Leap through a futuristic, dystopian cityscape, in the shoes of a cybernetic ninja.
The cyberpunk genre has boomed over the last few years. Whether that's down to CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 being a powerful trailblazer or just a series of coincidental developmental timelines all coming to fruition at a similar date, it's difficult to tell. Either way, one such cyberpunk style title that has generated a great deal of attention over the past 18 months is Ghostrunner - a hardcore first-person, fast-paced action slasher that features heavy influence from parkour and high-mobility movement.
Originally announced back in 2019 and developed by Polish studio One More Level, Ghostrunner gained a huge amount of traction when it was involved in an Xbox showcase earlier this year, and since then fans have been eager to get hands-on with the title. I've had ample time to play through Ghostrunner on PC, and without too much foreshadowing, I can safely say that for those who strive for perfection, this title will make you feel right at home.
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Ghostrunner puts players in the shoes of a Ghostrunner, a cybernetically enhanced individual, who is described several times throughout the story as the "perfect balance between flesh and code." Set in a futuristic, dystopian, cyberpunk world where the masses reside in an enormous structure called The Tower, to shelter from the inhabitable outside environment, Ghostrunner's story sees a dangerous individual called Mara, overthrow the presiding leader of The Tower, the Architect to gain control over the population.
The campaign follows the Ghostrunner as he attempts to free the people by defeating Mara, after failing and almost dying in an attempt beforehand. Using the power of advanced technology, incredible mobility, and a razor-sharp sword, the Ghostrunner will move up The Tower cutting down anyone who gets in his way to Mara. However, in the world of powerful leaders, storylines and personal motives aren't always as they seem.
Ghostrunner's gameplay revolves around two main aspects, movement, and timing. Slashing and defeating enemies is vital, however without being skilled at the former two, you likely will not get close to a foe. Around half of what you will be asked to do within the game is maneuver challenging environments, using the Mirror's Edge style parkour system. The main difference between the two, however, is in Ghostrunner you are more than a regular human and can complete inhuman feats, such as survive incredible drops or wall-run for an inconceivable amount of time, plus you have a handy grappling hook, great for covering certain larger distances. With this movement system in your base kit, you will rapidly move through levels, designed with a high degree of precision in mind in order to make your way up The Tower. The only real time when you stop running is when a bunch of enemies stand in your path.
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Combat is when timing becomes absolutely essential. This isn't like a platformer where you wait for the right moment to jump between moving objects, in Ghostrunner, if you are not accurate to the millisecond in combat, you will die. Enemies do not care for your speed or your lethality, they will hit you if you don't take action to evade what they throw at you, bringing timing and the Ghostrunner's mobility back into play. By utilising verticality, and the ability to outplay foes with immense speed, you are expected to make enemies miss, not just ruthlessly face them in one-on-one combat.
The Ghostrunner's abilities enable this style of gameplay, as momentum is often your greatest ally. Combining this with the power to slow time, use skills such as deflecting shots, blink without taking damage, or manipulate the minds of foes to turn on each other, among other great skills, you must kill all who oppose you without taking a hit, or else you restart the encounter. This is why timing is of the utmost importance in Ghostrunner as if you take any damage, you die and have to reset, hence why the title is known for being hardcore.
With the many different types of enemies blocking your path, who can range between; single shot blaster users, shielded gatling-gun wielders, sword-using ninjas, and airborne robots - just to name a few, you will have to be precise and fast when completing levels. Foes will all fall in one quick swipe of your sword, but it's never as easy as it seems as most have unique attacking styles you have to learn to avoid. This expectation only elevates during the three boss encounters (of which I won't get into to avoid spoilers), where all of your skills are really put to the test. Needless to say, with the gameplay design of Ghostrunner, you are expected to die a lot, but when you finally nail an encounter, there's no greater feeling, especially since a successful room completion usually occurs within 45 seconds.
Aside from just completing the storyline, Ghostrunner offers collectibles to find throughout the campaign that can give other cosmetic sword options to wield, or lore entries to find, which will provide an extra taste of narrative for players. Alongside this, you can slightly enhance certain parts of the Ghostrunner's kit, by slotting in upgrades provided at certain campaign points, in a motherboard looking system. This requires a little bit of intelligence as only specific slots are available, and the pieces are all shapes like Tetris blocks, meaning fitting them all together is like a puzzle mini-game.
Even though all these previous areas make Ghostrunner a lot of fun to play, for me, the cream of the crop is the level design. Whilst each area will look similar (there is only so much variety to be found in a dark, dystopian, cyberpunk city-scape), the levels flow incredibly well and provided you hit your timings the title can often feel like it's on rails, but that isn't a bad thing because you are constantly being asked to adapt on the fly to ensure you don't die. Going for two, three minutes without dying is one of the most enthralling videogame experiences I've had all year. You genuinely feel like a superhero, completely disconnected from your limited human body.
Now, Ghostrunner is not without its flaws, however. There are times where I could get irrationally mad when being stuck in an area, clocking in the 23rd straight death by the same set of enemies is frustrating, to say the least. Mashing that up with the fact that there is really nothing to do in the game except play through the campaign repeatedly, makes replayability a little lacking. I completed the title in around five hours, and now the only option is to begin again, perhaps bringing a difficulty setting would aid this, one with perma-death for the really hardcore players out there for example.
I enjoyed Ghostrunner and what it's bringing to the table. The fast-paced movement mechanics, tasking timing requirements, and combat systems, combined with the varied enemies make for a challenging yet fulfilling gameplay experience. My main concern revolves around the longevity of the game as there is next to nothing to do after you complete the title's admittedly short campaign. Ghostrunner runs incredibly smoothly, looks great, and feels fantastic to play, but I find myself asking the question, why go back? With this being said, anybody who is a fan of cybernetic ninjas in a dystopian reality will slot right into Ghostrunner's brutal world, just know, it's a vicious place to call home.
8 / 10
Tight mechanics, great movement system, and brilliant level design that flows very smoothly.
Limited amount of content that severely hurts replay ability.