In a recent survey it was revealed that 72% of people have dreamed of being a cyborg parkour ninja, and although that statistic is completely made up, it’s still extremely believable. Since the days of Shinobi the allure of being a stone-cold acrobatic killer has been strong, and transplanting that idea into a futuristic dystopian neo-noir setting feels like a natural evolution. The original Ghostrunner released to near-universal acclaim, but I will admit that I didn’t fully partake of the Koolaid at the time. It had solid adamantium bones to be sure, but there was a slight imprecision to its break-neck slicing and dicing that threw me off. Ghostrunner 2 then is a monumental improvement on the original, at once familiar but entirely fresh, managing to not only reach the lofty height the first game strived for, but wall run, air dash and grind over it confidently.
Come for the hardcore action, stay for the free hugs
The Ghostrunner series has you play as Jack, a superhuman cyborg ninja capable of pulling off insane sequences of acrobatic manoeuvres while carving through scores of enemies with his trusty sword. Played in first person, the dystopian future is essentially your playground, with levels broken up into pure platforming sections and combat sections which then mix in your parkour skills. It’s slicker than a greased-up Scotsman, encouraging a fluid style of locomotion and death-dealing that is sheer exhilaration when you get it right. I say when you get it right, because the amount of times you will get it fatally wrong will number in the hundreds (and perhaps thousands) by the time you see the credits roll. Despite Jack’s undeniable skill he’s fairly fragile, and all it takes is one hit and it’s lights out and back to a checkpoint. The game is very often brutally difficult, forcing you to navigate complex spaces and mixtures of enemies at eye-watering speed, avoiding pitfalls and enemy fire in equal measure. You will die…a lot. You’ll then memorise the perfect run, and then probably die again. Then you will succeed, and the pain of failure will fade into memory as you move onto the next extremely cool thing.
To take a step back from the gameplay, Ghostrunner 2 definitely has a story, but I’d be lying if I said I knew completely what was going on. One of the big issues is that the primer available in the menu that explains the events of the original is patently inadequate, so if you don’t remember the major movers and shakers from the first entry (and I’m not here to blame you), then you’ll be a few Keymasters short of an Architect trying to understand what’s going on presently. To be honest it didn’t really bother me, as I was more than happy to just let the amazing cyberpunk setting and pumping synthwave wash over me. The broad overarching goal of tracking down a group of rogue Ghostrunners known as the Asura and their mysterious leader Mitra was enough motivation, and the pacing of major events is excellent, shuttling you from one big awesome thing to another before you’ve even got a chance to wonder whether androids dream of electric sheep.
Medical school did not prepare me for this
You will die…a lot. You’ll then memorise the perfect run, and then probably die again. Then you will succeed, and the pain of failure will fade into memory as you move onto the next extremely cool thing
Anyone who played the original will be right at home here, with the same basic skills of wall running, grappling, grinding, sliding, air dashing, dipping, dodging, ducking, and dodging all present and accounted for. The Sensory Boost remains incredibly awesome, allowing you to slow time mid-air and strafe around enemy fire or line up a wall run before launching yourself in the direction you’re facing. Skills using a resource called Energy on a cooldown timer also return, but they’ve been fleshed out by some fantastic additions and expansions. By far the most useful rework is the Shuriken, which is so crucial to the action now compared to its more limited availability in the original. The Shuriken can kill weaker enemies, stun larger ones and turn them into handy grapple points, and is also used to flick switches in platforming sequences. Shurikens can be thrown from Sensory Boost too, allowing crucial moments to adjust your aim and plan your next move.
Also joining the skill ranks is Ghost, an ability that allows you to make a copy of yourself that draws aggro from enemies and can be a lifesaver when you need a breather, or if a tricky enemy fire pattern is running interference on your approach. The Energy meter powering these skills is large enough and recharges quickly enough that you can always fire off a few skills in an encounter, but they definitely can’t be spammed. Judicious and creative use of them is a cornerstone of success, but there is no substitute for the bread-and-butter ninja skills you will inevitably have to rely on. There are also some cool ultimate abilities on a very lengthy timer, that will let you melt enemies with a laser hand, or blink instakill a few of them, but these are best saved for when a particular encounter is kicking your arse given how long they take to recharge.
Some bloodshed was to be expected in Twitter’s rebranding
All of these skills and other aspects of Jack’s repertoire can be augmented via the game’s completely revamped and thoroughly excellent progression system. Fundamentally, acquiring Memory Shards throughout the levels (sometimes hidden and sometimes in plain sight) will allow you to place purchased upgrade chips on a motherboard that slowly expands as you accumulate more Memory Shards. Upgrades have defined classes, such as Sword, Traversal or specific skill-related, and only chips of the same class can be assigned in a lane on the motherboard. This means you’ll tend to focus on upgrading aspects that align with your natural style, or a skill that you find indispensable. For instance, there is a new Perfect Parry skill that allows you to summarily execute a melee enemy if you block at the right moment (take that you leaping bastards), and you can use upgrade chips in the Sword class to increase the parry window, as well as recharge your Energy and slow down time if you are successful. Magic.
Cyber hand in cyber hand with the enhanced freedom in the general gameplay, Ghostrunner 2 also opens up its setting significantly. The original took place exclusively in the beautiful yet claustrophobic labyrinthine confines of Dharma tower, and there’s certainly still a lot of that here, but you’ll also find yourself in the surrounding barren wilds of devastated Earth. These spaces are massive, but thankfully you aren’t expected to hoof it, rather you gain access to a stupidly cool motorbike, which ends up being a perfect extension of Jack’s speed and style. You’ll be riding on walls and performing massive jumps at ludicrous speed effortlessly, and if you don’t think that throwing yourself off a huge ramp, launching from your bike, transitioning to a wall run, then grappling back to your bike and nailing the landing isn’t cool, then I’m not sure there is anything in this world that will impress you. These semi open-world sections where you have multiple goals and can explore the area are a great palette cleanser, but I will admit that when the bike isn’t going at maximum speed on well-defined roads it’s a bit of a janky beast, likely to get stuck on a bit of the environment and shake uncontrollably and sometimes prompt a checkpoint restart.
I am speed
You’ll be riding on walls and performing massive jumps at ludicrous speed effortlessly, and if you don’t think that throwing yourself off a huge ramp, launching from your bike, transitioning to a wall run, then grappling back to your bike and nailing the landing isn’t cool, then I’m not sure there is anything in this world that will impress you
The original Ghostrunner was gorgeous, and it should be no surprise that the tradition is continued here. Playing on Xbox Series X I had a smooth 60fps which framed the action perfectly, and as you zip through environments at a fair clip the whole thing looks amazing in motion. Tense boss fights and jaw-dropping set pieces are sheer joy, and the visual design and execution positively oozes style. The variation of the setting and lighting does wonders to make sections feel distinct and gives a great sense of forward momentum through the story, and spaces are intuitively designed and visually signposted to indicate where you have to go next. This is with the exception of one of the open-world bike sections, where pathfinding to a particular objective was a little obtuse.
The only real criticism I have in the game’s execution is that the platforming isn’t always as reliable as it should be, and can lead to frustrating deaths. 99% of the time it works as advertised, but every so often Jack will miss a ledge or jump pad, swing flat from a pole, launch in a bizarre direction, or not initiate a wall run. I will say that platforming issues are far less frequent than in the original, and the controls for the most part are impressively tight given the amount of moving parts, but in a difficult game that 1% can hurt. It bears mentioning that checkpoints are very forgiving, so even if you do mess up, or the platforming jank rears its ugly head, you’ll never have to repeat a lengthy section.
Ghostrunner 2 doubles down on everything that made the original so popular, and expands upon it in every conceivable way. Even if the story didn’t quite suck me in, the beauty of the stylish setting and the impeccable finesse of the challenging, fluid gameplay absolutely did. Ghostrunner 2 is the work of a team that you can tell know they’re onto a good thing, who also know that if you’re going to make a game about a slick, wall-running agent of death, you’re honour bound to make it cool as shit.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X // Review code supplied by publisher
- One More Level
- 505 Games
- PS5 / Xbox Series X&S / PC
- October 26, 2023