Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
October 27, 2020
One More Level, 3D Realms, Slipgate Ironworks
You are the Ghostrunner. What does that mean? Doesn’t matter, there isn’t any time to explain just now. You have a voice in your head telling you to come break them out of prison. Why are they in prison? We’re not sure. Should we trust this disembodied voice? It’s not like we know who we are and why we ended up in this predicament in the first place. That’s how Ghostrunner chooses to usher you into its cyberpunk world. Providing questions and little to no answers, all the while this underlying sense of urgency propels you forward to your goal. You don’t have the luxury of time to ask further questions, for soon you will be hunted. Just how did we end up here?
After you drop into the game, quite literally I might add, you’re on the move. Ghostrunner is focused on momentum, and the various ways that can be achieved and maintained throughout the course of a stage. You play as a cyborg ninja, commonly referred to as “Ghostrunners”. Once a hundred strong, now there’s just you left. You alone left to face the various dangers and obstacles posed against you as you climb Dharma Tower; the last bastion of humanity. The world as you and I know it, long since destroyed and forgotten. It is up to the Ghostrunner to save the last remnants of humanity, from a threat we still don’t fully understand.
This is game is all about momentum, rhythm and strategy. Like most parkour video games, your main concern is maintaining a high rate of speed in order to clear certain jumps as well as gain elevation to new areas. Combat is also an integral component as to why you want to make sure your speed is maintained, as it also helps with evading enemy projectiles as well as striking foes in such a way that doesn’t end up slowing you down. Rhythm is not explicitly related, but if approached from this mindset, the game can open up in a whole new way that not only makes certain stages easier but entirely revolutionises the way you play. Strategy comes into play when you encounter a room filled with various obstacles and varying enemy types. While you’re free to decide the best approach to deal with any given scenario, it will require a lot of trial and error before you reach success; but that is at the core of what Ghostrunner is.
Ghostrunner is most similar to learning how to ride a bike. At first you’re overly cautious, maybe even a little wobbly. But eventually you start to gain speed and you relax a little. Until you hit your first bump in the road, then its skinned knees and bruised shins. Ghostrunner at first appears difficult. It’s a learning curve that initially feels steep, but the more you play the better you become. And this is the beauty of Ghostrunner. Not only does your in-game character unlock new skills and abilities, but you as the player also improve through skill and experience. I tested this out after rolling credits on my initial playthrough, immediately afterwards restarting from the beginning of the game. Levels that took me 10-15mins with a dozen or so deaths, now took me less than 3 with no deaths at all.
Repetition and experience gained is at the core of what makes Ghostrunner so compelling and engaging. The ever present need to do just a bit better, or try a different tactic to achieve victory, remains a constant thought process as you play. This is amplified by the fact that there is no health system in the game, whatsoever. You get hit, you die. Misjudge a jump, dead. Didn’t see that enemy, gone. Ghostrunner creates so many opportunities for clutch gameplay moments that you leave your hands covered in sweat and the realisation that you’ve been holding your breath for the last few minutes.
Well that’s the gameplay, but what about the look and feel of Ghostrunner? If you’ve ever proclaimed to be a fan of the cyberpunk genre, whether that be visually or musically, then Ghostrunner is absolutely going to be your jam. With an original soundtrack created by Daniel Deluxe, the world not only looks but sounds amazing. It both helps to cement you within the fiction, as well as get you into the flow of gameplay. On the visual side of things, Ghostrunner is absolutely astonishing. It’s a shame that you’re often times too busy running fast through each area, with little time to stop and appreciate the level artistry on display. Combine the overall aesthetic with technologies such as Nvidia DLSS and ray-tracing, and you get a game that can not only run smooth at insanely high frame-rates, but also basks in its neon and rain soaked atmosphere.
The world and characters of Ghostrunner were a surprising highlight. On first impressions, nothing is really grabbing you as intended as your main focus is solely on learning the mechanics of the game. However, as you start to listen and pay attention to the characters speaking, sharing their stories and explaining the world around you, you start to get invested. You start to care for some of them. On the flip side, you also start to distrust people and question things. When at first you were happy just to be along for the ride, now you’re beginning to confront the truth.
This curiosity is made possible thanks to the phenomenal voice acting of the entire cast of characters you’ll meet in Ghostrunner. Everyone from the Architect, Mara, Zoe and the Ghostrunner himself all sound really cool and interesting. For the most part, you don’t really interact with characters face-to-face. In this way, the game shares elements of story delivery with the likes of Firewatch or Bioshock.
Ghostrunner is a short lived experience, but its length has no negative bearing on its quality. It’s an engaging romp throughout its entire playtime, and any longer could’ve dampened the overall experience by overstaying its welcome. The fast and satisfying gameplay, combined with the cyberpunk backdrop, combined with a compelling narrative through line makes for a gaming experience that leaves you both satisfied and immediately wanting more.
While you might be biding your time for the biggest cyberpunk game to drop next month to really sink your teeth into the genre, I highly recommend cyberpunk fans not skip out on this game. It’s fast, it’s beautiful and it’s so much fun to play. If you have the option to play on PC, I highly recommend you do so for the higher frame-rates and ease of control. But I’ve no doubt you’ll have an enjoyable experience on console as well.
- Great original soundtrack adds a whole other layer to the gameplay
- DLSS & ray-tracing support elevates an already gorgeous game whilst achieving smooth gameplay
- Compelling narrative thanks to appropriate story pacing and the rationing of critical information
- Smooth gameplay makes the core loop satisfying to play and master
- Superb voice acting that helped create compelling characters and uplift the narrative
- Experienced a few crashes, hopefully cleaned up upon final release
Ghostrunner is the end result of decades of genre defining pieces of art, culminated into a single and easily recognisable piece of cyberpunk fiction. Whilst that could sound a little reductive, I instead saw the game as a big celebration of cyberpunk storytelling. It is unapologetic about its origin, and chooses to dig deep into the fiction and celebrates what makes the cyberpunk genre so damn cool. Everything from the aesthetic, music, lore and world-building oozes cyberpunk and it’s all the better for it.
For the first-person parkour game fanatics out there, you now have an alternative to Mirror’s Edge to fully sink your teeth into. Ghostrunner firmly establishes and engrains the idea of repetition and experimentation. It is as much a strategy game as it is a parkour game, by way of introducing obstacle after obstacle that forces you to adopt new strategies and constantly keeping you on your toes. Standing idle will spell your untimely death. Combine this gameplay with heart thumping, genre appropriate music and you are more than likely to enter a flow state where both you and the Ghostrunner are one. While the overall experience was short-lived and left me wanting more, the developers ended up setting the perfect pace and delivered a truly great video game experience that is easy to learn and satisfying to master.