Ghostrunner Review — There’s A New Cyborg Ninja In Town
Ghostrunner will challenge you, but before long you'll be a bonafide cyborg ninja and feel cool as hell in the process.
If you took Overwatch’s fan-favorite cyborg ninja Genji and he decided to learn a few tricks from Mirror’s Edge’s protagonist Faith threw in some of the mayhem from Doom (2016), then you’ll get One More Level’s first-person cyberpunk action game Ghostrunner. It’s fast, frenetic, and makes you feel like a complete badass when you’re wall-running and slashing your way through enemies as an untouchable cyborg ninja. Even if the story and characters leave a bit to be desired, the presentation and gameplay more than make up for those shortcomings with its striking visuals and tight, responsive gameplay.
The story is pretty paint-by-numbers. You play as the titular Ghostrunner, a mysterious cyborg super-soldier with a penchant for katanas, slicing people in half, looking cool in the process. You’re instantly drawn into the conflict to liberate Dharma Tower from an enemy known as the Keymaker, who has taken control and made this monolithic metropolis a difficult place to inhabit for the civilians residing within it.
The progression that the plot goes through isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before if you’ve consumed any science fiction content from the last sixty years. It may not hold very many surprises, but the world-building elements and voice acting are all implemented very well, making proceedings much more interesting than they would be if these elements weren’t present.
Let’s get the obvious out in the open: Ghostrunner looks and sounds amazing. There’s definitely no shortage of games nowadays with cyberpunk aesthetics. Still, Ghostrunner’s mix of neon-drenched architecture and grungy industrial towers give it enough personality to stand out against the mass of other very similarly styled games. If you take the time to look around the extremely detailed environments, you’ll find various forms of graffiti and street art strewn along the walls that serve as forms of propaganda for ending the totalitarian regime in power. It’s a small touch but adds a lot to make the world feel lived in and affected by your actions throughout the game.
During your journey through Dharma Tower’s Blade Runner-esque visuals, you’ll also be treated to a synthwave soundtrack that never gets old. During quieter moments, it becomes more atmospheric to help build the mood. During combat sequences, it kicks into high gear to really get you in the mode to perform acrobatic attacks on the enemies trying to stall your progress. The sound design as a whole helps to truly immerse you in this world and adds to the overall stellar presentation.
Where the game truly shines is its gameplay. The Ghostrunner can wall-run, slide, dash, and slash his way through enemies with fluid and smooth movements once you get the hang of it. It takes some getting used to, and you definitely have to be quick on the draw because one hit equals death. Luckily, checkpoints are extremely generous, and you load back in instantaneously to take another go at clearing out enemies so you can progress to the next segment.
Gameplay is split up between platforming sequences and rooms with a certain number of enemies standing in your way that have to be taken out before the door to the next section will unlock. The platforming sequences also double as opportunities for the game to deal out exposition from your allies along the way. However, it never feels in the way or that it’s halting your progress because you’re still able to continue traversing the terrain while it’s all taking place.
The combat is definitely Ghostrunner’s bread and butter. Your sword will be your best friend, but you’re always accompanied by your extensive mobility options and several power-ups that you’ll pick up along the way. You, of course, have your wall-running and sliding, but you also have a dash that can allow you to slow down time briefly in midair if you need to quickly dodge a projectile and close the distance so you can land a killing blow.
Each room is designed in such a way where you’re encouraged to try more than one way of completing it if you find yourself hung up somewhere. If grappling to the left of the room results in you taking a shot and leading to your death, then maybe hanging to the right and wall running to a different enemy will prove to be the better way for you to complete your goal. I found myself trying different things at points where I was caught in a loop of game over screens during a particularly difficult room, but it never felt unfair or frustrating. There was always a clear point where I slipped up and could do better, so it was always rewarding to get through a particularly challenging room after a few attempts.
You’ll also never be doing the same thing or seeing the same enemies for too long. As soon as you start to feel comfortable with the initial enemy type that fires one round at you at a time, you’re then introduced to enemies with automatic weapons who require a different strategy altogether. And it just continues on that trajectory from there, with there eventually being enemies that get in your face with melee attacks and enemies with shields that can only be harmed once their shield generator is taken out of the equation. Eventually, it becomes a mix of every type of enemy in rooms at once, so you have to use all of your skills in quick succession. All of this gradual progression is masterfully paced, and no one enemy or room setup lasts long enough to overstay its welcome and become stale before something new is introduced.
Ghostrunner is a blast of fast-paced ninja action with a striking setting and addicting gameplay that had me clamoring to get to the next room to see what was coming up next. The story may not have much new to bring to the table. Still, the power fantasy of getting to be an untouchable cyborg soldier with a futuristic katana never got old and never overstayed its welcome in its roughly eight-hour runtime. Ghostrunner will make you feel like a complete badass and definitely have a new contender for dopest cyborg ninja in video games.