus the being able to swap out different upgrade blocks at any given time let me adapt to an encounter I may be having difficulty with. It’s another great level of variety in gameplay, plus you get to play a bit of tetris and who doesn’t love that?
If you are into games that require high skill level and quick decisions, then Ghostrunner should be the next game you play. It is built to be the full speedrunner’s dream and anyone who is a fan of quick and intense combat. Ghostrunner is simply the full package, and so close to being a perfect experience. So, so close.
This is the point where I have to stop gushing about the game. I definitely love it, and think it is incredible though that does not mean it is without fault, and there are some issues that soured the joy I mostly felt when playing. Firstly it is unfortunate to report that it does have some performance issues. These mainly come up in the later levels in the game, and in some instances encounters really were in fact unplayable, regardless of how low or high I tweaked the settings. It worked well most of the time, but when it didn’t, the constant stuttering and lag in between actions made encounters an incredibly frustrating experience to the point where I even walked away at one point.
Enemy variety and placement within levels is very good and creative, though they weren’t all perfectly tweaked. Specifically with what’s called Enforcers, they use a shield which challenges you to get behind them to be able to strike. That’s all well and good until you notice that they are able to track your movements incredibly well. The best solution is really to jump over them, though you can’t jump high enough to do that without using a wall or ledge to get above them. What’s worse is any wrong move and you get stunned by accidentally hitting their shield which almost always will result in you dying. Grouping these enemies together as the game does in some instances was particularly frustrating and felt more annoying than they probably should have been.
The platforming in Ghostrunner is both a high point and a low point. While you do have a lot of mobility and can use your environment in creative ways, the platforming is not always as precise as it should be. There were many instances where I was dying because even though I was at the wall, my character didn’t start wall running, so I fell. Other times where I was yeeted off the stage because I accidentally grabbed a ledge where I didn’t intend to and subsequently ruined my timing within the sequence. The final level is a straight platforming challenge, and in the 30min it took me to complete the level, 10 of those were committed to a specific wall running section where my odds of making it across were down to whether the game decided to work properly or not.
My final gripe, though probably the most minor comes from the boss battles. Now these are exceptionally creative in their design, these fights are tailored to not be drawn out and work well even though you’ll still die from one mistake. What I don’t like about them however is because there is essentially a specific pattern or route that these battles will follow, the freedom and variety to be found in the rest of the game is suddenly gone. You can’t approach these fights any other way than how they are supposed to play out, and it just felt like a step backwards compared to the rest of the game.
Despite my issues, I have no reservations about recommending Ghostrunner. It is overall an exceptional game and very fun to play. It’s also great for replayability for anyone who wants to achieve the fastest times for each level or just find all the collectibles. The core gameplay is intense and exciting, and everything around it contributes to creating an atmosphere that feels tight and immersive.
The execution of the storytelling is great, though the plot itself is quite predictable. The platforming is wild and creative, but not as precise as it probably should be. The combat is full throttle intense, but can get annoying with certain enemy AI. There’s a little bit off in everything throughout the game, but it never comes close to taking away from just how good it is when it’s firing on all cylinders. As it currently stands, Ghostrunner is the best futuristic, sci-fi, cyberpunk themed game to release in 2020.
Ghostrunner is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and is coming to Nintendo Switch later this year.