Ghostrunner – Game review

Get Ghostrunner on Steam

A glass cyberninja with a shiny sword, a deranged cyberarchitects nightmare fuelled dysfunctional architecture and a whirling tango of movements, decapitations and deaths. Die/repeat loop at it’s addictive best. Ghostrunner in a nutshell.

Take on the role of a cybernetically enhanced ninja in a post-apocalyptic world and run, jump, slide, climb and carve your way to perfection in this skill heavy, high-speed, wet dream of a super ninja assassin. Make a mistake and you’re dead, quickly spawning a few dashes away from your misstep, ready to dive in again.

This is a speedrunners promised land and the game can feel extremely punishing, requiring lightning fast reflexes and thinking, but because of how quickly it puts you back into action, it rarely becomes annoying or frustrating.

The story is nothing special, but it’s serviceable and very well voice acted. You’re awoken by The Architect (Matrix reference?) after being thrown out of a window by Mara, a despotic ruler you need to take down. The entire story is told through voice overs in your head, some collectible audio logs and some additional collectible items.

It does feel somewhat detached from the rest of the game and it sometimes comes at inopportune times, when you should be jumping around and proceeding with the level. You can always take a breather to hear it, if you’re interested. Or continue with racking up your death count.

Combat is fast, deadly, and over quickly for you or your enemies. You one shot everything, everything one shots you. Repetition, learning and fast reflexes are key. With your sword being the only weapon, approaching your enemies is the name of the game and there are usually multiple ways to do it if you look closely.

The game starts you off with simple pistol wielding cyber punks and then gradually introduces different and harder enemies, but still gives you enough time to get to know each of them well.

Run of the mill enemies won’t be your only adversaries. A few boss fights await you and they will test your reflexes and knowledge of all the abilities at your disposal. And your patience.

You get some extra abilities and upgrades as you progress through the game. They’re given to you by The Architect who guides you through some snazzy Matrix levels that include environmental puzzles that you need to solve to proceed.

You have four abilities that are on the same recharge timer and you fill it by killing enemies. Upgrades are more numerous and are combined like Tetris blocks on a grid that expands the further you are in the game and they are freely interchangeable.

First person platforming does take center stage in Ghostrunner, even more than combat. It’s made well and using dashes, slides, wall running and grapples seamlessly sometimes does feel like you’re gliding through scenery. Until you position yourself wrong or just slightly to the side and the game refuses to stick you to a wall or propel you far enough on a grappling hook.

It requires lots of precision and forethought and since you build momentum the more you run, it becomes harder and harder to time your jumps and grapples. There’s a hacking mechanic where you can temporarily stop or change direction of certain machines and switch billboards around, but it’s used very sparingly and it could’ve had a bit more time in the spotlight.

You also sometimes find temporary boosts on certain levels that increase your speed or give you huge jump capabilities, but they are short lasting and usually there to help you traverse a part of the level.

Flights into the unknown happen surprisingly often, but it’s a game of trial and error, of gambling, and when you learn the patterns, the path just blurs into streaks of light and blood as you time everything right. And you move to the next, ecstatic with the earned victory over the last one. The game even slows down when you slice your last enemy to acknowledge, “Hell yeah! You did it!”.

Your deserving reward is the next checkpoint and the game does those rather well. It never feels like you need to repeat huge swaths of a level with a single checkpoint. In a game based on repeating, that’s a good thing.

Ghostrunner has a very high difficulty curve and is definitely not a game for everyone. It’s not a very long game, but it’s sometimes a painful and very annoying process of learning and timing everything right. I’ve died 208 times on the first boss, all in the space of around 30 minutes.

I never blinked or twitched, that’s how fast the game is at putting you back into action. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it feels so good to play, it never becomes a chore and all the quirks and annoyances don’t really have a chance to rear their ugly heads. The rush is just so euphoric.

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