Ghostrunner Review: Die And Die Again
In some ways, a game like Ghostrunner is a perfect fit on the PS5. For a game where you’re going to be dying a lot, the fast loading times provided by its SSD can feel like a miracle.
I just wish that so many of the deaths I was taking didn’t feel like they came about due to confusing decisions made by the developer. Ghostrunner feels fantastic when everything is going right. Things just go wrong more than I’d like.
A Neon Dream
You’re the Ghostrunner, or Jack as some come to call him. After a failed attempt to assassinate Mara the Keymaster, a dictator who has taken over the only remaining remnants of humanity, you’re reawakened with a purpose. Destroy the Keymaster and take back control. You’ll have a new mechanical arm to help along the way and a few allies to help you along.
The story of Ghostrunner never really hits. None of the characters are particularly interesting, and while the cyberpunk world looks fantastic, especially on PS5, there’s nothing original about any of it. A stellar voice cast and some terrific music helped set the mood and at least gave me the vibe I was looking for, but it would have been nice to care about any of these people. I just couldn’t connect with them, though.
A Thrilling Ride
That could all be forgiven if Ghostrunner played great. To its credit, at times, it does. Ideally played at breakneck speeds, when things go right, you can feel like a badass ninja ready to bring death and destruction to all who stand against you. Ghostrunner is a first-person platformer where you have to run up walls, grapple through the air, dash from area to area, and also kill anyone who gets in your way.
Platforming controls mostly work well. I’d certainly miss a jump here and there, but it generally felt like my fault and not that of the game. The ability to slow time and then dash forward when you let time return to normal can get you out of a few sticky situations too. As Ghostrunner goes on, you’ll gain various additional options, such as the ability to grapple set points in levels and speed up when time slows down at set points.
Doesn’t Stick The Landing
At times though, it feels like there’s just too much going on. Ghostrunner quickly becomes an incredibly difficult game. While most enemies die in a single hit, so do you. That leaves you with next to no margin for error, and while the platforming gives you that dash ability to help mitigate any issues, the closest analog to that in combat are special moves that don’t really do the trick. These moves can let you kill from farther away or take out groups. While that does end up being useful at times, more often, your troubles are coming from rooms filled with spread out enemies who can all shoot at you from a distance. Often I didn’t even see the guy who killed me until I was dead.
These deaths are rarely that punishing, with frequent checkpoints and the SSD allowing you to load back up super fast. They’re also not very fun, though. Some of these combat rooms quickly grew boring as I knew what to do, but in the heat of the moment and with so much going on, it’s easy to hit the wrong thing. Most games with this little margin for error keep things simple, letting the main challenge become your reaction speed. With so many moves and options here, though, far too frequently, I found myself grappling when I meant to slow time or jumping on a wall I didn’t mean to. While practice definitely made this happen less, just simplifying things a bit would have gone a long way.
Slowing Things Down
The level design does you no favors either. There are definitely areas where you can rush through, killing anyone in your way, feeling the euphoria ringing in your ears as you feel like the ultimate ninja. Too often, though, you’ll end up in areas with weird layouts and too much backtracking. Situations that require you to actively slow down and figure things out. If a game has ever needed intuitive levels with great flow, it’s this one, and while some hit the mark, many others don’t.
Since launching on other platforms last year, Ghostrunner has added a variety of extra modes. Assist mode, for example, lets you play with even more slowdown, or take an extra hit. In practice, it doesn’t help much. Things are perfectly slow when they need to be by default, and while the extra hit isn’t nothing, it doesn’t solve the game’s pacing issues. Some of the other modes, like the time-based Kill Run Mode, are more interesting and will give fans who already checked the original out last year a reason to install this PS5 update. This version also looks far better than the original, though outside of the inherently helpful SSD, little use was made of the new platform. The DualSense seems like it should be a great fit, but its implementation is mild and underwhelming.
At its best, Ghostrunner provides truly thrilling action that feels alive. Rough level design and a few too many mechanics that don’t always fit together get in the way a little too often, though. There are definitely players looking for just what Ghostrunner offers, but they won’t find a smooth ride.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PS5(Reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Amazon Luna, Switch, PC; Publisher: 505 Games; Developer: One More Level; Players: 1; Released: September 28th, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: A copy of Ghostrunner was provided by the publisher for this review.