The first Ghostrunner appeared sort of on the wave of popularit of Cyberpunk 2077 and was indeed even made by some of the same people, who had worked for CD Projekt RED, but apparently wanted more melee action and set up their own studio. It was a critically-acclaimed title that’s rated 9 on Steam and 8.1 on Metacritic – not bad for a triple-I game!
- Breakneck speed
- Sweet, balanced and polished combat
- Great, intense music
- Minor ideas giving it a new direction
- Overall not a huge improvement on the original
A few years went on and today, we’ve completed Ghostrunner 2, a sequel that faces a difficult task of living up to the heritage and improving on an already fantastic formula of the prequel. So, how does it fare?
Improving on greatness
I was a huge fan of the original Ghostrunner when it launched. It offered intense, insane, high-octane fun that I’d long been missing in games. In terms of design and general gameplay concept, it reminded me of shooters like Doom or Quake, while making us a completely melee-based cyber warrior with access to some special abilities. I was in awe with the game’s hectic pace and unforgiving mechanics, where every enemy except bosses can be killed with one hit – but it goes the other way round, so the margin of error is very slim.
The sequel doesn’t reinvent the formula. It’s a very derivative concept that works in exactly the same way as the original, redesigning some of the mechanics and broadening the scope. We return as Jack, the cyberwarrior, whose fate we’ve followed in Ghostrunner, now involved in another mission to save the people of Dharma Tower, the only habitable place in a post-apocalyptic word. Even though we already have saved it in the previous game, the villains want to undo our efforts and bring back the power they seized.
One of the big novelties of Ghostrunner 2 consists in the fact that the game became a little richer in content. After the initial exposition to the story, we land in a hub, in which we’re able to modify our skills and – that’s right – talk to a few NPCs available there. This is a very nice improvement on the original, which was purely combat and exploration based and it works well in favor of a better, more coherent experience, in which we not only fight, but also talk to people and prepare for missions.
This itself is great, but the problem is that, much like in the original, both the dialogs and the story don’t make you feel much in the end. Some events unfold, some people die along the way, but it can be hard to really get involved with it all. It’s all based more on words than events, and so our actions still boil down to clearing subsequent levels of enemies, hacking terminals and gaining access to new areas, while the dramatic events are almost invariably only given to us through the radio, so all of the story elements seem pretext at best – and redundant at worst. That’s kinda sad, because the game tries to tackle a serious theme, namely the enslavement of population by powerful corporations, but the plot isn’t fleshed out enough to make us care.
My name’s Jack, let me dismember the bad guys
That said, rest assured that once you seize control of Jack’s cybernetic body, the game will feel just as exciting and frantic as ever. We’re again getting an excellent combat system that emphasizes split-second decisions, confidence and skills. The pace is just as breakneck as before; the checkpoints are very densely located, so after each failure, we’re instantly back in action. This worked fantastically in the first game and I dare say it still does. The game is satisfying, challenging and incredibly spectacular.
Ghostrunner 2’s strongest selling point, and about 80% of its focus, is combat – the rest is exploration and a tiny bit of story exposure. The game utilizes a genius combat system that could remind you of Superhot, an indie VR shooter that took the market by the storm about six years ago. Our greatest advantage is movement and proper utilization of all our moves – we can run on walls, swing across large gaps using a cyber-leash, dash in all directions and slow down time while mid-air, deflect bullets back to enemies and take advantage of special skills like a powerful laser beam or camuflage.
And believe me when I say that the game creates the perfect, in-your-face concoction out of these ingredients. Its balance is fantastic, the sense of power is always there, and you’re always a single mistake form death. Each combat stage is a puzzle that requires us to come up with the optimal solution of dealing with enemies by exploiting our advantages and their liabilities. What’s incredibly important is that mechanically, the game is pretty much spot-on. Movement soon becomes your second nature, it’s easy to quickly start understanding all the rules and eventually making the most of them. The game’s entry threshold is still above average, but I had the idea that it could be more welcoming to new players. As someone who has completed part one, though, I cannot vouch for that.
Anyhow, combat it the sequel delivers all of the greatest advantages of the original, offering us a skill tree called the Motherboard, in which we can immersively place acquired skills in slots unlocked with memory shards. The system is very satisfying, as the skills we acquire are powerful and meaningful, so we get a nice sense of progress and increasing power. On the other hand, most of the skills and abilities are identical as in part one, so you won’t find too many new things here.
All of this doesn’t mean that Ghostrunner 2 is a 1-to-1 copy of the original. It isn’t, and while some of these new additions don’t seem to have had their potential tapped into, it’s also cool to see One More Level studio experimenting with something new, and perhaps suggesting the way this series will take in the future.
We’ve already mentioned the NPCs that we can talk with, but that’s just the beginning there are actual dialog choices to select (all fully voiced), and the developers have made a great decision to add a bike into the game about half way through it. A ridiculously fast motorbike turned out the perfect match for this game, and there are some ridiculously hectic stages where we ride the machine.
Ghostrunner 2 is as exciting, hectic, challenging and satisfying as the original. It occasionally fails with some of the new ideas and for certain players, the degree of similarity between the prequel and sequel might be too great to warrant a purchase. However, it still is an incredibly satisfying and pretty slasher.
The developers also wanted to try their hand at bigger locations and on a few occasions, we explore semi-open areas that are much more extensive than the narrow corridors of the tower. This is an exciting expansion of the concept that makes me hopeful that Ghostrunner might someday get even more RPG-like. However, it also has to be admitted that these locations don’t work well with the core ideas of gameplay, so they can occasionally fell artificial or a little frustrating. Another interesting addition is an extra gameplay mode, a simulation that we can launch during the campaign, in which we complete a slew challenges in exchange for smaller bonuses and additional playtime.
There are a few ways that you can look at Ghostrunner 2 – a slightly too derivative sequel, a consistent improvement on the original ideas, a continuation of a great game that maybe isn’t incredibly bold, but also doesn’t bite off more than it can chew.
It’s incredibly playable and the quality of its systems, the responsiveness of its controls, are commandable. There are some technical blemishes to be eliminated, mostly framerate that can drop to terrifying lows at certain times, but the game’s condition before release allows me to assume that it will not be botched release in terms of real-life performance.
And so, all in all, if you’re into high-pace action, cyberpunk vibes and you don’t care about a gripping story – don’t hesitate and try Ghostrunner 2. If only you find the games concept resonates with you, there will be a real tour de force waiting for you, a game as dynamic, challenging and satisfying as few out there currently.
Jacob Nowak | Gamepressure.com