Ghostrunner was a surprise hit of 2020, impressing players with fast-paced movement, punishing combat and a slick sense of cyberpunk style. Our very own Greg was a big fan and talked up its merits with aplomb. After a DLC expansion and three years of development time, One More Level have delivered us Ghostrunner 2.
The biggest questions any sequel faces is what’s new and what justifies an entirely new game. Can it evolve from the original’s formula? Does the first-person slicing hold up now that it’s lost the benefit of surprise? Ghostrunner Jack needs to show that his chrome upgrades are worthy of venturing back to Dharma for.
Sharpen your katana, and slot in your best modules, it’s time to get killed hundreds of times and have a good time doing it.
Ghost In The Hel
Ghostrunner 2 picks up directly after the events of the first game and Project_Hel. With the Architect and Mara, including most of the Keys defeated or deleted, the residents of Dharma Tower are piecing things back together. Faction conflicts have broken out in the power vacuum, leaving Zoe and the climber crew attempting to form something of a leadership.
Which acts as an interesting backdrop for the game to build on. Unfortunately, this setting is relatively sidelined due to the rise of a new threat to the people of Dharma: the Asura. A group of Ghostrunners hell-bent on the destruction of Dharma Tower, it’s up to Jack to take them on, cyber-sword in hand. The new villains have some engaging moments and their backstory is somewhat explored.
Ghostrunner 2 requires knowledge of the first game’s events and the Project_Hel DLC, if you want to get the most out of it. Exploration of some dystopian, cyberpunk fare works well and there are times when the game touches on topics that could be compelling. However, it never truly commits to them, leaving a sense of “what could have been” had the developers dived in further.
Did I enjoy the story? For sure. Discovering more of the Tower’s history and peeling back the motivations of the Asura is absorbing, but sidelining a few of the more fascinating elements tempered my sense of captivation. Part of the reasoning for this is Ghostrunner 2’s delivery of its story, and how it handles its characters.
Dharm Ya All To Hell
Ghostrunner 2’s campaign is comprised of 20 missions where Jack systematically obliterates everything that moves. Between excursions, you’ll periodically return to a small hub where you can speak with the handful of NPCs aiding your approved cybernetic massacre. Sounds like a fun little addition, right? It would be, if the hub itself was anything more than a stop-gap moment to catch your breath.
Each of the gang are personified simply by their role, they have little real personality outside of their job. At certain intervals, there’ll be some disagreement or childish back-and-forth between them, but it amounts to very little. What makes this all the more disappointing is that when Ghostrunner 2 does try to add some depth, it works. It just felt to me that it was too little and too far between.
I had a similar sentiment towards Evil West – the hub comes across a cardboard cut-out area that simply exists to punctuate the fun parts of the game. Dialogue is unengaging and static, the upgrade machine ends up appearing during missions later on and the rogue-like mini-game boots you to the menu when you finish playing it, even if you start it in the hub.
The better parts of character development like Zoe wrangling with the climber’s situation post-Architect, or the conflicts that arise from newcomer characters are great, the twice they happen. Again, the story and characters aren’t bad (and they’re not Ghostrunner’s focus), but what frustrates me more than poor execution is the promise of potential left unfulfilled.
Jack-in’ Back Into Slaughter
Story and characters aside, almost every other facet of Ghostrunner 2 is an unbridled murder-house of pulsating kills and intoxicating parkour. The first half of the campaign is fantastic, acting as a Ghostrunner 1.5 in many ways. Jack is re-introduced to his basic skillset of slice, slow-down dash, parry and block. You’ll also be getting reacquainted with the sublime movement mechanics, jumping and wall-running with glee.
Ghostrunner gameplay is still some of the most fluid, glorious and gory entertainment to bask in. Deflecting a blast back at a goon, wall-running while launching a 3-pronged shuriken into an explosive barrel before slow-mo dashing to avoid a near-fatal blow, then perfect parrying a dual-wield ninja to sever its head. The combo strings and combat madness are as enthralling now as it was three years ago.
Impressively, the first half of the campaign serves both veterans of the first and newcomers alike. Rookies can learn the basics and get to grips with the lightning pace, learning just how easily death comes in this series. Experienced heads are graced with more superb first-person action and a chance to flex those creative muscles, as you carve through arena after arena of bad guys.
New dangerous enemy types and further phenomenal level design keep things interesting, if familiar to what came before. Despite my experience earning the platinum in the first game, I died over 300 times completing Ghostrunner 2. New options like deflecting shots open up new avenues to success and mutilate, but they never undermine the satisfaction of overcoming impossible odds.
Death is still the best teacher in Ghostrunner, you’ll be pleased to hear.
A New (Motor)Cycle Of Death
Partway through the campaign, Ghostrunner 2 shows off its sequel chrome. That’s right, you unlock a futuristic, spectacularly fast motorcycle. Ready to crash and burn dozens of times on the same highway section as you hit mach-700 and slam into a giant fan? I sure hope so, it’ll be happening a lot.
For the most part, the vehicle sections of the game are gripping. At first, I found myself clinging on for dear life, turns out it only gets more intense. There’s basic combat – L1 to fire a machine gun and Square to slice targets alongside you, but they’re used sparingly. Most of your time on the bike is spent avoiding every possible futuristic hazard known to mankind.
Some sections are incredibly thrilling, as you just about make it through a closing airlock or dash at 200mph between rotating saws of annihilation. Imagine those bike scenes in action movies where they sideways drift under a truck and that’s how Ghostrunner 2 nails the feel of high-octane traversal.
Of course, it’s not always perfect. More than a dozen times I found myself clipped into a section of the geometry, unable to corral this mechanical beast out of its malaise. Additionally, there’s a slight sluggishness that is noticeable in more confined areas or when you need to quickly manoeuvre. A couple of sections were also straight-up brutal, as I crashed over and over, and over, again, bordering on annoying instead of challenging.
Still, when you eject yourself from the bike to avoid a grid of lasers, only to lasso back onto said bike that’s continued travelling, you feel like a badass. It’s a natural extension of Ghostrunner’s gameplay.
Bringing A Knife To A Boss Fight
One More Level clearly took some inspiration from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 for one of its best and more experimental levels. A chunk into the story, you’ll embark on a mission in a larger, more open area. Three towers to climb, 1000s of meters to reach them. You’re unleashed on the bike and can hop on and off at will. It’s an excellent evolution of the gameplay formula, meshing traversal, parkour and combat. The views from the towers are spectacular too.
Then there are the boss fights, of which there’s a handful during the run-time. Straight up, one fight involving the bike is sensational – dodging all manner of death traps as you carve away at the insides of a gigantic steel-glad creature. The spectacle was unbelievable and I came out of that encounter with the adrenaline rush of Crank’s Jason Statham.
The other boss encounters are tests of your memory, reaction times, and patience. Fights will escalate in terms of complexity, with new moves thrown in and punishing sequences of assaults to evade and counter. When it clicked, I felt super-human, able to repel and dash around these supped-up chrome-heads at will. Before then, I had my metaphorical ass handed to me on a silver platter dozens of times.
Ghostrunner 2’s most challenging fights will strain your endurance, for sure. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful and reloading happens in an instant. Even though I was offed the aforementioned 300+ times, I was always right back into the thick of the action in milliseconds, which feeds the addictive nature of the game. A couple of late-game gauntlets were horrendously brutal, but that made reaching the end all the more delightful.
Initialising Ghostware Enhancements
Progressing through Ghostrunner 2’s missions will have you accruing points for every kill you stylishly (or not so, in my case) enact. These points are then spent unlocking new modules to install on Jack’s motherboard. Spread across eight categories, they allow diversification of your play style. Don’t care for Shurikens and Tempest? Slam your points into Shadow and ninja your way through entire groups.
Points are positively thrown at you throughout, easily allowing you to purchase multiple modules after a mission, creating a fun feedback loop. The motherboard can only hold so many chips and each one eats up capacity, limiting your ability to overcharge and become completely unstoppable. The system is fun, encouraging easy experimentation as you can chop and change at will via the pause menu.
Your motherboard can be improved by finding memory chips in levels, alongside audio logs, artifacts and cosmetic options for Jack’s sword. Most are easy to find on the main path, though a few will have some brain-teaser puzzles to overcome if you want to fully complete the set. I finished my playthrough with all but one collectable, so they’re a nice balance of distraction without detracting from the main experience.
Behold The Cybervoid Views
One thing that has to be credited is how much the dystopian, cyberpunk graphics add to the immersion of the world Jack is fighting within. Dharma Tower glows with the hue of neon lighting, the bleakness of the dark, depressing world and the savagery of its violence. Your sword slices through flesh and chrome alike with a spew of gore, while the wasteland surrounding Dharma is stunningly rendered.
The draw distances are amazing to behold, especially when the game invites you to take a breath and look around. I enjoyed the visual flair of the cybervoid sequences in particular, with booming colour and disorientating design. One More Level not only knows how to craft a great level, but they have the style and panache to make it visually arresting too.
Then we have the soundtrack. Man, I love the Ghostrunner soundtrack (I’m even listening to it while writing this review). The second in the series lives up to the first one’s exceptionally high benchmark. Booming synths overlapping addictive electronic beats complement the action incredibly well. The music almost stimulates the violence, meshing into an exhilarating set of tracks that provide the perfect backdrop to dice up yet another cybernetically enhanced gang member.
You won’t just be thrilled with carving enemies to pieces, you’ll be invigorated by doing so as you match your slaughter to the wonderfully creative, futuristic soundtrack.
I Want To Break Free
All in all, Ghostrunner 2 is a superb sequel to an already fantastic game. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of always being just one hit from death, eradicating scores of lethal yet vulnerable foes as you move from kill to kill with willful abandon. I felt like a super soldier when that wild last-ditch leap evaded a pulse of death and yelled in frustration when I crashed into a wall and plummeted to my own doom.
As an extension to the original formula, the motorcycle and expansion of more open-level design provide some welcome evolution to the core combat and parkour. There are more enemies and more ways to combat them, without diluting the brutal, incredibly satisfying sense of accomplishment that comes from out-maneuvering and out-gunning them.
There are some stumbles and glitches in this Ghostrunner’s cyberware, namely with sluggish vehicle handling and goofy geometry clipping, but they’re insignificant issues in the grand scheme of the game. If Ghostrunner 2 had had a more compelling story, it would probably have been up for my game of the year. As it is, I’ll just have to settle for endlessly replaying its wonderfully addictive and ferociously challenging gameplay. How will I ever cope?
Prepare to break free of Dharma Tower in a blaze of sword swings, exhilarating last-gasp dashes and the glory of hundreds of deaths. The new motorcycle mechanics are bombastic (if a little janky) and One More Level continues to amaze with stellar level design, visual spectacle and a booming soundtrack. Ghostrunner 2 is a worthy sequel, even if the story falls flat and you end up smashing three controllers on your way to mastering it.
Ghostrunner 2 is available on October 26th on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X and PC.
Developer: One More Level
Publisher: 505 Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.