Neo-futuristic, first-person, action-platformer is a weird jumble of words, but it’s a collection that matches Ghostrunner very well. All throughout my playthrough, I couldn’t help but think that Ghostrunner is the result of what would happen if Hotline Miami, Ninja Gaiden, Mirror’s Edge and Metal Gear Solid all had a weird drunken night, and it is glorious. Beyond some minor issues, it’s also some of the most fun I’ve had with an indie title, and one of the most satisfying-to-play games this year.
Ghostrunner has you playing as the titular cyborg ninja, who must slice his way through a cyberpunk cityscape to prevent it from being corrupted by an evil overlord. If that sounds a little generic, that’s because it is, but it’s also surprisingly well-acted with some interesting characters giving good voice performances as you play. It was enough to keep me going from mission to mission, but I can’t say I was following the actual events too closely. As you’re running through these environments you’re accompanied by some awesome cyberpunk music tracks and visuals that are synonymous with the genre; think neon lights and drones everywhere. Similarly to the story, it didn’t stand out as much as the actual gameplay but all of the presentation and set-up elements are good enough in their own right.
Thankfully, it’s playing Ghostrunner that’s the truly memorable part of the experience.
Ghostrunner Review – Running Incognito
You control the Ghostunner from a first-person perspective as you platform through levels, slice through enemies in puzzle-like combat arenas and learn new abilities that give you a hand through the game’s brutal eight hour campaign. Each element here is incredibly fine-tuned, with the movement rivalling the parkour perfection of Mirror’s Edge and the combat making you feel cool with (relative) ease.
As great as combat encounters can be, it’s the movement that’s really the star of the show here. Jack (a name given to the Ghostrunner that’s far easier to type out across a review) can wall-run, slide and do pretty much all the things you’d expect from a first-person platformer, but he can also grapple onto surfaces from far away and use a short teleport blink that also slows time down. The puzzle-platforming starts out pretty basic, but eventually has you running on walls as they move and hacking platforms so they shift around the environment. Many of the levels also introduce new gimmicks that help keep things fresh, like grind rails and air flows that blow you around. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it all feels really good to do here and makes the adventure feel like it’s evolving as you play. There’s almost a rhythm game-like quality as you time your jumps and swings to an electronic beat.
Jack doesn’t just jump around though, he’s got plenty of enemies keeping him from getting to his goal. Enemies will pop up as you play in sections that feel like puzzle-combat arenas as you figure out how to take them down without dying, which is pretty hard to do when you can only take one hit. Do you wall-run to avoid projectiles until you get in close, or do you master the timing and try and reflect shots? Do you use your blink ability to dodge towards enemies or do you try and grapple around them? These combat encounters all feel very open to whatever you want to do, and by the end of the game you end up feeling unstoppable.
There are a fair amount of enemy types, all with their own unique abilities that make each time you enter combat feel more like a puzzle than a fight. Each of these areas also has platforming elements to it as well, so it always feels like Ghostrunner is going at a breakneck pace. When you finally learn the rhythm, it feels fantastic, although getting to that point is going to take a lot of deaths and learning. As you get further into the story you’ll slowly unlock abilities that help turn the tide of battle in your favour, such as a force blast and a projectile slash. As awesome as these moves are, I loved that you didn’t have to use them if you didn’t want to and all of the encounters can be done just by using your sword if you want to.
Ghostunner Review – Tough to be a Ghost
I referenced Hotline Miami earlier, and that’s mostly due to the difficulty, which is likely going to be a talking point. Ghostrunner is equal parts challenging and fair in both its platforming and combat, as it gives you plenty of challenge whilst also giving you enough tools to have a fair chance of succeeding. Every time you die, you can respawn instantly, which is made very easy thanks to some generous checkpointing. There were a few instances where it felt like checkpoints could be moved around a bit, but that was mostly when my fingers had given up trying to get a specific platforming challenge down. This difficulty extends to the few boss battles as well, which are frustrating at first but become a lot more fun when you’ve finally got it down to a pattern.
It’s this awesome combination of platforming and combat that really makes Ghostrunner shine, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. The only thing that gets Ghostrunner’s pacing down a bit are some smaller elements that feel a bit out of place. The more obvious of these are the puzzle sections that put you in a cyber-world and have you moving shapes or collecting orbs. It’s fine enough on its own but when you just want to get back to cutting stuff up it can be a bit of a slog. The upgrade system is similarly hit or miss as there are actually some pretty cool improvements and modifiers like extra dashes, but it’s all done through a block-sorting inventory mini-game that really puts the brakes on. Call me stupid but I’d rather leave all of my thinking to the other elements of the game.
Beyond being a little bit frustrating sometimes and having some pacing issues, the biggest problem I have with Ghostrunner is sadly one specific to the PS4 Pro version. For whatever reason when I played everything was just a bit of a mess on the Pro, with game crashes, slowdown, frame drops and screen-tearing aplenty. It looks like a Switch port of a modern game at times and is just downright a bit ugly thanks to some washed out textures. It’s still completely playable from start to finish, but something just feels off about it all and it’s a real shame that it’s specific to the PS4 Pro. Without it, Ghostrunner is easily one of the best indie games of the year, but currently it would almost be better to wait for a few patches that fix things up. There’s also a free next-gen upgrade coming next year that could help clear up a lot of these issues.
Still, if your worst problem is one that is almost assuredly temporary, you’re certainly doing something right. The only other issue that jumps to mind is another fixable one- the checkpointing. I’m not talking about checkpointing within a level, I’m talking about how the game always restarts your level if you exit the application. If you’ve made good progress on a level but decide to call it a night then there goes a lot of time on your part. It’s a small issue but when combined with how difficult Ghostrunner can be it can be pretty frustrating.
As I came away from Ghostrunner and started writing about it, I realized that I genuinely wished there was more game to play. That’s not a comment on the game’s length, which is very well paced, filled with bonus collectibles and perfect for speedrunners, but more a comment on how much potential there is here. Give me more levels, more platforming gauntlets, more cybernetic abilities to use, just give me more Ghostrunner.
Ghostrunner review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.