The first Ghostrunner, developed by Slipgate Ironworks, All In! Games and 3D Realms came out of nowhere to deliver a fast-paced, often unforgiving experience. It meshed together many mechanics, from first-person parkour to hack-and-slash action adventure, while presenting an interesting, if not super original cyberpunk dystopia. The speedrunning nature of the game also encouraged replaying levels for better times and truly “mastering” the experience.
For its scale, the level of fidelity was incredible to behold. After the IP was sold to 505 Games, developer One More Level took over and handled subsequent content updates for the first game. The sequel was also announced, and it’s finally upon us. It offers a larger scale and brand new mechanics, new enemies, and an expansion to the overall lore while tweaking and expanding the base gameplay. While it may be viewed as straying away from several things that made the original unique, Ghostrunner 2 is a compelling experience despite its frustrations.
"While the designs for each character range from acceptable to pretty good, the facial animations for the humans could use some more polish."
One year after the first game’s events, Dharma Tower is in near-constant upheaval as rival gangs and factions attempt to one-up each other. The Climbers and protagonist, Jack, do their best to maintain order, but a new threat, the Asura, emerges. After resurrecting the mysterious Mitra, they embark on a plan that could have dire consequences for the Tower. Of course, Jack steps up to stop them, but things aren’t as cut and dry as they may seem.
From a story standpoint, Ghostrunner 2 puts in a decent effort. The characters, from enthusiastic scientist Kira to steadfast Bokunin, are solid, even if not everyone is fleshed out well when it’s all said and done. The Asura are perhaps the most intriguing characters, whether it’s Rahu’s standoffish nature or Madhu’s megalomaniacal streak, and even Mitra’s backstory is interesting. Overall, I enjoyed the expansion of the lore, and though the dialogue options are inconsequential, they offer insight into the world and each character’s place in it.
While the designs for each character range from acceptable to pretty good, the facial animations for the humans could use some more polish. They’re too wooden to convey the emotion inherent in the characters’ voices and feel more awkward between pauses when waiting for the dialogue menu to pop up. You don’t have to interact with anyone at the new home base and can skip through any pleasantries as needed, but it still sticks out.
"As a Ghostrunner, Jack can wall-run, grapple, slide, dash and activate Sensory Boost to slow down time and dodge projectiles in mid-air."
The same rings true of the dialogue. While a chunk is in keeping with the overall atmosphere and tone of the story, there are a good number of annoying quips and banter. Jack displays a range of responses, whether it’s exasperation or remarking about sitting quietly as his idea of fun.
They’re decent and get the job done, but the plot shines when interacting with the antagonists or delving into the Architect’s past. Still, cheesy as it sounds, whoever included the line, “Ghostrunners only die when they’re killed”, give yourself some Quartz and good luck on the 50/50.
This is superfluous for those who played the first game because the gameplay is the main appeal. As a Ghostrunner, Jack can wall-run, grapple, slide, dash and activate Sensory Boost to slow down time and dodge projectiles in mid-air. He can also slice enemies, slaying them in a single blow, with the tradeoff being that he also dies in one hit. Since many of your enemies are keen on bringing guns, your best means of survival is to keep moving.
However, Ghostrunner 2 demands a bit more. Several sections feature extensive platforming sequences, where one wrong jump can result in falling to your death. Throw in some enemies, whether it’s rapid-fire assault rifles, lasers or energy waves that can cross-map you, and situations become very dicey.
"You also have Ultimates, from a laser that can tear through scores of enemies to Overlord, which can puppeteer a few against each other and Blink for quickly teleporting to and decimating foes."
Each level is designed with different approaches in mind, and Jack has several tools available to slay his targets. You could throw Shurikens to kill enemies at range, and even if they sidestep, that offers more time to close the distance. Some are also stunned by your Shurikens, allowing you to grapple close for the insta-kill.
There are also abilities like Shadow, which creates a copy of Jack while he goes into stealth mode and slices unaware enemies. It’s a good tool for reducing aggro and providing several more seconds of survival while you assess the situation. Tempest also returns from the original, and it’s as you would expect – a force push that can either topple enemies and work well on groups or send threats into the abyss.
Throw in some upgrades, and you could use a Shuriken to stun a larger enemy and Blink to them for the insta-kill, activate Shadow to retreat, potentially causing the clone to electrocute nearby threats and maybe Tempest an explosive barrel into some unsuspecting enemies.
There are breakable walls and alternate routes that provide solid flanking opportunities in certain sections if the forward approach proves too dangerous. You also have Ultimates, from a laser that can tear through scores of enemies to Overlord, which can puppeteer a few against each other and Blink for quickly teleporting to and decimating foes.
"To the credit of developer One More Level, each chapter utilizes your base movement skills in familiar and uniquely interesting ways."
Progression is handled differently, though. Instead of Tetris-like shapes to puzzle out, you now have a Motherboard with branches. Each branch has several slots – as you gather shards to increase its level, more branches become available. Upon unlocking a skill, you can slot it into an empty slot. The catch is that skills of different categories can’t be slotted into the same branch. Initially, this means arranging the necessary skills in different branches to avoid clashes, but you can eventually unlock an upgrade that lets you slot any skill anywhere.
However, you also need to consider the Install Cost of each skill since there’s a limited amount. While it’s not nearly as fancy as the original progression system, the Motherboard is straightforward enough, offering freedom of choice while forcing you to make some hard choices.
If that weren’t enough, certain skills have tradeoffs, like being able to launch three Shurikens instead of one at a time, but the energy cost is 30 percent higher, or dashing making you invulnerable to projectiles and melee attacks but costing 10 percent more stamina.
To the credit of developer One More Level, each chapter utilizes your base movement skills in familiar and uniquely interesting ways. One moment, you could be traversing the Cybervoid and “hacking” into it to activate walls to run on and platforms to dash. The next could involve pushing cranes around to create points to grapple across.
"While I like the enemies and how they’re designed, with obvious tells but decent adjustments to their tactics, their placements in certain sections created some frustration."
There’s a healthy amount of variety, and most of it feels in keeping with the traversal and combat. The new blocking mechanic is also well implemented, providing some additional survivability, but best used with your movement. Standing still is a death sentence, especially since your stamina can run out quickly.
You will die eventually, but that’s okay since you return the action quickly. The smooth controls also help since it’s easy to string together wall runs, dashes, and grapples while chopping up enemies. Your mileage may vary at the checkpoints. They feel appropriate in some boss encounters, ensuring you don’t have to keep repeating entire sections because you made one mistake. However, you feel the burn when attempting to clear a room with several enemies. Die once, even if it’s to the last foe, and you must do it all over again.
While I like the enemies and how they’re designed, with obvious tells but decent adjustments to their tactics, their placements in certain sections created some frustration. I can deal with facing multiple threats, but getting killed from across the map by an energy wave or laser just feels lame. They’re not overly difficult to deal with and pose a decent challenge with a balanced number of enemies.
It’s only when the game throws multiple types of enemies with long-range capabilities that they feel unfair. On the bright side, some new enemy types, like the Synths encountered in the wasteland, are fun to fight against, even if their gun-toting fodder is recycled from the Tower. I won’t go into much detail about the bosses, but there are some fantastic encounters.
"In terms of presentation, Ghostrunner 2 looks great. The neon lights and dark alleys of the Tower feel as lively as ever, reinforcing the dark future of humanity while still feeling sleek."
The biggest new addition to Ghostrunner 2 is the motorcycle, which Jack uses in fast-paced vehicular sections and to traverse the world outside the Tower. These levels are significantly larger in scale than anything from the previous game. While it feels good enough to control – backing it up is a pain but still realistic – the overall flow of these stages may not gel with everyone. The very first motorcycle section involves pursuing Mitra out of the Tower. It was featured in the demo and is quite spectacular once you get used to controlling the bike.
However, racing through the wasteland and passing nondescript buildings, stopping at intervals to open the way forward? It can get a bit tedious. Another section involves venturing to three different towers and into the Cybervoid, which is a better experience overall.
My only other complaint about the bike is its weapons, which have a slight deployment delay before they can begin firing. When dealing with creeps approaching at high speeds, it’s awkward to fire off at times. There’s another traversal mechanic encountered late into the game, which I won’t spoil. It takes a bit of getting used to, but feels quite good, almost transforming the movement you’ve gotten used to up to that point.
In terms of presentation, Ghostrunner 2 looks great. The neon lights and dark alleys of the Tower feel as lively as ever, reinforcing the dark future of humanity while still feeling sleek. I also appreciated the contrast of the outside – it’s barren and bleak, but the ruins are varied enough to not get boring. While I did run into some performance issues while traversing the larger sections, knocking down a few settings to Medium fixed this immediately.
"While I didn’t face any issues with falling through the level, some problems emerged when using Blink as an Ultimate."
The frame rate and optimization are smooth, even on a GeForce GTX 1060 (6 GB). As for the soundtrack, it’s pretty good overall. The synthwave feels on point throughout, whether it’s the steady beats as you casually parkour and murder enemies or the fast-paced tracks that hit during boss fights.
The original Ghostrunner had its fair share of issues with clipping and jank, and while the sequel feels polished enough, some unfortunate jank rears its head on occasion. While I didn’t face any issues with falling through the level, some problems emerged when using Blink as an Ultimate.
Sometimes, I would be stuck in place after executing the Ultimate, taking no damage from enemies until eventually dying. This same issue would emerge at certain points when getting off the motorcycle – it was an option, and I could very much stop, but since it wasn’t “intended,” movement was impossible. Nothing to do but get back on the bike and play the section “normally.”
Some of these issues are more annoying than others, but overall, this is a challenging game. While the gameplay will doubtless appeal to many, having to retry different sections after making one mistake or being even slightly late when parrying attacks, can get annoying.
"If you enjoyed the original or the demo, Ghostrunner 2 is a worthy follow-up. It looks great and controls well while delivering some stellar level design and boss fights."
After completing the game, you can return to previous stages and try to get a better time or scout for collectibles like Sword and Weapon skins, Motherboard Shards, Artifacts and whatnot. The optional challenges at certain points are also cool, providing some interesting twists on existing layouts, and there’s even an optional roguelike mode called Roguerunner.exe with branching paths, upgrades and different areas. It’s little more than four stages to complete throughout a run, but is an interesting side activity – hopefully, it gets expanded upon in future updates.
If you enjoyed the original or the demo, Ghostrunner 2 is a worthy follow-up. It looks great and controls well while delivering some stellar level design and boss fights. Even if some sections can feel overtuned in terms of enemies, the occasional jank emerges, or your human allies stare into your very soul with their near-blank expressions, this is a fast-paced action-adventure that shouldn’t be missed, if you can deal with the constant respawning.
This game was reviewed on PC.
The speedrunning gameplay loop feels great, thanks to smooth controls, varied encounters, strong level design with multiple approaches and capable enemies. Sleek futuristic visuals, backed by well-optimized performance, and a great synthwave soundtrack. Epic boss fights. Several characters are appealing while the overall lore is expanded well. Some motorcycle sections feel very good. The revamped progression is more streamlined but also interesting in its own way.
Wooden expressions on the human characters. Some iffy dialogue that doesn't quite land. One motorcycle level feels tedious and goes on for some time. The enemy placement in certain sections feels a little unbalanced with way too many ranged units, especially those that can kill you across the map. Jank, which manifests when using Blink.