Cyberpunk is undoubtedly all the rage these days. We’ve seen the aesthetic in games galore, while there’s also the small matter of CD Projekt Red’s magnum opus launching in just a few week’s time. Ghostrunner, however, shows a whole new side of it.
Do you remember the first time you played Mirror’s Edge? When you leapt from one building to another, tiptoed across rooftops, and slid down slopes hundreds of meters above the ground? Imagine that feeling, distilled down into the kind of pure gameplay that has you coming back hour after hour, and you’re close to what Ghostrunner offers.
Stab Them With The Pointy End
Players take control of a sword-wielding cyber ninja, tasked with climbing the Dharma Tower – an intimidating structure full of enemies that want to cut you down.
And cut you down they will, as everything in Ghostrunner dies with a single hit. That means one bullet can end your life, but similarly means you can lay waste to enemies just by getting in close with your sword.
Our protagonist is effortlessly cool
A perfect blend of first-person platforming and sword-swinging melee combat, Ghostrunner exudes style. Our protagonist can jump into the air, run along walls, use a handy grapple move to swing across huge gaps, and then use a sort of force push to send enemies flying, or simply cleave them in two with a burst of viscera with a katana.
What makes Ghostrunner so fun, though, is that it takes time to learn these techniques and the way in which they all mesh together. Playing on PC with an Xbox One controller, it took some time to acclimatise my fingers to jump, dash, grapple and attack just by using the shoulder buttons and triggers.
Still, after 32 painful deaths on the first level, I felt godlike – at least until I died again. The brilliance of Ghostrunner is that it not only channels the likes of Mirror’s Edge, but also the quick bursts of action provided by indie darling Hotline Miami.
Kill, Die, Repeat
Ghostrunner's locales are stunning, if not all that surprising
One hit can kill the Ghostrunner, but respawning is instant. Not only does this negate any frustration, but it also ensures experimentation can be rewarded – do I really need to work my way through a group of enemies, or can I simply use my incredible locomotion to hop over their heads via wall-run and dashing?
That’s not to say that every encounter can be dodged, though. Some rooms require you to take out every enemy to unlock a door, and it’s here that Ghostrunner can get a little frustrating, especially if the last enemy catches you off guard and ends an otherwise perfect run through a level.
Still, when you get it right, there’s simply little else that compares, making you feel like Gray Fox from the first Metal Gear Solid. The Ghostrunner can even dodge bullets in midair using a limited-time slow-mo ability, although it being mapped to the same button as the forward dash can cause moments of unintentional comedy as you surge forward into a bullet.
Ghostrunner is one of the best surprises of 2020. While it can ask a lot of players, particularly in the early stages, it more than repays that investment with style and panache.
While it’s grimy, yet shiny cyberpunk world may offer little that’s truly “new”, it’s the kind of pure gameplay experience that I can’t get enough of.