We take a look at 505 Games/One More Level’s cyberpunk themed first person action game Ghostrunner on PC and determine whether this is worthy of your time. Take a look at our Ghostrunner review for the full-picture.
Today we’re taking a look at One More Level’s cyberpunk themed first person action-cum-platformer game Ghostrunner. You play as a cyber enhanced ninja type character on a mission to topple the ruthless key master Mara, who rules the futuristic Dharma Tower with little regard for human life. The story is perhaps secondary here because whilst Mara has little regard for human life, the gameplay has little regard for human life either.
What begins as a fairly tame introduction for a few minutes, Ghostrunner wears its deeper intentions firmly on its sleeve pretty much from the get-go. Your character , can run, jump, dash, slide and slice-up any opposing goons with a one-hit strike. Sounds amazing right? Well, yes but the same applies to the enemy, who with pinpoint accuracy and cat-like reaction times can put an end to your endeavours with one hit. At least the game offers equality in this regard, despite being outnumbered during most skirmishes. The key to success then, is to continually move around the battle areas and take your chances at evading enemy gunfire with a handy dash move which effectively side-steps the on-coming projectiles. You can slow this down as well and move from side-to-side to get the drop. It mostly works but as you progress further up the tower, the odds stack firmly against you.
The game suggests more than one way to clear an area of goons before you can move-on. This is correct, but gives rise to a trial-and-error gameplay loop. It’s not good, or rewarding because in most cases you’re expected to die, again and again until you figure it out or get lucky. The game prides itself on punishing the player, which is fair enough, it’s certainly not the first game to do so, but when dodgy mechanics get the better of you, it begins to grate. Sadly, it never really feels like you’re skilled enough (on a first try at least) to slash through each encounter unscathed. It seems the level design is such that this is practically impossible.
As you begin to learn the game mechanics, new elements or enemy types appear to spice things up and keep you on your toes. You’ll learn new skills and have the option to add modifiers to your character’s abilities in the form of adding shapes to a grid. As you progress through the story additional slots open-up. The gameplay though in general is frustrating and rewarding at the same time. It’s clear One More Level, want players to feel elated when they finally clear a room after the 50th death, that’s fine, but for some players this approach is going to be a massive turn-off. The game doesn’t offer any alternative modes of play here, or options to tweak the difficulty. What’s probably the most annoying is the speed at which enemies lock-on and fire at you. Especially those you can’t see directly, which feels a bit cheap. That said, if you’re not bothered by dying so many times until you get it right, the combat does feel pretty intense and satisfying. Certainly the best part of the experience.
Unfortunately, rather than let the ninja-like skills rest within combat parameters, someone thought to include platforming type moments and puzzles to link each encounter. It really feels at times, the inclusion here is to elongate the play-time. Ghostrunner offers a great combat game using ninja skills, and despite dying 100s of times the idea is sound. The platforming and puzzles though, simply get in the way, with the former also falling foul to dodgy mechanics resulting in unfair, or cheap deaths. During combat, the checkpoints are very forgiving, putting players right back into the action within a blink-of-an-eye. That’s pretty good. Platforming sections are less forgiving and really hamper the flow of the gameplay. Players also face-off against a couple of bosses which the game offers no hints as to how to defeat them. Again, expect to die often as you figure things out.
Visually, Ghostrunner looks great with a neat selection of floors for its jumbled tower block. Whilst most of it doesn’t make literal sense, for the art of wall-running, jumping and such-like, it’s a colourful yet bleak playground. The game runs relatively smooth, has numerous options to tinker with and boasts some Ray-Tracing and DLSS features which is good to have (not that you have time to marvel at these due to the game’s speedy nature). The cyberpunk aesthetic ramps-up nicely around half-way through the story, offering some great visual moments with animated billboards and giant posters littering the block. Audio is worth noting as the sci-fi soundtrack is pretty impressive and fitting of the action. The voices overs are reasonable as well, with the select number of characters you interact with.
In terms of the game’s length, this obviously depends on skill, persistence and patience. There are some 16 levels with some taking almost an hour to complete if you continually die. Expect an 8 hour game here for most players though, dropping that down to half or less for those who master each level. Gamers can replay levels, hunt for collectibles and discover more lore or sword skins. The game offers rankings so you can compare how many times you died, and how quick you were completing each stage which is a nice touch.
Ghostrunner is an acquired taste game with a neat premise and a mixed execution. On one-hand, the combat, whilst frustrating at times is the best part of the experience. It feels great when you can clear a room of enemies using all the skills and deft moves at your disposal. However, when things don’t work when they should, or the level design feels like it’s deliberately fighting against you because you didn’t line up your jump angle properly, or use a specific move when required, it begins to grate and blood boils over, and that’s before the numerous cheap deaths. Prepare for plenty gamer rage moments to the point of contempt! The story is perhaps somewhat forgettable, and the puzzle/platforming sections mar the pacing. If this was just a combat game it would have fared better. Ghostrunner then, will be a polarising game, which unfortunately One More Level, lean strongly on the side of, it’s tough-as-nails, and if you don’t like it then play something else mentality. A shame, because a little tweaking, some alternative play options, would have made it a more enjoyable experience all-round.
Score 6.5/10 – review code supplied by the publisher.