- Released: 2020
- Played on: PC
- Also available on: Xbox One, PS4, Switch
- Time to get into: 10 Minutes
- Time to complete: 18 Hours
- Multiplayer: No
Ghostrunner is tale of a lone fighter in a dystopian future but whilst that world is well designed, this game is not really about that. In a triumph of function over form, Ghostrunner is all about the gameplay. Whether it’s wallrunning, slowing time to dodge gunfire or a well timed parry, the mechanics here are all smooth and satisfying. Whilst it’s a bit too reminiscent of other games and sometimes feels rather cold and lonely, those complaints aren’t enough to stop Ghostrunner from being one of the most interesting and challenging games I’ve played in recent months.
What’s good about it?
- The world of Ghostrunner is very well realised. It’s set in Dharma Tower, a skyscraper housing the last of humanity. As you travel up and through the tower, the cyberpunk-style environments are very well designed. For example there are piles of rubbish underneath giant high-tech advertising boards – the feel of of the place serves the narrative very well.
- Ghostrunner is all about function over form. From the platforming aspects, like wallrunning and dashing, to the combat, whether slicing through enemies or shooting projectiles, everything is extremely well honed. The developer, One More Level, has focused on giving you the tools to move through Dharma Tower as quickly and efficiently as possible. The results are pretty spectacular – when you nail a long a long section of almost impossible platforming or clear a room filled with enemies without missing a beat it’s just an absolute joy to be the Ghostrunner.
- That said, your moves as the Ghostrunner are very stylish! Whilst the game is in first person, putting together one of those combos of moves you feel like you are zipping about as if in an action movie. The game makes you feel like a super hero, even though you don’t have many powers outside of the ability to move very fast.
- All the different ways of getting around combine really nicely. On top of the aforementioned wallrunning and dashing you can slide and there are plenty of things in the environment to use like hooks and even handing on some robotic enemies to get you over gaps. These are introduced into the game in a well-paced manner as well, so it’s never confusing – you just have a growing arsenal of moves at your disposal.
- The game is pretty difficult and times and some of the things you are asked to do are audacious. It reminded me a lot of a similarly difficult platformer Celeste, in that there are times when I had tried and tried to beat some incredible platforming challenge or breathless boss encounter and I wanted to give up. I didn’t have any idea how I was going to do it. But after keeping on and keeping on eventually you do and it feels amazing. In some games after just sections you jut feel relieved but in Ghostrunner you feel elated.
What’s bad about it?
- Dharma Tower is barely populated, which seems odd as you play through the game. It’s not totally outside of what you’d expect based on the story but the only other characters you see outside of the few cutscenes are all enemies. I guess this plays into the function-over-form thing I mentioned above, but understanding why it’s like this doesn’t fully make up for it being a little dry and uninspiring. Even the other characters on your side are only ever in your head, never on screen.
- Ghostrunner is one-shot-kill but it’s also one-shot-death, which can be frustrating at times. Mostly I like it – it plays into the need to hook together big combos of moves and strikes to survive. But every once in a while there’s a section where you have to play really well to defeat multiple big enemies and then one small dude with a tiny gun gets a lucky shot and you have to start over.
- Even more frustrating is that there is no saving in mid-level. Some of the levels take over an hour to complete and the main result is just that it took me forever to complete the game. I had to know I had a good chunk of time to dedicate to it if I wanted to play – apologies for having a life outside of video games! It could be argued that this just adds to the challenge but checkpoints within levels are pretty generous, so I just think it’s a flaw. Maybe try on next-gen consoles that should save where you are even if you put them into standby?
- I was interested to play Ghostrunner because I absolutely adore the first Mirror’s Edge. Unfortunately, here the parkour stuff is, somewhat counterintuitively, too easy! The Ghostrunner himself is too good, as it were, to have the same feeling of achievement from getting around as you did in that game. Speedrunning through assault courses in Mirror’s Edge was a challenge enough in itself but here the challenge comes from the threat of death from enemies.
- I mentioned Celeste earlier but one place where Ghostrunner falls far short of that game is that the story is not enough of a reward for the hard work. Celeste is a perfect example of gameplay and story blending into an experience. In Ghostrunner, the story is bordering on pointless. It’s just a box in which to hold the gameplay.
- That said, the one place the story really did affect the game, and for the worse, was the end. The last 3 sections of Ghostrunner are: 1, an easy final boss fight, which was disappointing after the level of challenge in previous levels. 2, the hardest platforming sections of the whole game, in which I had no less than 461 deaths before I completed it. 3, a final cut scene, vital to what story there is, where you the player have no engagement or autonomy, you just watch and the game is done. It must be said that, 461 deaths aside, the final platforming sections are amazing but overall the ending is a real let down.
Ghostrunner is a game that it both hard to love but also hard not to like. The gameplay is first class but it has a bit of a lack of heart that holds it back from really top-level status. That said, I would have to recommend it to gamers – those moments when you string together a long section of platforming or finally defeat a set of enemies that had seemed impregnable only minutes before are very rewarding. Just don’t start Ghostrunner unless you are expecting a decent challenge.