Ghostrunner offers a unique single-player experience: fast-paced, violent combat, and an original setting that blends science fiction with post-apocalyptic themes. It tells the story of a world that has already ended and its inhabitants who fight to survive.
Publisher: All In! Games, 505 Games
Reviewed on: PC (Ryzen 5 2600, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB DDR4)
Also available for: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Cast: Carl G. Brooks, Mark Dodson, Lindsey Vega, Sheila Morris, Eileen Anglin, Julie Shields
Developer: One More Level
Game Director & Producer: Radoslaw Ratusznik
Art Director: Wojciech Wilk
Lead Programmer: Gregorz Greger
Narrative Design & Writer: Jan Gasior
I died well over a thousand times before I finished Ghostrunner and I loved every second of it. The game’s one-hit kill system not only led me to die from gunfire, laser beams, samurai swords and other weapons, but I also died numerous times from falling. Because Ghostrunner isn’t just a game about fast-paced wall-running, katana-wielding combat, it’s also a tricky platformer. Ghostrunner is a hard-as-nails game, but it’s also ultra-satisfying to play in a way that most games only ever strive to achieve.
The game’s premise is rather simple. You are a Ghostrunner; a cyborg-ninja of sorts, recently repaired but suffering from amnesia. You land somewhere in the slums of Dharma Tower, the last remaining place of human activity following an apocalyptic event. The building is under the rule of a tyrant named The Keymaster and the tower’s people are in a divide of poverty and civil war. As the game begins you’ve just awoken and a voice is in your ear telling you to run with enemies hot on your tail. This whisper in your ear explains they’ll be able to help you on your journey and it is up to you to stop The Keymaster and save Dharma Tower and its people. So you must make your way up the tower, fighting enemies big and small as you attempt to reach your target.
The story of Ghostrunner — as simple and paint-by-cyberpunk-numbers as it seems — was engaging the entire time. It’s a story of rebellion, free-will and trans-humanism which are all very cyberpunk themes. Although Ghostrunner is all gameplay first, story second, I was surprised with how just how well the game told a fitting narrative for the cyberpunk renaissance that appears to have happened over the last couple of years.
Ghostrunner plays like a perfect mix of Titanfall 2, Mirror’s Edge and Katana Zero. The game’s parkour wall-running and katana-slicing is the bread and butter and it’s some of the most satisfying movement-based gameplay I’ve ever experienced. The game’s fluidity is perfect. If Titanfall 2 is the golden-child for FPS movement, Ghostrunner is the new poster-child for fast-flowing movement and combat. From every wall-run to every slide under a deadly object, the game is so buttery smooth and you will feel like a bad-ass ninja assassin while playing Ghostrunner.
At the beginning of the game, you have four core abilities: wall-running, swinging your katana, a grapple-hook and the ability to slow down time briefly. In tandem, you can run along a wall, jump and grapple hook up to a platform, slowdown time in mid-air to dodge a bullet fired at you from an enemy before pouncing on them and landing a killing slice with your katana.
Each room of enemies in Ghostrunner is designed similarly to Katana Zero (with katana, cyberpunk aesthetic and all) or Hotline Miami, where enemies are always in the same place and the combat is less about outsmarting them, and more about how to move around the room efficiently. It may take you ten or thirty minutes to figure out how to clear a room of enemies but the run where you do may only take thirty seconds. The game requires just as much planning and smart use of your terrain and abilities as it does the fast-injection of inputs to perform them.
You only have to deal with basic goons that fire bullets you can dodge with relative ease as the game begins, but as you progress further there are increasingly more difficult enemies and obstacles added as you progress further up the tower. A brute enemy will launch itself across the room to land on top of you, a katana-wielding enemy needs to be countered before you can kill it and shields are added to basic goons. Robotic Metal Gear inspired enemies begin appearing half-way through the game and become death machines you need to disperse of quickly or fear their room-scale attacks. As you get higher up in the tower, drones begin appearing that can rain attacks down from above, but you’re able to pounce upon them and ride them into a group of enemies below.
Fortunately, as the enemies get tougher as the game progresses, the Ghostrunner’s arsenal of weapons and skills grows too. I won’t spoil them all, but you get access to a shock-wave blast and even an arc-attack that can be efficient ways to take out multiple enemies or a last-second attack that can save your ass from death. You can’t spam these either, they use an energy resource that slowly replenishes over time. You also get access to an upgrade tree of sorts that lets you add abilities like deflecting bullets, increasing your dash or filling your energy meter faster.
Platforming puzzles are usually between enemy encounters to help pace the game. These start simple like just wall running between several objects, but soon there are hazards thrown into the mix like lasers or rotating razers to slide under. These sections are kinda like training moments as well as they allow you to get better at the game’s mechanics without enemies to worry about.