I’m going to be brutally honest with you for a moment, when I first saw the trailer for Ghostrunner; I expected a whole different experience. I thought Ghostrunner from developer One More Level, would be an experience similar to Dishonored with a bit of Mirrors Edge thrown in, and I was completely down for that, but when the demo came out, I had to give it a try. I quickly learned that Ghostrunner is simultaneously what I expected and the farthest thing from it, and I have not been so pleasantly surprised like this in a while.
Game Name: Ghost Runner
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Publisher(s): All In Games, 505 Games
Developer(s): One More Level, 3D Realms, Slipgate Ironworks
Release Date: October 27, 2020
To break Ghostrunner down to its most basic components, it is pretty much Mirrors Edge with a bit of Dishonored flair thrown in. Set in a cyberpunk future where humanity has faced a cataclysmic event that has rendered the outside world toxic, humans have retreated to a gargantuan tower to survive. You play as Jack; a lab-grown cyborg referred to as a Ghostrunner who is tasked with carving your way up from the bottom of the tower to reach Mara, who serves as the antagonist of the game, and to free the residents of the tower from her tyranny. Armed with only his sword, the voice in his head, and some fancy abilities Jack is mostly a blank slate, which at first I considered to be a bit of lazy writing. However, as the story progresses, you’ll discover quite a bit about Jack’s purpose and what his “life” means, and by the end of the game, you begin to pity him. Created as a tool and nothing more, Jack discovers that he has a choice, and he finally becomes as close to a real human as he could be. It’s surprisingly touching and honestly a bit inspiring.
While the story is interesting and is told as well as it could be, it does have some issues. Due to the type of game this is, you rarely get any cutscenes as these would kill the flow, so I fully understand why they are mostly absent. However, most of the story is told by characters talking at you while you run around the environments, which doesn’t allow you to absorb as much as possible. I don’t really have any better suggestions about how the story could have been told given the gameplay style, but I know that this method didn’t work so well.
The tower itself has fallen into disarray since Mara took over, with hired thugs taking to the streets to enact her harsh rule, forcing curfews and killing all those who stand in her way. To navigate the tower, you’ll need to take make use of Jack’s enhanced mobility as you wall run, slingshot, and slide your way through the several levels filled with very hostile foes that can and will end you with a single hit. Hence, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep moving at all costs.
I really enjoyed my time with Ghostrunner, even though 90% of my playthrough I was resisting the urge to put my fist through my monitor because I’ve died for the 30th time that level. The most important thing aspiring players need to consider before getting into Ghostrunner is that it’s difficult. While I’m aware that this comparison is played out at this point, Ghostrunner has a Dark Souls level of challenge and reward. Finishing levels feel brilliant while slashing that one enemy in half that has been a thorn in your side is a feeling that I would liken to taking your socks off at the end of the day. It’s pure bliss.
Ghostrunner is mostly balanced with almost every enemy type being well-designed, and once you know what you’re dealing with, you can dispatch them without much issue. Well, except for one enemy type that I feel has no place in this game. I would describe these enemies as bipedal mechs that fire a burst of energy at you that covers a wide area that is often hard to dodge. It’s not impossible to dodge, just very, very hard to do so.
Excluding bosses, there are around ten enemy types that you’ll come across during your playtime; each foe will require different methods to dispatch. I’m going to give you some tips on tackling them when you go against them. Note that I don’t know the names of the enemy types as it’s not really pointed out to you, so the names you’ll see below are the ones I’ve come up with.
- Grunts: These are the most basic of enemies you’ll come across; they carry a pistol that fires a single shot every few seconds. Taking these guys out is easy; just don’t get hit while closing the gap and slice them up. Alternatively, if your reactions are good enough, you can parry the shot back at them for a ranged kill (You need the “Deflect: Reflect” skill before you can parry shots.)
- Assault: These guys are grunts that have been blessed with automatic weaponry; dealing with these guys is pretty much the same as dealing with grunts, but you’ll need to keep on the move to dodge their hail of bullets. I would recommend not closing the gap until they reload.
- Guardians: Guardians are big blokes that carry front-facing shields that prevent any method of a frontal assault, so you’ll need to get behind them to kill them. At first, this was a daunting task, but I learned that if you jump near them and hold the shift ability, you can glide around them in slow motion and slice them in the back very easily.
- Mechs: These guys were the most annoying to deal with for me. They fire in a 180 degree arch in front of them that gives you a minimal margin to evade, so my best advice is to find cover and bait out their shot. Once they’ve fired, you can dash up to them and slice them up.
- Brutes: These guys differ from the rest of your foes as they want to get up close and personal. They are pretty easy to defeat. All you need to do is bait out their attack and dodge. Then once they land their slam attack, you dash up and slice.
- Weebs: Weebs are like you; they carry a sword and attack with a dashing slice. To defeat them, you’ll need to parry their initial blow by striking as they strike you and perform a follow-up slash to defeat them. They’re a bit fiddly to start with, but once you get the pattern down you’ll be slicing up Weebs with no trouble.
- Bots: Bots are more of a traversal element than an enemy type. Jumping on them allows you to basically fly them for a short period of time to get to your destination. They also explode when they land, so try to direct them into a group of enemies if possible.
- Clones: Clones can split into five enemies; killing the correct one will cause the rest to disintegrate. Make no mistake though; all of them are deadly.
- Spectres: These guys are a pain as they’ll teleport away as you get close and fling projectiles at you. To kill them, you’ll need to dash up to them and slice them before they teleport away again. Speed is key with these guys.
- Secret: I’m not going to give away too much info about the final enemy type as it’s closely linked to the story but what I will say is, when you see them…don’t get close and run when you can.
The gameplay of Ghostrunner is all about speed and efficiency, and as mentioned earlier, you will die in a single hit; every enemy is a genuine threat. Thus staying on the move is very important to your success. You’re able to wall-run on almost every surface, so make sure to take advantage of that. In addition to wall-running, Jack can also slingshot off certain locations, indicated by an on-screen prompt that displays when it’s possible to do so.
In addition to your primary weapon that can slice every enemy (except bosses) in a single hit. Jack also has four abilities at his disposal that unlock as you ascend your way up the tower. The first ability you unlock is a dash attack called “Blink” that can slice multiple enemies in a single stroke, provided you lined it up properly. This attack can also be used to slice through enemy defences such as a Guardian’s shield. The second ability you unlock is called “Tempest,” which is basically a force push. This ability can be utilized to defeat multiple enemies in front of you or reflect projectiles at whoever shot them, which is very useful when coming up against multiple Assault enemies. The third ability, “Surge,” is a slashing attack that unleashes a wave of energy that can kill enemies at range. In terms of fighting back at range, this is pretty much your only option, so it’s good for enemies that you may not want to get close to. I’m not going to detail the final ability as it’s very much linked to the story. All I will say is, when you get the fourth ability known as “Overlord,” use it on a Spectre when you can. Trust me, it’ll make your life so much easier.
While these abilities might seem rather basic on a surface level, they can be game-changers depending on your situation. Despite this, you’ll still need to kill enemies to generate Focus, which powers your abilities. Once you have generated enough Focus, you can use one ability. Once an ability is used up, you’ll need to fill up the meter again or utilise certain upgrades to increase the use of certain utilities. The upgrade system in Ghostrunner is a departure from what you’re used to in other games and it’s an interesting take on it, to say the least. While most games will have you going up a skill tree to improve your character, here you basically play Tetris.
As you can see in the image above, your skill points are laid out on the left as Tetris-like blocks that can be slotted into the grid to the right. This system means that you can’t take all the upgrades into the field with you as you only have so much space; make sure to chose wisely. That said, you can hop into the upgrade screen and adjust your build at any time and swap out your upgrades at will. I personally recommend having the “Deflect: Reflect” skill installed as this allows you to deflect projectiles back at your enemy which is oh so useful.
Graphically speaking, the game is beautiful to look at. The Tower’s environments have this futuristic grime that you often see in a cyberpunk aesthetic, but so far, Ghostrunner is the best example of this visual style. While the environments are empty, except for the enemies you’ll encounter, the designers have done an amazing job making the areas feel lived in. As you ascend the tower, you can see that the higher you go the more people live in “luxury”, yet you can still clearly see that each level still lives in relatively poor living conditions.
Ghostrunner starts to falter a little in the sound design. This game’s music is absolutely fantastic. The techno-beat drives you forward as you repeatedly fail to complete a section and the voice actors do a phenomenal job bringing the characters to life. My issue is how the audio is mixed; the music is always slightly too loud and often overpowers the voice actors and sometimes the environmental sound. As there is no indicator that you’re being shot from behind, it can often be frustrating to deal with when the music overpowers the sound of a fatal gunshot that could have been avoided if you could hear it. Normally this wouldn’t be so much of an issue as adjusting the game’s volume levels would fix it, but no matter how much I fiddled with the sliders, I couldn’t find the right balance of music and other audio. Here’s to hoping this can be patched as it does put a damper on the experience.
Overall, Ghostrunner is a hard-as-hell experience that will drive you to your limits as you play it. Simultaneously, the story’s intrigue and the tight gameplay will push you through the difficulty of delivering a satisfying experience. Yes, the game is short, clocking in at around 3-4 hours depending on your skill, but Ghostrunner is designed to be played repeatedly until you master it and speed run it in less than an hour. If you manage to finish Ghostrunner in less than an hour, let me know, and I’ll shower you with reverence.
Ghostrunner is a hard game that will push you to your limit multiple times, but sticking to your guns and pushing through is a rewarding experience unlike any other.
- Great Gameplay
- Beautiful Visuals
- Tight Controls
- Visceral Combat
- Intriguing Story
- Poor Audio Mixing
- Wall Running Can Be Imprecise At Times