Brought to us by One More Level, Slipgate6, and 3D Realms, Ghostrunner is a first-person action platformer, set in a post apocalyptic, neon bathed cyberpunk future, that’ll see you carving through your foes as easily as butter, all while moving through the air with the grace of a ballerina.
Confused and broken after falling from a tower that leaves him with amnesia, the Ghostrunner wakes up repaired, with a new arm and a whisper inside his head. The voice, known simply as The Architect, beckons the Ghostrunner to free him from prison and once that’s done, your character is made to ascend to the top of Dharma Tower. The last bastion of the humans and the place where you’ll find the tyrannical ruler who left you in your broken state, Mara.
Although, the story isn’t breaking any new ground, everything is presented through voice overs of the audio log ilk, so, you needn’t worry about the story getting in the way of any momentum you’re having with the gameplay experience. The dynamic between the Ghostrunner and The Architect does it’s job in granting access to new abilities and moving players onward to the next mission but it’s the appearance of resistance member Zoe, that gives the story a much needed breath of fresh air, that livens up the mood just a bit.
Where the story might not’ve been the strongest, the gameplay’s, undeniably, where Ghostrunner shines the brightest.
Float Like a Ghostrunner, Sting Like a Bee
As a cybernetic, katana wielding ninja, you’ll have an arsenal of movement abilities and tools at your disposal to get you to your next checkpoint and send your enemies to an early grave. The Ghostrunner’s agility and movement, would make even the most nimble of cats envious. As the Ghostrunner, players can run along walls, slide underneath objects, slow down time with a dash in midair and even grapple to marked points in the arena like some kind of cyberpunk Spider-Man.
Offensive wise, Ghostrunner has you covered. You’ll have special abilities that can give you an edge, in case things get too dicey. You have permanent abilities, such as Blink, which essentially allows you to dash through a marked enemy in beautiful slow-mo, that can only be used a certain number of times. These abilities work on a cool down timer but you can refill the gauge with every enemy you kill, so there’s a nice ebb and flow here.
Abilities are gained through specific story sequences but, if you want to fine tune your character in a play style that best suits you, you can do that too. Freedom in play style is handled through upgrade chips. You’ll unlock these as you move along and these will provide additional perks to some of the abilities you’ve already unlocked, for example, adding an extra dash or being able to reflect projectiles more easily.
Your primary weapon of choice is a deadly katana, one that will carve your enemies into bloody smithereens in a single blow. The only catch? Your enemies can kill you in a single blow as well. This is a fast and furious game, one in which, that will leave you burning with rage if you’re not fully aware of your surroundings and the slightest hair of a mistake is the difference between a checkpoint and death.
Either way, there’s a lot to learn and because of this, death is a commonality. There’s no two ways about this. You will die and you will die a lot. Thankfully, the game does have near instant respawns, ensuring that you’re always back in the action. No matter how frustrated an arena or a boss made me, the fact I could jump back in, in a matter of seconds, encouraged me to try over and over and over again, even despite telling myself ill go just one more time.
Keeping You on Your Toes
The core gameplay loop involves arena based combat with platforming that really allows you the freedom to tackle a situation in any which way you deem fit. The game implements a gradual difficulty curve, so when you’re just starting to feel sure and confident in yourself, there’s always something new to slap you and remind you that you’ve seen nothing yet.
The introduction of a variety of enemy types throughout the main campaign certainly helps to maintain this curve. At the start, you’ll face typical grunts with hand guns then work your way up towards berserkers who’ll literally bring the fight to you and even robot ninja’s that’ll require a parry before you can strike them down.
The plethora of enemy types here, ensure that you’ll need to think differently on how to approach each encounter. The game excels at giving you time to learn a new enemy then, later on, throwing in enemy types you’ve seen before on top of the new one, meaning that the game does give you a lot to juggle but not before providing you with the proper knowledge in overcoming the challenge.
This same variety is also present with the platforming. At the start, you’ll be met with simple walls to run along and ramps to slide down but then the difficulty truly shoots up another notch with some really bonkers platforming segments. Although challenging, some of the best segments to be found are when both the platforming and abilities coalesce together into a perfect mesh of problem solving that’ll have you grinning like an idiot when you finally make it through.
The game will also pepper in these void like puzzle sequences, where you’ll have to collect orbs, move platforms into certain places or turn dials to put a puzzle together. Although these managed to keep the gameplay somewhat fresh, I felt as if this brought the overall game to a grinding halt whenever these segments showed up.
I also found a bit of a inconsistency when sticking to walls. There’s been instances where I’ve initiated that action and for whatever reason the Ghostrunner will just hit the wall and slide down. It’s not a deal breaker whatsoever, but it’s especially frustrating during a boss fight, where you’ve made progress, then get killed and have to start from the beginning because of that.
Ghostrunner is no cake walk, but there’s something to be found here. There’s no greater satisfaction than blitzing through a large, vertical arena with walls, elevators and grappling hooks and having to figure out a way to dispatch your enemies one by one with a single slice of your katana.
The surge of accomplishment you feel after finally conquering an encounter or a platforming segment you’ve spent a good deal of time on, is immensely satisfying. (I’m looking at you Tom and Hel.) There’s a definite challenge here, but Ghostrunner does well in helping you ride that bicycle before taking off the training wheels.