It only feels like yesterday when I was sliding, slicing, and slipping past bullets in Slow-Mo to avoid the fatal one hit in the immense cyberpunk adventure, Ghostrunner. So, seeing a sequel coming out in 2023 was a pleasant shock to the system, considering that the first was quite a unique indie gem. To have a sequel to a game which nailed its core concept so well, wouldn’t leave much room for improvement or expansion. Well, silly old me thought wrong, as developer One More Level has indeed done the unthinkable task of pulling off a bigger, better and more enjoyable sequel. Like Gears of War 2, Resident Evil 2, and DOOM Eternal, Ghostrunner 2 joins that elite group of video games that surpass their superb originals to become God-like.What is Ghostrunner 2?
Ghostrunner 2 takes players back into the world of the Dharma Tower, a cyber-enhanced megastructure that acts as humanity’s last shelter, after a world-ending cataclysm. It’s been a few years since the fall of the Architect (the big blue-head dude from the first game), but things have not improved much since then. Urban warfare ravages the tower daily, with multiple factions fighting to the death for total control of the tower. Never fear though, as nimble sleuthing cyber ninja Jack has returned to resume his Ghostrunner duties. He’s very handy with a blade, and capable of running along walls, yet is a bit fragile as he can only take one hit before being knocked out for the count.
Ghostrunner was a lightning-fast, action platformer where enemies would die in one hit, and so would you. Making for a rather engaging feet of trial, error and perfection. Think Mirror’s Edge, but with robots, samurai swords and only having 1HP. Each encounter was a tightly calculated instance of trial, error and death, with immense parkour, stunning visuals, and banging techno beats. Ghostrunner 2 is pretty much the same, and I have no problem with that. But better yet, it manages to up the ante with new enemies, new skills, new locations and even grander spectacle set pieces that melted my eyes (In a good way).Welcome back Jack!
Now the original Ghostrunner didn’t excel in its storytelling, unlike with its gameplay. The many predictable story beats and “compelling twists” were painfully obvious, and worse still, the game tried so desperately hard to convince us that they weren’t so painfully obvious. Thus, making it even more so, to the point where I rolled my eyes so much at the big twist towards the end, that I could see the inside of my own head.
As for Ghostrunner 2’s plot, it’s still not a masterful piece of writing, but does expand the dystopian lore in some neat ways and throws in a curveball or two I didn’t see coming. The narrative focuses on the return of Jack, as a new uprising terrorist threat emerges, during a deadly boiling point in the tower between warring factions looking for total control.
The new threat to the Tower is a group of formally disbanded Ghostrunners who have brought back their leader from the dead. They seek power and revenge in the bloodiest way possible, leaving you to band together with former members of rival factions in a bid to free the tower once and for all.
What is quite a nice touch is seeing the aftermath of freeing the tower from an overruling power-hungry dictator, and how it really didn’t make things a whole bunch better. The power struggles have forged new enemies, reduced supplies for thousands, and increased the innocent blood spilt in the claustrophobic cyber city. You’ll make new allies, see their side of the world, and grasp the impact your actions from the first game had on them. But not only will you venture through the tower once more, you’ll be diving into the realm of cyberspace, and even outside the tower walls to the decaying fragments of the old world.
There are some fantastic beats here, with the new villains being the best thing in the story, with their distinctive personalities, and menacing personas. The world-building is phenomenal, with the tower still brimming with personality and the small reminder of tragic events adding to the density of character. And the idea of an active war inside a colossal megastructure, between violent factions and venturing outside to explore a sand-soaked wasteland of death really does push the narrative forward compared to the previous game.
I do however feel a little underwhelmed by the supporting cast, who 90% of the time feel more like fountains dumping exposition or wise-cracking humour as you parkour your way through numerous deathtraps and leaps of faith. They’re not bad, to say the least, and do have a quirky sense of charm overall. But there’s very little development for the most part, and they serve as an aid to your skills, spewing out backstory, lore or foreshadowing, or making the odd Marvel joke (well, usually better than Marvel).Slicing, dicing, riding and misbehaving
What made the original Ghostrunner such a gaming treat was the unique selling point, of only being able to take one hit. This a long time ago sounded like a massive gimmick that would get annoying, and not going to lie, it can be, but so are most games. The developers did an amazing job at constructing numerous situations that made us learn fast, think fast and kill even faster.
It was an immensely satisfying and highly engaging gameplay loop, involving problem-solving, lateral thinking, style and perfection. It was phenomenal, and Ghostrunner 2 does this all over, but includes more enemies, and more scenarios and expands the scope to a whole new level.
Parkouring around the treacherous terrains of the urban cybercity, is incredible, as Jack is nimble, and light, making death-defying leaps along walls, sliding across rails, and swinging from monkey bars, much like the Doom Slayer did in DOOM Eternal. The movement for the most part is wonderful, and the charismatic urban playground design to the world, means you’ll be pulling off fleets of crazy stuns in quick succession, while being pumped full of energy and glee. It’s truly energetic moving through the world in such a creative variety of ways, that I could simply just do that for hours on end.
I never got bored of wall-running across large neon-lit signs, sliding underneath deadly lasers, dashing over bottomless pits, and of course dodging a bullet or two, as I truly felt like a ninja. One More Level should just make a proper ninja game … they really should.
My only gripe with movement through Ghostrunner 2, was really the biggest problem I had with the game overall … the jank. Now to be fair, I didn’t encounter a lot of these unfair moments, that halted me dead in my tracks. But there were a few prime examples where I was in the grove, feeling the air in my face as I made an epic jump, and then hit a micro-pixel of an invisible wall, which caused me to fall, and either die or be trapped within an object I clipped through.
I did come across a few of these moments where part of the décor, or the rough edge of a platform just stopped me dead in my tracks and ruined a run. The most notable was when I was driving the bike (more on that in a bit), as the highly detailed outside environment, which is home to many, many objects, some with rather large collision detection and gaps to get stuck in, caused the bike to become stuck or clip into the environment. And in two rather manic instances of the game, the framerate did drop to single digits. Although this again was only twice.
Now in fairness, there is a plentiful amount of check points in each level, usually before and after a major event, and restarting after a death is near instant. So, it didn’t feel as devastating, as I could get back on my feet. And these instances weren’t as many as other AAA games. But those wanting to perfect their runs with no deaths might want to be a bit wary. I think a lot of the smaller issues with Jank, could be resolved if the standard jump was a little better … it feels so underwhelming and should be a tad bit better.
Aside from parkouring, you will of course face down a lot of bad guys, who of course can kill you with one hit. Be it via gunfire, slicing you with a sword, firing massive lasers, or simply giving you a good whack on the noggin. So, you want to do your best to avoid every single attack possible and learn each movement, placement, and weakness of your enemy. Because knowing is half the battle (GI Joe Music plays in my mind).
Each encounter becomes a well-calculated, be it violent, game of chess, where you have to learn, fail, repeat and master your path of death, but by bit until you nail it from start to finish. Kind of like short bursts of a Rogue-Like, where you get better, and better until the deed is done.
And Ghostrunner 2 makes it all massively fun, with combat arenas being masterfully thought through, requiring patience and adaption to solve, like a violently layered puzzle. There is a great roaster of enemies who always change the pace of every arena, from the simple straightforward corridor fights to the massive sprawling arenas that require multiple skills and strategies at once. There’s always a new variant of fight and multiple ways to approach them, be it by heading head-on into battle with sword, and shuriken at hand. Or using the environment to better your enemies, by finding secret passages to flank, or by using your tether to pull down massive signs onto unsuspecting enemies. Each playground of death is highly flexible and as you gain more perks, the options and fun expand in meaningful ways.
Ghostrunner 2 perfects that feeling of running along a razor’s edge from its platforming, combat arenas and god-like set-pieces which are truly a fleet of spectacle genius. Some of these epic events are so frantic, visually eye-melting, and highly explosive in nature, that you can’t help but relish in the anguish, torment, and sheer exhilaration when you finally finish them. One of the best is when Jack is making their way towards a behemoth of a cyber-enhanced being, via various wall runs, moving platforms, evading laser fields and actively switching elements of the environment to safely traverse. It’s a phenomenal sequence, that came together to be breath-taking and utterly ruthless, but so great to observe, figure out and conquer.Not just a one hit wonder
As I kept playing Ghostrunner 2, I had this feeling the developers took a few cues from DOOM Eternal. By taking the core gameplay loop, and just adding in more fun stuff to see and do. Expanding things such as enemy types, active skills you could perform, the scale of set pieces and how you travel around.
Ghostrunner 2 among everything else, excels in providing an engaging sense of progression, by adding in more things you can do, and thus expanding your strategies. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of skills you can buy, that allow you to significantly adapt to perfection in your every move and change your playstyle on the go. From being able to throw more shuriken, to zapping across great distances to slice an enemy you’ve managed to stun. These skills really do make an impact, and mixing and matching increases the variation of tactics and approaches you can take into each arena.
The skills are all useful, a lot of fun to use, and even more fun to combine and execute in style. But of course, you can’t just equip everything to become an unstoppable powerhouse. Your Motherboard and skills require power, and to get more you need these delightful neon-lit purple chips (almost like something from DOOM Eternal). So, it becomes a curious instance of resource management, but something you can experiment with immensely, developing new ways to kill, evade enemy fire and traverse the world. The world itself is crafted to offer an intriguing sense of exploration, as you will look out and discover secrets, rewarding cosmetic items, bits of lore, or aforementioned chips that upgrade your motherboard and thus allow you to equip more perks.
It does take some getting used to, combining basic and advanced skills together in a frantic manner can be quite stressful, and I had my fair share of epic fails by pressing the wrong button (And I’m usually quite a frantic, stressed-out player of this game). But the generous checkpoints and clean UI do help in determining your tactics and how to use them.
I must bring up that Ghostrunner 2 really lacks any accessibility options as of this review. Even lacks the option to increase the basic text size, which is really infuriating. I can’t understand why developers keep on adding small text as though they think everyone owns a 70-inch TV.
Back to the game world stuff ….
Secrets and discoveries are usually in plain sight but tend to be a challenge to obtain. Giving your thinking muscles a good workout and using several skills to bypass any blockades between you and that fancy sword with the neon camo. There are also challenges dotted around in most levels, allowing you to earn extra points by completing zany objectives such as killing all enemies in an area, to racing through a ring within a set time (a bit like a much better version of Superman 64). All this earns you points to buy perks, making you a more confident killer.
And a confident killer, with more skills, allowing ease over certain enemies, obstacles, and terrains, means a smoother road to victory. And in general, just gives you more tools for the job at hand, so you can be as violently creative as possible. Progression, equipping skills and executing them in action is all highly satisfying, highly rewarding and just so much fun to pull off.Say, that’s a nice Akira bike
And I can’t forget quite possibly the best new feature of Ghostrunner 2, and that is the bike.
Jack will acquire the bike halfway through the campaign, which then changes the landscape in such a drastic way. Getting on the bike and racing through a few frantic driving sections opens an entirely new section of the world, quite literally the world outside the tower, which has seen better days. The bike’s introduction is chaotic and immensely stressful, as you have to race against the clock to the exit of the tower. It’s a brutally challenging section, that leads to the outside world. This pretty much acts like an open world, like that of Half-Life 2’s open highway section, where you use the bike to push forward while making pit stops to kill baddies collect loot, and dive over massive gorges like Homer Simpson on a skateboard.
And again the bike is a ton of fun to drive. Especially in the more open levels areas of the wasteland where you can explore, and race around at 300 mph as though you were reenacting a scene from Akira. The controls were generally quite smooth, the world for the most part had a great sense of flow, allowing you to drive furiously, making epic jumps, and blasting your way through enemy roadblocks with the help of the mounted grenade launchers.
Again, as mentioned there were some moments of jank in the environment that caused me to clip, crash and burn unexpectedly, yet these were few and far between thankfully. The bike is an amazing inclusion, driving a whole heap of fun, and simply speeding to 300 mph, jumping off the bike and tethering myself back to it while in mid-air was enough to have me sold on it being in the game.Overall?
Ghostrunner 2 does what so many sequels fail to do in the past, by outmatching its predecessor with more meaningful and fun gameplay additions. The core of the original game was superb, pretty much a one-of-a-kind concept that really took a lot of crafting, perfecting and grit to get right. And with this sequel, the developers have truly nailed it, bringing forth one of the most exciting, refreshing, rewarding and highly engrossing action games of not only 2023 but of the last 10 years in my opinion.
The game is visually stunning, has great parkour gameplay, thoughtful and violent lateral-based combat, and just adds in more and more of the good stuff, that it surely can’t be topped by another sequel (or can it?). I am absolutely in love with Ghostrunner 2, being a near-perfect sequel, with some odd flaws, but has the new additions and refinements to overshadow those complaints. It’s a slick, smooth, brutal action game that’s incredibly intelligent, insanely frantic, and absolutely enthralling that you won’t want to put it down.
Bravo One More Level. Bravo.
++ Amazing lateral combat, that’s very risky and highly rewarding
++ Looks, sounds and plays pretty great
++ Lots of new inclusions which are fantastic, such as the bike
+ High replay value
- The story is nothing remarkable
- Some annoying jank here and there
- Lack of accessibility options
A PS5 review code of Ghostrunner 2 was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.