Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC
There are some games out there that give you all the tools to live out a crazy power fantasy. You easily take out enemies left and right and feel like a badass doing it. Then there are those games that want you to fight for your life at every turn. You know death is coming — it's all just a matter of prolonging it. Like its titular player character, Ghostrunner walks a fine line: It's out to get you, but you're well-equipped to take on everything it throws at you during its seven-hour runtime.
Cyber Future Ninja Platforming
You play as an enhanced cybernetic being known as a Ghostrunner after he wakes up with no memories. All you hear is a voice from someone known as the Architect, who constructed the massive tower you explore in the game and the Ghostrunners. This character is shrouded in mystery, and as the game progresses, he both helps you and gives you reason to question his ambitions. The relationship between the Architect and Ghostrunner becomes a bit more fragmented as you learn more about the world and other characters.
Unfortunately, the story isn't all the exciting. Though the dialogue drags on a bit more than it should, it thankfully doesn't halt the action as your character and the Architect will have their long-drawn-out conversations while the game remains playable rather than forcing you to just sit there.
The action in Ghostrunner is completely mesmerizing and exhilarating. Gameplay is split into first-person platforming and combat, with a bit of crossover between the two from time to time. You'll dash, slide, wall run, and grapple your way across the vertically-designed tower. These mechanics create some of the most memorable and satisfying moments in the game. There's a thrill that comes with climbing great heights as you rapidly run across walls and leap over massive pitfalls.
The game is usually pretty clear as to where you should go next and highlights reachable points in the environment. Sometimes, though, you'll be running across a couple walls, and you may not notice the next waypoint — maybe it's higher up or off to the side. Losing your footing after smoothly running through a large portion of an obstacle course-like area definitely kind of creates an unwanted break in the action that requires a bit of trial-and-error.
This is all a part of the challenge of Ghostrunner, though. Rather than guide you every step of the way, the game requires you to keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you. It usually tells where to go next, but not always — you'll have to do some of the legwork yourself. This adds a nice bit of challenge to the platforming gameplay of Ghostrunner. Yes, the game is smooth and fast-paced, but if you want a completely breezy experience, you won't find that here.
Combat in Ghostrunner is a little more bumpy than the parkour mechanics, but it still works really well. You're usually outnumbered, and you'll still do plenty of platforming while enemies shoot at you from afar. You can dispose of these enemies in a few ways, but you'll find yourself mostly slicing clean through them with your blade or reflecting their shots right back at them.
Dodging bullets can be tricky, especially when they're coming from multiple angles. It's possible to successfully avoid an enemy's shots, take him down, and then get blindsided from another direction. If you're not careful, this can happen a lot, which can be frustrating.
Eventually you’ll unlock more abilities to give you a bigger advantage — like dashing toward enemies and even taking out multiple enemies with a single blow — but you'll still find yourself getting hit by surprise fire. Respawn points are mostly forgiving, but sometimes you'll have to redo platforming sections all over again. The player character is pretty vulnerable to the point where you never feel overly confident, even if you do have some badass skills at your disposal.
Ghostrunner controls incredibly well for the most part. It never feels like the game is working against you and trying to make you fail. And while you run up and across, jump from one wall to another, and grapple higher and higher, there's an undeniable thrill that's kind of intoxicating. This is especially true when you're using those parkour skills to reach enemies and rip them to shreds.
That said, the controls in Ghostrunner don't always feel perfect. It's a shame, because it doesn't seem like the game's controls are deliberately flawed, but they’re simply not as tight and reliable as they should be for a game where the main objective is to run and jump across architecture that's suspended over a deadly chasm.
The Future Is Grim, but Damn It Looks Cool
While Ghostrunner has the look you'd expect from a cyberpunk action game, it's especially splendid to witness in first-person perspective. The bright neon lights, architecture, and bold color schemes blend beautifully to create a tech-heavy world that juxtaposes clean and sterile with gritty and dilapidated. Playing on a standard PS4, I did notice some unsavory screen-tearing, but it was never to the point of ruining the visual experience.
Paired with the splendorous graphics is a synth-based collection of themes. Some are catchier than others, but every song you hear in Ghostrunner does a great job of getting you in the mindset of parkour running and hacking enemies into bloody bits. And though the story isn't fantastic, the voice acting is at least solid in its own right.
Ghostrunner is a thrilling and delightful first-person action-platformer. The game never goes easy on you, and it forces you to stay alert at all times. It controls so wonderfully most of the time and keeps you engaged that you'll be able to look past its minor flaws. Ghostrunner is rewarding, challenging, and stylish. Above all, it’s a damn fine action game that’s worthy of your time if you like slick, stylish action and rad neon level designs.