Now this is a game with developers that must be very glad indeed that Cyberpunk 2077 has seen yet another delay. Ghostrunner sees you, a heavily augmented ninja with a penchant for parkour, scaling a massive tower where the remnants of humanity live – and murdering basically everybody inside. The setting and overall aesthetic is where any possible similarities to CDPROJEKTRED‘s beleaguered baby end, though – Ghostrunner is a game that wants to achieve something very different.
The titular Ghostrunner is climbing Dharma Tower, the last refuge of the human race, to overthrow an evil leader and restore whatever passes for normality in this particular dystopian future. It’s a simple, effective story well-told through quality voice over work. Granted, you’ll probably miss most of it as it plays over moments of intense concentration, but the Ghostrunner – a man of few words – has a brilliantly blunt way of speaking, accented by a low, drawling voice a few octaves above Batman. He is a tool, a weapon that has always been manipulated by the forces around him, and he slices through the world like a cyber-knife through cyber-butter.
Let’s just get this out of the way. Unless you’re really, really good at games, this one is going to kill you. A lot, actually. As quickly as it’s feeding you new methods of traversals and ways to survive it’s rolling out new environmental hazards and enemy configurations that will consistently ruin your day. There’s a glorious synergy between pulsing background music, death-defying jumps and bullet-time dashes which will have you in its clutches faster than a whisky glass in Rick Deckard’s office. To survive, you’ll have to master the slim arsenal of tools Ghostrunner gives you and, well, run with them.
The parkour aspect is augmented with a time-slowing dash – handy for dodging bullets in mid-air – and a grappling hook. It all sounds fairly simple, but Ghostrunner manages to combine free running with punishing one-hit-kill combat to create tight and varied levels, ramping up the already demanding difficulty without becoming cheap. It will challenge you, and not in a merciless, cruel way that laughs at your wasted time. The checkpoints are usually pretty good, so you can usually just retry the section you failed without running through an entire level again – it’s almost Super Meat Boy-esque in that regard, slapping you right back in front of the set of obstacles that murdered you, probably several times.
Ghostrunner is hard. The difficulty is probably going to put a lot of potential players off, and it’s not something that can be skirted around. If you persevere, pushing past the falls, the unseen bullets, the dangers that come out of nowhere to scupper you at the last moment, you will be immensely satisfied. This is Mirror’s Edge, streamlined, perfected, with its simplest and most effective parts honed to a brilliantly sharp edge. That sharpness will cut careless or impatient players, and it’s up to them to find the balance required to climb the tower. You’ll need a mix of patience and lightning fast reflexes, and those two things don’t always come easily.
Running along a wall, dashing to the side and barely dodging an incoming shot before grappling up to the ceiling so you can take out the shield drone protecting the soldiers. Weaving through more bullets to slice a man in half, only to turn around, fire the grappling hook again and slow time to a crawl mid jump so you can survive long enough to take the last guy down. When you get the hang of it, Ghostrunner makes you feel like a legend, and when you fail, it just makes you want to be better next time.
It’s all so smooth, which makes retrying failed fights and sequences a pleasure. There’s bound to be some frustration in any game with high difficulty, but the world is so well-crafted, the combat so slick, that it doesn’t bother you as much as you might think.
Ghostrunner overall thoughts
Ghostrunner challenged me, dangling the carrot of more gloriously dystopian environments and pitch-perfect music just outside of reach whilst repeatedly shooting me in the head. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, it’ll add new dangers, forcing you to adapt and augment your playstyle to succeed. When you achieve that perfect flow, it synchronises beautifully with the audio-visual elements, creating an intense and sumptuous gauntlet of challenges. It’ll kill you, plenty of times, but victory will always feel like it’s just within reach, and if you have the fortitude to persist, that success will be all the sweeter.
Ghostrunner was developed by One More Level, 3D Realms and Slipgate Ironworks. It’s published by 505 Games and All in! Games. It’s available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S and Microsoft Windows. We reviewed it through Steam!