PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
October 26, 2023
One More Level
One year after the fall of the tyrannical Keymaster, a new chapter unfolds in the hardcore first-person slasher, Ghostrunner II. Developer One More Level offers an exhilarating cyberpunk experience, but not without a few sharp edges.
Neon dreams and razor-sharp reality
Ghostrunner II continues the narrative and takes our titular slashing ninja, Jack, beyond Dharma Tower into the wider cyberpunk world. Joining forces with the Interface Council, the Ghostrunner and allies have a new threat to address in the aftermath, complete with a hub base.
“What the game excels in is creating a captivating cyberpunk atmosphere…”
Ghostrunner II introduces a larger cast of characters. The new dialogue system dives deeper into the lore, just not much more than that. It’s an effective way to learn more about the universe but doesn’t evolve into anything more interesting than selecting an option and listening, such as branching choices or storylines. Apart from Bakunin and maybe one or two others, the voice acting is not bad besides the stiff-face animations. Adding more personas to the fray provides extra depth that the first game didn’t have.
Without playing the original game, newcomers might find themselves adrift, lacking the necessary context to fully appreciate the narrative. Some relationships and events are referred to that might not make much sense without prior knowledge, so make sure you touch up on your Ghostrunner lore or watch the recap video online before jumping in.
The game excels in creating a captivating cyberpunk atmosphere, complete with neon-lit landscapes, towering skyscrapers, and gritty urban settings. Each level is littered with world-building advertising you’ll wall-run across or collectible shards with voice memos and text intel. The impressive backdrop is ripe for the unfolding story, immersing you in a world of high-tech dystopia.
Shurikens and showdowns
Ghostrunner II builds upon the core gameplay elements that made the original a hit. It retains its hardcore first-person parkour slasher identity and presents several noteworthy additions and changes.
The franchise consistently thrives in granting mastery of agility. The game’s controls are responsive, affording you a clear sense of dominance over the cyber ninja. You have a versatile toolkit at your disposal, featuring a grappling hook for fluidly swinging through the environment, an electrically charged shuriken to stun enemies and unlock doors, and the Sensory Boost, a nifty ability that dilates time to precisely traverse through the air. The parkour remains as exciting as ever, propelling you through levels with finesse.
“The franchise consistently thrives in granting mastery of agility.”
Ensuring you don’t have entirely boundless freedom, there is a revised stamina system. Stamina governs the frequency of Sensory Boost dashes and the duration of your defensive maneuvers. The alterations to combat certainly empower but the stamina seriously restricts your ability to chain actions. It’s disappointing that dashing draws from the same stamina pool, hindering the overall speed and flow.
With the right timing and skill, you can deflect bullets and attacks with a simple button block or parry. Blocking is a fresh layer of strategy to combat encounters, especially considering the heightened intelligence of enemies that now respond to your actions. For example, large machine walkers radiate a harmful wave of energy depending on your movements. Each room presents an evolving tactical puzzle, thanks to these smarter combat innovations.
Adversely, allowing a parry encourages you to stop moving and watch enemies closely. Performing one also locks you into an execution animation which puts a hard stop to the signature momentum that defines Ghostrunner’s gameplay. While the satisfaction of blocking and deflecting bullets mid-motion is undeniable, encounters with rival runners who wield dual blades often demand a head-on parry, disrupting the game’s flow.
All these abilities can be upgraded via the revamped progression system, offering agency with new skills and creativity. Each skill has unique properties and is designed to confront specific challenges. This diversity allows tailoring how you play and focus on the strengths in the abilities to climb the leaderboards to speedrunning glory.
Puzzles in the Cybervoid
The depth of Ghostrunner II’s gameplay becomes evident when you delve into its level design. Each is a series of open arenas and linear movement challenges, whether that’s the best way to eliminate all enemies without getting hit once or jumping between rails and moving to the next to make it to the other side. They are thoughtfully designed and require a balance of quick reflexes and problem-solving skills. It’s these moments that turn this parkour game into not just a first-person action game but also a puzzle game.
“The depth of Ghostrunner II’s gameplay becomes evident when you delve into its level design.”
The Cybervoid restates how well puzzles are intertwined. In these zones, you can face various platforming challenges, like hunting down and smashing glowing orange lanterns or beating enemies and collecting their essence to open a gate. In the first game, these puzzles were required and sometimes slowed down the action too much. In the sequel, they are designed as extra challenges to earn rewards and are set within a visually stunning digital world.
Every combat scenario in Ghostrunner II feels like a puzzle. The difficulty lies in the fact that a single hit from a sword, bullet, shockwave, or other threats results in Jack’s death. Every action, be it an attack, movement, dash, or slow-motion in-air directional shift, becomes crucial. This death-and-retry cycle is a key element of Ghostrunner’s gameplay. Death is not a failure— it’s a learning opportunity. With each restart, you refine your approach, becoming a master. You experiment with different strategies, making the combat not just intense but stimulating.
New set of wheels
When developing this sequel, the team knew it needed to up the ante in several ways, both in combat and in its puzzle sequences. While it tackled this by evolving what’s already there, it added something brand new: a motorbike. These sequences try to add a new dimension to the gameplay with even higher speed changes of pace, although fail with clumsy controls.
“The execution is lacking yet the ambition is there…”
It’s a significant departure from the parkour-focused mobility that defined the original game and does fit perfectly into the cyberpunk world. They add an exciting dimension as you hurtle down futuristic highways, the thrill of speed and the need for quick thinking taking center stage.
However, the motorbike sequences control awkwardly which can make the element of urgency and time management frustrating. You must stay ahead of an in-world timer to survive, leading to moments of annoyance when the controls just don’t feel reactive enough. Jumps and boosts must be timed precisely to clear gaps. The bike will bounce and slide around with what feels like a marginal effect over its movement. It’s unfortunate because the idea is so fitting for the game.
The execution is lacking yet the ambition is there, and the sequences are action-packed, heart-pumping motorcycle moments—it just doesn’t feel that great.
A bumpy ride in the neon jungle
The synthwave soundtrack complements the game’s cyberpunk atmosphere. With notable artists like Daniel Deluxe, Arek Reikowski, Dan Terminus, Gost, and We Are Magonia on board, the music delivers the expected cyberpunk vibes. It drives the adventure through each level and boss encounter as you traverse the dystopian world.
“The game is not without its share of glitches… they do underscore the need for further polish.”
The game’s world and environments are striking. The lighting and shading create a mood with neon lights adding a vibrant touch. However, character faces could benefit from closer attention. During the dialogue, they can appear stiff, and facial expressions sometimes don’t quite match the context. A minor blemish on an otherwise visually appealing game.
Unfortunately, Ghostrunner II does suffer from performance issues, even with a decent graphics card. Stuttering and frame rate drops can occur during fast-paced action and movement, which is critical for maintaining smooth gameplay. No tinkering of settings resolved these performance hiccups, which is frustrating in a game that demands precise and rapid responses.
The game is not without its share of glitches, ranging from minor clipping through the world to enemies getting stuck. Admittedly, the occasional ragdoll physics glitches can be amusing, but they do underscore the need for further polish.
- Captivating cyberpunk atmosphere
- Challenging gameplay and versatile movement
- Combat encounters are intense and dynamic
- Driven narrative with likeable characters
- Cybervoid puzzles are good breakaways
- Motorbike sections are a letdown
- Changes to the flow of movement
- Dialogue options aren't very deep
- Performance issues and visual glitches
Ghostrunner II slices through a neon-soaked cyberpunk world, offering blistering parkour and ninja combat. It may stumble mid-combo with changes to gameplay causing disruption to movement flow, as well as performance issues and ambitious yet awkward motorbike sequences. Yet, it remains a fun, if imperfect, action-packed journey, great for speedrunning.