We are living in a bit of a cyberpunk-issance. The Rutger Hauer starring vehicle, Observer, CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk, and now the kinetic roller coaster ride that is 505 Games studios’ Ghostrunner. This one takes a very different approach to the cyberpunk subgenre and explores an explosive fast-paced parkour based gaming.
Ghostrunner is an first-person experience that is just as much an action parkour game as it is a puzzle game. It challenges you to dodge bullets, slice your enemies in twain, all while maintaining a careful enough vantage point on the battlefield to figure out how to get access to the next area.
Developers, One More Level and All In! Games’ Ghostrunner focuses on Jack, a Ghostrunner by profession who must traverse Dharma Tower, the last bastion of humanity following an apocalyptic event known as The Burst. Even though Ghostrunners are badasses by trade you are overpowered and all but destroyed by The Keymaster at the start of the game. You wake up barely alive, brought back to life by The Architect a powerful force in Dharma Tower. Ultimately, you are tasked by The Architect to go out and destroy The Keymaster.
Ghostrunner is built up of figuring out how to traverse certain arenas by wall running, jumping, grappling, and taking down The Keymaster’s gang by dodging bullets and striking.
Throughout Ghostrunner, you are able to upgrade your systems. This is done through an inventive Tetris inspired grid, where you place as many upgrades as you can fit in place. This allows you to execute enemies by slowing time and slashing through multiple enemies at once. Several times though the game, you receive these upgrades and they seem to be perfectly timed to reinvigorate gameplay to make everything fresh again.
Controls are a mixed bag. I reviewed the game on Xbox One X. So, naturally, I was playing with a controller. I’m sure that this is a little more well built playing on keyboard and mouse. The starch feeling of the controller doesn’t allow the game to fully bloom. But, it doesn’t totally kill the experience either.
Now, there are moments where I don’t think that keyboard or controller would have had a large impact on things either way. There are some parts in the game where controls take a back seat to bad level architecture. This is especially true in a level that has you seeking out items in a stage filled with rotating platforms. It gave me one of the most frustrating moments in the game, one where I didn’t feel that skill had anything to do with dying or making it out of the level alive.
The game is built on repetition, prepare to die a lot. But, there are also moments that you can get in sync with this game and play to its beat, and those moments are by far the high points. Plus, dying isn’t too much of a hindrance thanks to forgiving load times and checkpoints.
The soundtrack drives this game. The electronic synth beats are a perfect match for your cold steel slicing through your many enemies combined with all that kinetic ninja work that you do. The electronic score fits well in a game that itself is inspired by the whole cyberpunk movement of the 1980’s that exuded this sort of electronic synth menagerie. But, it one hundred percent makes you want to not only play as the Ghostrunner but to be the Ghostrunner.
The abilities in this game never make you feel overpowered. Once you gain enough ability to take on enemies too easily you can always count on Ghostrunner upping the level difficulty on a new set of enemies. Some with automatic machine guns or some with forward facing shields that make use of your powers to figure out a way to quickly move behind them to lay a dispatch.
The world and color scheme of Ghostrunner is beautifully designed. Lighting and the cyberpunk beauty is front and center and looks just as good as the films of the 80s that inspired it. Not to mention the level design is constantly coming up with new ways to challenge you to traverse it in a number of approaches that are almost entirely up to your choosing.
Ghostrunner makes you feel like a ninja. A bad ass cybernetic ninja. That’s why you wanted to play Ghostrunner and that’s what it delievers on. It’s fast-paced rewarding and sears with kinetic action. Death never becomes too much of an issue thanks to smart checkpoints and almost zero load times after death. The 8 hour campaign is a blast even if you run into a bit of unrewarding frustration in some of its makeup. Ghostrunner delivers on exactly what you want, and makes it entirely okay to bring a sword to a gunfight.
Ghostrunner is out now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC and is priced at $29.99.