At this point it’s hard to make a unique experience. There are countless games that build off of another or take us to the same places because it’s enjoyable. Ghostrunner attempts to fight this trend by having a rather simple concept presented quite well. With a simple combat system that is basically kill or be killed, it pushes players to improve through repetition and failure. This is a concept that has worked for a number of things but can it work here?
Ghostrunner starts by introducing us to a couple simple concepts. You’re basically a Ghostrunner, something of an assassin, that was defeated in the past and rebuilt to try again in the future. A couple forces want to use you when one thing is abundantly clear, everything is not as it seems. Progressing through Dharma Tower will give you the answers you want but they might not be what you think. Assuming you can survive.
There are two types of areas in Ghostrunner. Either you need to figure out a jumping puzzle or kill some number of enemies. Most jumping puzzles are relatively simple and come down to figuring out what exactly is expected of you. Sometimes this is sliding down a ramp to make a jump to a wall you need to run across and other times you just need to know which hooks to grab to push yourself forward. As players make it higher in Dharma Tower, the challenges will increase significantly. Moving platforms, smaller windows to move, and more varied tricks will give players a run for their money, but that is nothing compared to fighting enemies.
Combat rooms are interesting, as they vary wildly. Sometimes there is a set solution, one that changes slightly based on skill and placement. These are usually places with a shield generator, as you need to destroy that before certain enemies or other shields can be destroyed. Other rooms rely not on your skill and ability.
One earlier room that gave me some trouble featured three pistol enemies, two assault rifle enemies, and some hooks to zip around the room. Despite failing a bunch of times, I came up with multiple different ways to clear out most of the enemies. I finally centered on killing the guy directly in front, moving to the left, and going counterclockwise around the room. Perhaps the most satisfying thing wasn’t improving to the point I won, but rather, accomplishment in a job well done.
No matter how hard Ghostrunner seems, it’s actually fairly easy provided you use all your resources and learn the rooms. As a result, this is a game that lends itself to speedrunners. Nothing is unpredictable or impossible to overcome, you just need the right strategy and the ability to pull it off. Surprisingly, Ghostrunner can often feel less like a brutal action game and more like a rhythm game.
Every enemy is in a fixed spot, doing a specific thing, that can always be predicted. In some rooms, jumping at one time was suicide, as was another time a moment after. It wasn’t until I timed out the shots that it all started to get easier. Those more in-tune with the mechanics can do dodges to avoid bullets or special attacks to eliminate some of the difficulty. No need to worry about dodging shots when you can just jump and kill an enemy or go around the shot. But, even without a deep understanding of these mechanics, Ghostrunner can feel oddly satisfying in how simple it all is.
In the aforementioned room, if you move just the right way and waste the right amount of time, it’s shocking how seamless the whole kill is. Like, rush, wait for the first shot, wall run, dodge the third and kill the first enemy. Lunge over to the other side as the gunner will have to reload for an easy kill, which can be wall ran to a pistol enemy that should be out of bullets too. Swing to the other side, kill the enemy before he knows what is coming, and depending on your speed you need to dodge some shots and rush the remaining gunner. Those that can do this well make it seem effortless, though there is a surprising amount of tactics that come into play. However, a sleek look doesn’t automatically make Ghostrunner a great game.
There is an oddly massive learning curve to get into Ghostrunner. Rooms seem extremely hard and you either get it or fail countless times to kill a rather humble four or five enemies. At times it can also be rather basic. Progression unlocks more abilities and for the most part, it’s wall run, swing or dodge, and then swing your sword. This will kill an enemy, usually in a seemingly brutal way, though there really isn’t much more. The whole experience hinges on how well you get to the enemy, not your ability to change things up. For some, this can be underwhelming, though there are enough tactics to make it fun.
Ghostrunner Review – Verdict
The hard thing about Ghostrunner is that it’s brutal, deceptively complicated and a blast once you get it down. Those learning might be turned off by the brutally accurate AI, easy deaths, and repeated failures. Still, it’s a neat game that certainly has a place and is a lot of fun to both play and watch.
[Editor’s Note: Ghostrunner was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]