A freerunner’s fever dream…
In a cadence of free-flowing, responsive fluidity, movement in Ghostrunner strikes a resounding semblance of elegance and satisfaction. With an illustrious cyberpunk setting that is bombastically rich with atmosphere and some of the most electrifying and addictive music to grace the gaming hemisphere, Ghostrunner is as blissful to the senses as it is with its gameplay. Its precise freerunning and responsive parkour systems are seamless yet intricate in design, lending an organic foundation of authenticity to Ghostrunner’s established sense of impeccable feel and flow. Combat scenarios are heightened into engaging puzzle-like sequences, requiring intricate placement and strategic execution to efficiently complete. Its impeccably engaging freerunning sequences rival the immaculate precision and masterful design of the bombastic escape/chase segments from Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Its pristine sense of fluidity and movement feel like a natural evolution of the foundation established by Mirror’s Edge, feeling far more organic and responsive compared to any other notable attempt on the market. Despite my glorious praise for many of its illustrious facets, Ghostrunner stumbles in certain elements that notably disrupt its exhilarating sense of flow that it meticulously strived to achieve. From legitimate puzzle sequences that disrupt the pacing so egregiously to its uninspiringly poor design of boss encounters, there is undeniable room for improvement with Ghostrunner. While it strays away from the greatness it easily could have achieved, Ghostrunner is still one of the most fluid and engaging gameplay experiences of the year. I cannot stress enough how good and satisfying movement feels in Ghostrunner, and when combined and layered with its other intricate gameplay elements, the moment-to-moment experience is arguably unrivaled. It is unfortunate that its notable counterparts did not receive the same polished treatment, but Ghostrunner is still an undeniably engaging and enjoyable treat.
Undeniably its weakest component, Ghostrunner’s narrative is one of the most banal and run of the mill stories I have ever experienced. It is not difficult to understand or overtly complicated, it is simply unremarkable in every aspect. An attempt at world building is established but a notable failure to evoke any semblance of empathy or dramatic tension render its efforts to laughable apathy at best. Its narrative serves as a means to propel gameplay forward, if you interpret its poor writing as anything more, then be prepared for uninspiring predictability with little to no pay off. The most exhilarating and compelling segment of its narrative is the opening cinematic. As the Ghostrunner, a technologically enhanced super-soldier that acts as a peacekeeper, you are tasked with ascending the Dharma Tower, an elaborate skyscraper that houses the remains of humanity. With the aid of Dharma Tower’s creator’s artificial intelligence, your ultimate goal is to reach the top and eliminate the Keymaster, an archetypal villain. Character performances are equally monotonous and uninspired as the banal writing that accompanies it, with motivations reaching paper thin levels of depth and complexity. Ghostrunner’s established affairs and fundamental justification for ascending the Dharma Tower is ancillary and ultimately matters very little. Aside from its laughably archaic narrative, Ghostrunner’s other presentation elements are remarkably strong, boasting an entrancing neon setting and an exceptionally infectious soundtrack. Ghostrunner is an exceptionally detailed, graphical feat; its neon vistas and illustrious lighting are profoundly stunning. Its graphical fidelity strikes a harmonious equilibrium with its technical performance, with the PC version being an immaculate display of technical prowess. With an Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-q and an Intel i7-8750H processor, I was able to maintain a stable 100+ fps on its highest settings and 1080p resolution. Ghostrunner’s electrifying EDM soundtrack is incredibly addictive, evoking an intricate atmosphere of empowerment and adrenaline-inducing confidence. In a similar display of the thematic association tied to Doom’s metal heavy sound, Ghostrunner’s bombastic beats synergize with its freeflowing movement and engrossing aesthetic. Ghostrunner’s invigorative and thunderous soundtrack absolutely slaps.
While Ghostrunner’s notable narrative limitations ultimately diminish its established sense of quality and preservation, its moment-to-moment gameplay also makes up for the disputed shortcomings. As a first-person freerunner, accomplishing a precise level of movement and control is absolutely imperative; controlling the Ghostrunner is exceptionally responsive and the technical performance further lends to this sense of smoothness and fluidity. As the Ghostrunner, the established flow of motion is appropriately tactile and responsive. Jumping towards a wall will seamlessly initiate its wall-running mechanic, which is just as satisfying as the exquisite examples of Mirror’s Edge or Titanfall 2. Ghostrunner manages to intricately place platforms, walls, rails, and grappling points in such a deliberate and satisfying manner, which result in a remarkably cinematic execution that add an illustrious layer of unpredictability to their scripted nature. From elaborate grappling points that viscerally propel you forward in cinematic fashion to swiftly leaping from one to wall to another – with no platform beneath you to break your fall – each platforming segment is layered with a plethora of brilliant intricacies that are impeccably placed and constructed. Each gameplay interaction is deliberate and serves a structured purpose, harmonizing beautifully with Ghostrunner’s impeccable visual and auditory counterparts, which creates such an entrancing and transformative experience for the senses. Combat is brilliantly developed in a matter of simplicity. Contact with any type of hazard or weapon will result in immediate demise, for all parties involved. With the simple slash of your katana, you can eliminate all enemies (aside from bosses) in a single hit. However, in an act of balance and fairness, you too will die from a single hit. From the patterned barrage of SMG bullets to the shockwave created by a brute-type enemy, you will be presented with a litany of dangerous enemies and hazards that will prematurely end your journey. The Sensory Boost is an essential ability that allows you to momentarily slow down time and dodge and/or deflect incoming enemy attacks. Wall-running towards an enemy while realigning my dash trajectory with the Sensory Boost, to maneuver around the bullet or obstacle in slow motion and eliminate said enemy with a single dash-strike, all within seamless motion, is such an euphoric and adrenaline inducing sensation that is ineffably satisfying. Utilizing the sensory boost during parkour heavy segments, while dodging incoming environmental hazards is equally as gratifying and instills the same euphoric rush, given their scripted and cinematic structure. Ghostrunner’s enemies are also intricately designed and physically placed – thus creating a rewarding sense of accomplishment when clearing out an entire group of enemies, a similar sensation to solving an articulate puzzle. These contained combat areas encourage constant motion and can be tackled in a number of branching paths, crafting a minute sense of player freedom and flexibility. Enemies also consistently evolve, keeping you on the edge and engaged throughout the entire climb upward, removing any sense of comfortability and banality. From shielded enemies that can only be defeated from behind to mechanized robots that shoot large horizontal beams that prove difficult to outmaneuver, enemy types are continuously evolving requiring the player to consistently adapt. Given the emphasis on adapting and unpredictability, encounters will inevitably feel like trial and error, and you will undoubtedly die a lot. However, with a remarkably designed checkpoint system and absurdly short load times (between deaths), what might seem to be a frustrating factor is alleviated by implementations of convenience and further accentuates its established satisfaction upon overcoming these obstacles. Ghostrunner’s moment-to-moment gameplay is exceptionally gratifying and remarkably fluid, and its constant display of adaptation instills an organic and novel stature that evokes a compelling sense of unpredictability and simply never overstays its welcome.
Its centralized gameplay elements are pristinely polished to an impeccable sheen, while its surrounding mechanics and facets exude a minor dip in quality when compared. Ghostrunner’s ability and upgrade system, while competent and engaging, feel relatively extraneous to its centralized gameplay. The Blink ability allows you to slow down time and line up a distant enemy in your sights, instantly appearing in front of them and performing your attack. Overlord allows you to hack into the brains of your enemies, turning them against their allies. While these abilities are extremely satisfying to use and result in some flashy animation, their optional nature is conspicuously apparent as you can easily complete any encounter without using energy abilities. The upgrade system also heavily incorporates and emphasizes these abilities, providing minute enhancements to each respective ability. However, given their notable lack of importance and reliability, the player’s desire to upgrade these abilities is diminutive as they are not necessary or intrinsic to successful execution. Slotting upgrade pieces into your respective grid-based system is a fun tetris-like mini game in itself and while Ghostrunner’s affiliated abilities and upgrades system is not inherently bad, it ultimately feels very underutilized and overshadowed. Other upgrades focus on collectible discovery and exploration, which also feels removed from Ghostrunner’s established element of movement. You are propelled forward on a constant basis and are fully encouraged to consistently move, exuding a seamless sense of mobility and fluidity, leaving little room for exploration. The moment you stop to explore the environment for materialistic collectibles that serve absolutely no gameplay value, Ghostrunner’s established luster begins to fade away. In a further testament to the hinderance of its constructed sense of flow, Ghostrunner’s Cybervoid segments egregiously diminish its hard-earned pacing and disrupt any semblance of fluidity. These puzzle segments are not inherently poor in design but contradict Ghostrunner’s thematic notion of consistent motion and perpetual freerunning. These elaborately designed sections require a notion of critical thinking that would not have been expected or indicated to the player prior to the engagement. With critical thinking comes a moment of pause that simply disrupts the foundation of this engaging experience. Additionally, these segments are filled with poorly executed, narrative exposition dumps that bear such formulaic weight and deliberation. Boss fights thematically fit into Ghostrunner’s meticulous design, incorporating the many elements and obstacles that helped establish such an engaging, freerunning experience. Despite the engaging traversal and parkour that accompany the battle, the moment-to-moment fight is rudimentary. An example of a good boss fight found in Ghostrunner would be the inaugural encounter, which is fully based on traversal and freerunning. Utilizing every parkour ability in your arsenal to avoid the barrage of environment hazards – it is an exceptionally exhilarating encounter that is excruciatingly difficult and rewarding to execute in a single attempt. The final boss fight, on the other hand, is notably slower in pace and requires you to study the monotonous attack patterns of the enemy. Its uneventful, boasts lazy design and implementation, and what should be an epic climactic moment is rendered to what feels like uninspired filler content.
Despite my numerous complaints, Ghostrunner is ultimately a great game and an exhilarating gameplay experience. Its synergized implementation and referenced harmonization result in combat encounters feeling like intricately designed puzzle sequences which are remarkably executed, evoking a radiating sense of gratification upon a triumphant success. On top of the graceful satisfaction of its combat centric problem solving, Ghostrunner’s sense of precision and control is impeccably orchestrated and its level of mobility and fluidity ranks astronomically high in the realm of illustrious first-person titles. Its disruptive mission design and underwhelming boss encounters leave much to be desired, and with its derivative narrative, its layered problems begin to seep into the established aura of excitement and euphoria. While its undeveloped and overshadowed ability systems – along with their subsequent upgrades – embody an extraneous impression that never fully justifies their existence, Ghostrunner’s exceptional parkour systems and twitch-based platforming still manage to radiantly shine amongst the occasional blemishes. Ghostrunner is admittedly on the shorter side in terms of length, with my playtime hovering slightly above 6 hours upon completion. This can be perceived as a positive or negative fact given your level of expectation given its $30 price tag and your current backlog of video game titles. With one of the most entrancing video game soundtracks of all-time and illustrious displays of graphical fidelity, Ghostrunner is a blissful masterclass for the auditory and visual senses. With the recent delay of Cyberpunk 2077, Ghostrunner’s lavish atmosphere and gorgeous neon setting will undoubtedly scratch that vacant itch. Ghostunner is a remarkable iteration of impeccably designed mobility and intuitive control, crafting a compelling freerunner that occasionally stumbles, but ultimately excels upon finding its footing.