Back in early 2020 I had the chance to attend Pax South, now the last Pax South, and saw the 3D Realms booth. I had a chance to talk with the Head of 3D Realms, Frederik Shreiber, about the Games they were demoing on the floor. And the one that really caught my eye was GhostRunner. A Sci-fi Cyberpunk first-person hack n’ slash game, where if you’re hit once you’re dead.
If that sounds like a mouthful of a description that’s exactly what you get with GhostRunner. And having played it early I was amazed by it. And in that interview that he said that the team at One More Level was focused on PC at first; But then they wanted to do consoles and more. Then late 2020 they launched on PS4 and Xbox. And now they’ve launched a next-gen version upgrade for the game and let me tell you it feels so different. And having played it, let me really break down my thoughts on the next-gen version in this GhostRunner Review.
Warning: There will be some spoilers ahead for the story.
The story follows a Cybernetic enhanced “Peacekeeper” called Ghostrunner. They were originally designed to help keep control in the Tower by Adam, the creator of the Tower. However, he was killed and overthrown by Mara now known as the Keymaster. The Ghostrunners lead a rebellion alongside the Climbers, citizens of the base of the Tower, to overthrow Mara. But, they were all defeated, or so it appeared.
There was one Ghostrunner that survived and was repaired by the Climbers, or what remained of them, to hopefully have a fighting chance against Mara’s army. However, even after being repaired Ghostrunner never came back online. Until he heard the call of the Architect.
The story I found to be a very powerful and interesting one. Its characters were well written in their view. But I think what made it most compelling was its tale of submission. Are we bound by the shackles of what we know? Are we simply tools with no choice, and what does it mean to have a soul or be alive.
Throughout the game, Ghostrunner is challenged on his understanding and thoughts. He was created to simply be a tool by the Architect. But Zoe, one of the Climbers, says he is so much more than a tool. He is a symbol of hope to the people. That he is viewed as a human. These polarizing thoughts on ethics and the belief of what makes sentience and something alive. I feel this is one of the strong points of GhostRunner.
Am I Alive?
Throughout the game, we see the change in Ghostrunner. He slowly starts to question what the Architect tells him to be as absolute fact. And really wants to support the Climbers and their goals. Eventually breaking free of his creators’ control and accepting the identity given to him, Jack. I always love when a game can have a rather thought-provoking moment such as these.
Now the downside is that most of the story is relegated to nothing more than talking to the GhostRunner. There are a few cutscenes at times but they are sparse throughout the game. Now it goes to show the impact of good voice acting work. The only downside is that some of these lines do come up at times when the player is traversing, or in combat. Because of this, it can be hard to be able to focus on what is being said at times.
Overall I loved what was on offer here, and think that it is a solidly built universe. And with a new expansion coming soon following Hel, it seems we may be seeing more of what there is to offer in the Tower. While there may have been moments where the story was not given enough focus, the overall story was well done. And it is for that I’d give a Solid 9 out of 10.
If there is one thing that any cyberpunk style game needs, is neon and flair. And GhostRunner has it in spades. From the grungy punk style of the enemies with their enhancements. To even the GhostRunner Himself, with his leather jacket and hood, and his cybernetic limbs on his arms. And more importantly, the shiny, viscera as you cleave a many in half. Whether it’s an enemy’s whole upper torso or just a decapitation it looks beautiful in slow motion!
The design truly has that cyberpunk feel to it, from enemies of different styles, From the Punk style tall mohawks to shaved heads. Heavy leather and tattoos, to cybernetics galore. But it wouldn’t be true cyberpunk if there wasn’t a mix of cultures or styles, because there are even Japanese-themed cyber samurai on display with a mix of style to go into their design.
So Very Flashy:
And that’s not to say the backgrounds are lacking either. From the musty and dingy underbelly or base of the tower, giving off that slum and industrial area, with heavy machinery, lasers, and cargo cranes everywhere. To the neon and dilapidated feel of Adima City. The upper levels of the Tower are where the rich and the KeyMasters’ goons all live. The backgrounds absolutely shine, and with the boost from the 4K textures thanks to next-gen hardware like the Xbox Series X. it is an absolutely shining example of beauty.
Now while it is nice and shiny, there are areas where you can see that there may not have been fully textured. This could be due to the area themselves, seeing as in each room that the player moves to there are a lot of vertical areas. And this is due to the design of the game where the key is to never stop moving.
Now that isn’t an excuse to not properly texture a surface just because it might not be seen. But for the most part the game looks awesome. For that, I give it an 8.5 out of 10.
Now the sound design is honestly where I think the game truly shines the most. From the sound of swinging your sword to the sound of your enemy’s limbs being severed. Everything it the game sounds fluid and impactful. And it doesn’t matter what kind of enemies your fighting, whether its the sound of metal severing cutting down robots. Or the sound of swords clashing against wardens or Hel, it all holds wait.
And the bigger key to sound is the Background noise. The sounds of the environment all sound real and alive. From the sound of cranes running, engines humming, and turbines turning. To the hum of neon lights and drones flying around. Everything just sounds right. And with a banging snythwave soundtrack to help set the right ambience and mood for encounters. One More Level had the right vision when they put together the sound for the game.
I had no major issues with the sound design. Can it always be better, certainly. But for what it is right now I was entranced by it all. So for that I give it a 9 out of 10.
Now here is where the magic happens, and the question is, how does it feel? And honestly, it’s kind of a mix gameplay-wise. Now let’s start by stating the game is hard, and that’s by design one hit and you are dead.
But, they do offer a variety of difficulty settings. Assisted allows the game to be made easier by offering three helpful options. A shorter cooldown for special skills, an extra life to make things easier, and the option to slow down the gameplay so players have more time to react. Next up is Classic mode or what would be the standard or original experience. Upgrades throughout the game and single life, but the ramp-up in difficulty is a slow climb.
And lastly, they have Hardcore, an intense and tougher version of the game. More difficult enemies early on and even more enemies in general. But all the upgrades are available from the beginning to make use of.
Abilities and Movement:
Now the main focus of the gameplay is the first-person action and the movement and that’s where things can get iffy. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your slashes always connect at the same distances. Sometimes it seems that you swing and hit them from further away and other times you can miss right next to them. But when you do hit, it is visceral and fun. And the abilities are awesome from the blink, to move quickly through multiple enemies or teleport through bullets. Tempest creates a massive shockwave in front that can shred enemies. And lastly Is overload, an ability to temporarily turn an enemy against each other.
Now utilizing the abilities definitely help to add to the carnage and add unique ways to kill enemies. And this adds to the frantic nature of the combat. It is quick, visceral and absolutely a delight to cut up enemies into chunks. Or to watch them get blasted into a mist with the tempest.
Now my biggest complaint about the gameplay is traversal. And what about it makes me annoyed, its the inconsistency. In a game where moving fast is the main key to avoid being killed, you tend to do it often. Now what I mean is if you run at walls at an angle, you can wall run on them. And this is great as you can also chain jumps together and even climb a bit.
Moving and Slicing:
The issue is at times you are not always getting the same height with jumps; or even if you are looking sideways, you don’t always start the animation to run and fall. And on some parkour and traversal puzzles this tended to be one of my biggest death counts. It was so bad that even basic jumps felt off I had to use the slow-down ability. And ability that lets you move sideways or anyway in slow motion to re-position yourself dodging bullets. But i would use this as a way to help reconnect jumps. But it wasn’t always a hundred percent perfect that way either.
When you can actually chain your movements around nicely, and kill it feels great. But often you will lose your momentum and it can throw off your rythem and lead to a lot of dying. Especially since sliding can give you speed. But when you use this to combine for long jumps it doesn’t always feel consistent. Now it’s not all bad it just takes quite a bit of work to get used to. And while frustrating it does still feel better than other games attempts at parkour.
Even with the issues with movement, the gameplay is still solid and fun. And with the introduction of a wave mode, you can challenge yourself to see how long you can last killing enemies. Just make sure to mind your jumps. It’s with this i give the gameplay an 8 out of 10.
Overall my time with GhostRunner was a fun and frustrating one. The story and the world was very interesting and brought up many feelings. But more than that it brought up some thought-provoking questions. Along with a killer synth track to slay to and some awesome powers; GhostRunner offers a fun and challenging thrill ride. While there are some issues with combat, when you’re decimating enemies it’s easy to look over them.
You can find more information on the games official site. It is Available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, and PC through Steam, EGS, and GOG.
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