In a city of violence, mankind’s future is determined by the most advanced blade fighter ever created in first person, parkour action platformer — Ghostrunner
A collaboration between One More Level, Slipgate6 and 3D Realms, Ghostrunner is set in a dark, dystopian vision of the future within and around Dharma Tower, an industrial megastructure housing the last remnants of post-apocalyptic mankind. It’s a dark, metallic and cold futuristic environment the developers portray but bathed in the neon blues, oranges and pinks of its cyberpunk influences. Sparks of hot metal bounce off the surface as the friction of the machinery supporting Dharma Tower interacts in an abrasive manner.
The initial pace of the Ghostrunner seems somewhat daunting as you take control. The fluidity of his motion almost feels like floating on an air cushion with only really solid impacts deterring from your gathered momentum whether you are running, jumping or sliding around Dharma Tower. That daunting feeling doesn’t let up as you take to the air and realise the time you have to make life or death decisions mid-motion is short at best.
Very quickly however your hands accommodate your commands, you slow things down mid-flight and start to naturally almost preemptively react to the environment and enemies you are faced with. The first time that all come together in a complete string of jumps, wall runs, slides and katana inflicted death you will sit back, be impressed with yourself and immediately be hooked on Ghostrunner’s design.
That’s not to say that feeling of accomplishment comes immediately. Ghostrunner is punishing.
Miss a jump — die. Don’t jump high enough – die. Poor dodge — die. Don’t be surprised on the completion of your first level to see your death counter in the double digits. It’s never unfair though and on every death, you will know what went wrong with a good idea of how to fix it so you never feel deterred from trying again.
Dharma Tower isn’t the only place you can explore. With Ghostrunner’s abilities extended by some cybernetic enhancements, you can also enter the cybervoid, a Tron-esque virtual world where the Ghostrunner can unlock a variety of upgrades within his systems. Here the pace slows and precise platforming and mental challenges are deployed in order to progress before your eventual reward.
There’s always a period of adjustment needed when Ghostrunner attains a new ability. How and when it should be utilised and how does it intertwine with your existing abilities? It’s safe to say that the developers have done a great job in combining story progression with progressively more challenging pseudo-tutorial sections which help you to attune to your new control set before letting you loose with more freestyle level designs.
Each stage in the story is contained within its own level and takes the most advantage of the abilities you have unlocked up to press. Repeat plays are possible via a level select and it only really becomes visible through repeated plays what the optimal path to completion is. On the first play, you’ll still find some areas where it flows but it’s not until you master the nuances of the abilities can you truly appreciate the parkour playground on offer.
Every playground, unfortunately, has its bullies and Ghostrunner is no different. Enemies are just as deadly as you with one hit kill mechanics going in both directions. Even basic enemies have an unreal aim and if you don’t utilise the skills on offer your progress will be hampered early on. As you reach higher levels of Dharma Tower, more advanced adversaries are encountered with some of Ghostrunner’s own arsenal equipped and altering the challenge faced.
Many levels complicate encounters with shield generators for enemies making them invincible until dispatched. The majority are placed on the optimal parkour path in each area; so a seamless and ultimately more impressive run is possible with the right forethought and action.
At its best when your flow is unbroken; Ghostrunner can feel oddly clunky when you approach enemies in a more classic fashion. More likely an unintended consequence of the “in the moment” twitch style gaming the controls provide; it can feel awkward when you fall from a wall and just stop dead and need to run at an enemy to dispatch them. There’s either death/reset at the end of failed parkour or the dodgy run back to a point where you can reintegrate back into the intended course
Getting into the groove is essential; Ghostrunner expects you to be all ninja, all the time and when you adjust to its pacing it flows like a hot knife through butter or a sharp blade through soft flesh (pick your analogy). Although available across the console and PC spectrum it looks great on every platform but at the high end, it feels and looks next-generation.