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Ghostrunner - Review


The aesthetic of cyberpunk is quite fascinating. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the themes that can be explored are more vast than you think. Offering critiques of where mankind may or may not end up going in the future. Deus Ex, despite being perfect, does a wonderful job utilizing the aesthetic of cyberpunk to showcase how the aim to advance had gone too far. Showcasing a universe where corporations had heavy influence over the populace, the military and law have an iron fist literally at their disposal, and asking whether you were still human or machine if enough of your human body was changed. Then you have a film like Ghost In A Shell, the original that is. A film that asks the question of what makes us human and challenges your beliefs of whether machines can be human or not as the plot further escalates. I know sometime last year I ripped & tore deep into Cyberpunk 2077 explaining why the game was so okay, but I mean it when I say cyberpunk is cool and I love what creators have done.


One game that has been sitting on my to-play list is one of these cyberpunk games. A title that’s been heavily recommended to me because it blends a bunch of ideas I like. That game of course being Ghostrunner, a first action action game developed by independent studio One More Level. The game was a partnership between them and 3D Realms, the ones who made Duke Nukem 3D, and it would demonstrate the power of next gen tech, specifically Nvidia’s RTX technology. It had a shiny heavily detailed world to venture through. It felt like you were in a cyberpunk and it tugged at the heart strings of cyberpunk fans. Not in an emotional way mind you, but in a way where they finally got to be in the world they dreamt of. I was excited to check Ghostrunner out, because everyone who's covered this game has compared something it did to a game I love. The movement is heavily reminiscent of Titanfall 2 and you’re challenged to speed through levels as quickly as possible like in Mirror’s Edge. You get crazy superpowers like Dishonored and you feel like an absolute badass as you cut through foes like in the newer Doom titles. There was one description that absolutely sold me on this game though. “It’s first-person Katana Zero.” A game I heavily respect and am still waiting for the expansion to come out. Please play Katana Zero.


Anyways, the idea of a first-person Katana Zero got me interested so I kept Ghostruner written on my radar. The sequel came out last year which I didn’t even notice, and the sequel’s success is what finally got me to play Ghostrunner. I was stoked to finally play Ghostrunner, and after six or so hours I can safely say that this game….. is alright. This is the part of the review where I tell you that Ghostrunner isn’t bad and that my opinion is entirely subjective. Ghostrunner is a good game overall and I understand why people loved it enough for it to get a sequel. It’s innovative and does something no one else has tried, but this is one of few times where innovation is not enough for me to get past its flaws. There’s a lot of frustrating bits to Ghostrunner and when I look at the aspects that annoyed me the most I can trace it back to where it took the idea from. Ideas that it’s influences handled better, and I think there’s a reason why no one has made a game like Ghostrunner in the past or dares to try to. Ghostrunner is a good game, great even, I wish I could have fallen in love with like other players and today we’ll be talking about why I think it’s just an alright game.


Story


The game takes place in the far-off future. A catastrophic event had left the world we once roamed in ruins and what is left of mankind banned together. Using all of the resources they had left they constructed a colossal tower. A tower that could house what remained of humanity and protect them from the harsh outside world. The creators and rulers of this tower kept everyone under strict control, and anyone who dared try to oppose them or exit the tower were punished. It was like the world had ended a second time. The high members of society ruled with an iron fist and there was no hope of being found within the dark neon lit halls of the tower. However, there are still signs of hope. A small resistance had begun to stand up against the law, and one of the members of this resistance managed to find something special amongst the scrap they found. What looks like a human being, but is actually a skilled warrior from what feels like eons ago. This person is a Ghostrunner, a being trained to fight like a shinobi.


The Ghostrunner is repaired and given the name Jack. An objective is given to him when once he awakens and that is to free the Architect. So, he sets out with a blade in hand to find this being. He locates him, frees him, and learns of what is going on. The Architect was a man who helped Zara, the ruler of the tower, create the placer and the armed forces who protect it. Zara had gone mad and the Architect backed up his memory in case he were to die, but still needed to bring his colleague down. He and Zara from what I assume, were also responsible for the creation of the Ghostrunners, and you are the last of your kind. You need to stop Zara at all costs and the only way to do so is to ascend up the tower to the place where she resides. Simple story, but along the way you’ll get calls from resistance member Zoe. The one who found you and even helped repair you back to form. This is where you’re tested to see who you side with. 


Gameplay


The game has you speeding linearly designed stages, fighting enemies, getting killed, and doing it over and over again until you get a scenario right and move onto the next encounter. This game follows the one hit kill philosophy titles like Hotline Miami, Superhot, and Katana Zero have. A rule where everything dies in one hit, but to balance it out you too can die at one hit. This creates two feelings. One of a sense of playing carefully and another of trying to rush as quickly as you can so you don’t die easily. It can be frustrating at times and we’ll talk more about this later, but overtime you’ll get used to the process of constant trial and error. You’ll reach a point where you begin to realize that you literally have to remember the layouts of rooms and the enemies that are in them. What do these enemies do, how are they placed together, and how do you deal with all of them so you can proceed to the next group or room? This design philosophy is what carries you from beginning to end. The Ghostrunner is outfitted with a blade meaning your only way of attacking is through slicing enemies up close. You do get a projectile attack later, but your main method of dealing with foes is just slicing them. You can also parry the attacks of simple gunners if you deflect the bullet at the right time. This move is very precise, but can be quite useful.


One major move you have is the dash. Allowing you to quickly avoid attacks and get across gaps you normally couldn’t jump over simply.You can even use the dash in midair, but there’s a nice little twist to it. Time slows down when you use the dash in midair letting you sway around the projectiles being shot at you and close the distance on foes. This can make combat encounters a bit easier if you know how to utilize it. Last tool you have at your disposal is the grappling hook so you zip across long distances. Perfect for the many platforming challenges in the game where you wall run, jump long distances, slide under grinders, and much more. As you progress you will unlock new powers and perks for you to use. There are four powers in the game and they include blinking to a nearby target so you close in for the kill. A burst of wind to kill a small area of foes, hacking an enemy to attack other enemies, and a ranged attack. The only way to use your powers is to have a gauge full. This gauge fills up whenever you kill a foe or the more you run. So use powers wisely when you are in a sticky situation. Perks on the other hand work in a very interesting manner. Having you line them up sorta like Tetris till they all fit. You’ll have to think wisely on where to put these pieces if you want to use the perks you specifically want.


Besides that, there’s not much else for me to talk about. The game does one to two things for its entire runtime and does it decently well. A core gameplay loop that doesn’t get stale till the end, and I respect games that maintain consistent gameplay loops. Hopefully you can ascend up the tower, defeat Zara, and bring order back.


Thoughts


Ghostrunner sounded really fun on paper. One hit kill game where you run through the world, slice through enemies, master each encounter, and feel like a badass. It had so many things I love that it should’ve been a slam dunk. Sadly it wasn’t. Again, I’m gonna mention that all of what I am about to say is opinionated and not everything I say will be right. As much as I appreciate what this game set out to do, the amount of annoyances piled up so much that I came out thinking this was an okay experience. I think a lot of players will love Ghostrunner, and the people who won’t are gonna fall into the same camp I did. Let’s talk about combat as it’s the main selling point for a lot of players. It feels good, is satisfying to overcome, and there’s nice feedback.I played this on a Playstation 5 and the meaty punch I felt as I sliced through an enemy up close felt good. There’s enough enemy types so that combat doesn’t get stale, but I wouldn’t say every combat encounter is fairly designed. Some encounters have it so you tackle it in one specific way, and trying to experiment will most likely get you killed. I also don’t like how big some of these combat rooms are as it makes keeping track of enemies harder as you try to find out where they are. There is radar that allows you to see where they are positioned, but this radar is small and on the top right corner of the screen. Meaning half the time you’ll be paying attention to what is in front of you and trying to kill you instead of the radar designed to help.


That’s actually my main problem with Ghostrunner in general and my main defense as to why no one has tried to make a first person one hit kill game before. The game requires a lot of sensual awareness from the player, and keeping track of enemies is difficult due to how dark and drab the environments are. Now the world is pretty and has fantastic art direction. It is a treat to gaze off into the distance and wonder how vast the tower you are climbing actually is. However, it is not fun when you get killed by something you couldn’t see or turn around fast enough to see. I also think this visual clarity makes some of the platforming challenges hard. Sometimes the game does a really good job at guiding the player. Whether that be the usage of neon signs or yellow wiring signaling the player what they should be interacting with as they move forward. Then there are moments where I couldn’t have possibly known because it was a dark metal wall I was supposed to jump onto as I zoom by. That could just be me sucking, but I wish there was a better way to spot this out. The game has collision issues when it comes to movement. It feels great to hop around and wall ride, but sometimes I latch onto a surface I didn’t even want to wall run on. Leading to moments where I wall run off a corner to my death, or end up panicking as I change up my position and way as to how to approach the frenetic combat encounter. 


This game gets frustrating to the point I went into the options menu and activated a feature that allows me to take two hits instead of one. This is when I began to realize the game was actually more fun to play, because I didn’t get killed so quickly due to weirdly set up bullsh*t. This game made me further realize why I got into Katana Zero but not Ghostrunner. The game was not only 2D allowing me to see what was ahead and what direction an enemy was attacking from, but the visual clarity was better. It was easy to tell where enemies were, and if something were to cover the screen and make it harder to see these enemies would be outlined. There’s a moment in this game where you have to fight a boss who is parry focused. The screen flashes an error message if you parry incorrectly, and this got nauseating after a bit and made it harder to deflect. The game throws so many flashing colors and bright lights at you that it makes it harder to play. I am impressed with how they used the tech at their disposal, but this is one of few occasions where the game was too pretty to look at. The story is an absolute mess and it’s not because of the way it was written, but because of how this story is communicated to the player. A way where the player doesn't care.


I like how Ghostrunner maintains its fluid gameplay and playercontrol, but I don’t like how it tells its story by talking to the player during gameplay. Now there are plenty of games that take this approach like BioShock and God of War, but it works in those games because the player is paying attention and isn’t distracted by something chaotic going on. Well I can already see you arguing God of War doing it, but Ghostrunner is worse because it talks to you during chaotic platforming sections or combat encounters. This story isn’t even that hard to comprehend. Big bad rules the tower so you have to kill the big bag. There’s a resistance and something weird with the person who guides you. Simple enough, but near the end I stopped caring and didn’t fully know what was going on because Ghostrunner didn’t communicate this with me very well. That and it’s just a very forgettable story in general. A story that doesn’t take any risks and has to pay the price of being pretty simplistic. I like simplistic stories, but there are other games that handle simplistic stories much better than this. Final complaint is that the powers feel a bit under utilized. Like your use of them will depend on you the player finding scenarios to use them, but there weren’t a lot of scenarios that forced me to use them which made me ask why they’re here.


Now with everything I said it sounds like this is a pretty bad game right? No, I don’t think this game is terrible. I’m just stating why I didn’t fall in love with it and why it left an alright impression with me by the end. I think overall this is a good game overall and that it was confident enough to do what it did. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and I think there’s a lot more stories to be told within this universe. That’s how it ended up with a sequel which I’m happy the developers managed to get. However, I don’t think I want to check out the sequel seeing how this game was alright and why would I play the sequel to a game I did not fully enjoy. The game is fine and that’s okay with me. In the end I am going to give Ghostrunner a 7.5/10 for being okay.



This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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